Chesnica (Serbian Christmas bread with coin)

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For Serbs and other Orthodox people, Christmas comes January 7: Our great nations never abandoned the Julian calendar, and as a result, we are lagging a bit behind other Christians in celebrating the birth of Jesus. Christmas is my favorite Serbian holiday, mainly due to its deeply pagan nature rooted in the ancient rituals of Slavic polytheistic tribes. After conversion to Christianity, the tribes held tight to their ancient deities, and many of the pagan customs found their way into Christian practices. As a result, Serbian Christmas is an endless fairy tale of rituals and magical folk offerings, culminating in the Christmas meal – the richest, most decadent, most significant, and most festive meal the family will have for the year. The centerpiece of the Christmas table is chesnica (chesnitsa) The ceremonial bread with a silver or gold coin hidden inside. In my family, for generations, Chesnica was made with milk and butter and ordered an elaborate folding of the dough (much like making puff pastry), resulting in almost croissant texture and flavors. When I was little, my grandmother secretly marked the bread with a sprig of basil flower to make sure she always received the coin, a practice my father brutally discontinued because he considered it uneducating. And although my winning streak ended a long time ago, the magic of this bread continues to this day. —QueenSashy

Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 cups

    Milk

  • 1 1/2

    ounces fresh yeast

  • 16 ounces

    all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur or Antimo Caputo 00 Chef’s Flour)

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    Salt

  • 1 tablespoon

    sunflower oil

  • 7-8 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 1 tsp

    sugar

  • A silver or pure gold coin, properly cleaned by rubbing with a non-toxic cleaner, then rinsed thoroughly (or you can simulate it by wrapping a quarter in foil)

Addresses
  1. About two hours before baking, remove the butter from the refrigerator and let it soften at room temperature.

  2. Heat milk to approximately 95 ° F-100 ° F. Add sugar and minced yeast. Stir to dissolve. Wait at least ten minutes, until it becomes frothy and doubles its volume.

  3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, milk, salt, and oil. Knead for about 10 minutes by machine and then 15 minutes by hand, until a soft, stiff dough forms that separates from the work surface and fingers. (Alternatively, if you want to be a true cesnica warrior, skip the machine entirely and knead by hand. It's also a great exercise to tone your arms.) Place the dough on a baking sheet or plate, cover and let it rise for about 30 minutes. .

  4. Sprinkle the work surface with flour. Roll the dough into a disc or square less than 1/4 inch thick (the disc should be really large, about 15 inches in diameter). Spread two tablespoons of butter evenly across the surface. Fold the disc in half away from yourself, then fold in half towards you again, fold to the left again, and finally fold in half to the right again. (You will end up with a package of dough.)

  5. Let the dough rest covered for about 20 minutes at room temperature. Then roll the dough again, spread the butter on it and repeat the folding process.

  6. For the third time, let the covered dough rest for about 20 minutes. Roll it up again, spread the butter on top and repeat the folding process. During this final folding, place the coin inside the dough.

  7. Let the dough rest covered for another 20 minutes. Grease a 3-quart round saucepan (or a similar-sized round baking pan, approximately 9-10 inches in diameter). Roll the dough up to the size of the baking sheet, place it on the baking sheet and let it rise for about 20 minutes.

  8. Heat oven to 400 ° F. Brush top of bread with remaining tablespoon of butter and place in oven. Bake the bread at 400 ° F for about 20 minutes. When the crust begins to brown, reduce the temperature to 320 ° F and bake for another 30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer registers 190 ° F.

  9. Let the bread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, and then remove it from the pan. Serve a little warm and you will be in heaven.

Aleksandra, aka QueenSashy, is a scientist by day and a cook, photographer, and doodler by night. When she's not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life, and everything else on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for the 2015 James Beard Awards and a finalist for the Saveur Best Food Blog Awards 2014. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.

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