Our weekly library trip yielded a stellar cookbook. The Neighborhood Bakeshop by Jill Van Cleave has so many recipes I want to make. I ordered it through Amazon so that I can have these recipes at arm’s length.

The first recipe I devoured was Houska. It’s a sweet yeasted braided loaf eaten by Czechs and Bohemians, much like Jewish challah, French brioche or Polish chalka.

It makes devine French Toast, which is my new obsession.

It is surprisingly easy to make. With only a few steps you could have yourself some Houska tonight.



Warm milk, some sugar and yeast is placed in a large bowl to proof. It will become bubbly after about 5 minutes.


Butter is melted and cooled while an egg, slightly more sugar and almond extract is added.


The butter mixture is added to the yeasty mixture.




A cup of flour and some salt are incorporated.


Switch to a wooden spoon and add another cup and 3/4 of flour.


We are looking for the dough to come together but in a shaggy way.


The dough is turned out onto a floured surface and kneaded until soft.

Raisins and chopped slivered almonds are kneaded in.


This dough is now ready to rise in a greased and covered bowl. This only takes an hour.


While the dough was rising, I decided to put some dishes away. I dropped a beautiful glass bowl on our granite countertop and smash, the pieces went flying. Everyone out of the kitchen, especially Marcy who doesn’t understand that the glass is not scraps of food that have fallen to the floor.

Thomas says, “it’s alright, I got this.” He gets the broom and starts clearing items off the counter. We are a team, and a great one at that. He knows when I need that extra support and I, in turn try to do the same for him. As we are cleaning up the tiny shards of glass, he gets the camera that I’ve been using to shoot the Houska and takes a picture of me and the mess I’ve made. He says, “good times and bad, I want them all as long as you are by my side.” God has blessed me with an extraordinary man. He is my better half. He inspires me. He supports me. He makes me laugh. Just thinking of him, makes me smile and warms my heart.


My life could have been very different. I am forever grateful and thankful for him. He has given me more than I ever thought possible. Eighteen years together and I love him more with each passing day.

I know he will read this and say, “Jodi, I am the lucky one.” But it is truly the other way around.

Once the glass was cleared and the dough risen, I turned it out onto a lightly floured surface and flattened it out to about 14″ long.


It is cut into thirds but not all the way through.

It’s braided and placed into a greased loaf pan and set to rise for another 40 minutes.


A preheated 375F oven and 30 minutes later yields a beautiful golden loaf of deliciousness.



  • 2/3 cup lukewarm milk (95 to 110F)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds

Combine milk, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and yeast in a large bowl. Allow to proof until bubbly, about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the melted and cooled butter, egg, almond extract and remaining sugar. Add the yeast mixture and whisk until smooth. Add 1 cup of flour, then the salt. Continue to add the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour a little at a time until a dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead. Knead in the raisins and almonds. Sprinkle with additional flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Continue to knead until the dough feels smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a greased bowl, cover and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Return the dough to a work surface and knead briefly. Push or roll the dough into a rectangle about 14 inches long. Cut lengthwise into thirds, stopping each cut just before reaching the far side so that one short end of the rectangle remains intact. Staring there, braid the strips of dough together and fold both ends under. Place the braid into a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan. Cover loosely and set aside for 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. Bake for 30 minutes, until the loaf is a deep golden brown. Unmold the bread onto a wire rack to cool.

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