Today was Hoska day. Hoska (HOE-skuh) is a braided holiday bread that has been made by the Czech side of my family for generations. Most years I make it with Mom, and for the last few, my friend, Valerie has joined us. This year the schedule on both ends kept us from making it to Mom's in Redmond, so Valerie and I made the Hoska here in Milwaukie instead. We started at about 1:30 PM today and finished 8 hours and 10 loaves later.
Here's how Hoska begins:
That is my great-grandmother's stoneware bread bowl in the picture above. I can't even imagine how many loaves of bread have gotten their start in this fine cauldron.
Hoska is made of butter, eggs, lemon, mace, almonds, raisins, milk, yeast, flour, and lots of muscle power—you end up kneading each batch for about 10 minutes. I think it’s the mace that makes it special. Mace is the outermost part of the nutmeg, and it’s got a rich, sharp scent that fills the kitchen and tells you that the holidays have arrived.
After kneading the dough, it's formed into a series of braids.
The loaves are decorated with whole blanced almonds, candied cherries, and green pineapple. These don't add much to the flavor and are mostly for looks. Valerie notes that they also add excitement when they fall off in your toaster and cause flames to shoot out of the toast slots. ("Chestnuts roasting on an open toaster....")
The work area.... (GG's rolling pin in foreground....)
Here's Valerie, hard at work....
Of the 10 finished loaves, we picked out the prettiest one for Mom.
Valerie, Bill, and I then decided that in terms of quality control, it was our responsibility to try the Hoska, so we cut into one of the smaller loaves and stood there in the kitchen eating the warm slices spread with sweet butter. Half an hour later, the entire loaf was gone (including a couple of slices set aside for Valerie’s husband). Full of bread, we are. A happy day, it was.