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Thursday, December 15, 2016

THAT Bread: Swiss Zopf Bread

When I was a child, my parents learned how to make braided bread. Long ago my grandfather's family came from Switzerland, and this is a traditional Swiss and German bread. My parents began to give it to their neighbors as Christmas gifts. We would always watch my dad in fascination as he quickly braided a loaf. We loved helping roll out the strands and brushing on the egg wash!




In Switzerland the bread is called Zopf or Züpfe, which translates to braid. It is a traditional Sunday morning bread, served with butter and jam. Germans make it for Easter and place eggs in the braid. When I got married, my husband and I decided we wanted to make the bread for our neighbors each Christmas too, so our Christmas Zopf tradition was born. Our neighbors tell us things like "I've been waiting all year for that bread!" and, "THAT bread is SO good!"


The kids like to practice braiding their own little loaves. Their loaves here are half size. This post, if for any purpose, is so I have a record of my method to pass on to them.


The Zopf is a four strand braid. I make the dough in a Bosch mixer, and get 4 loaves per batch. (Buy one if you make bread, I inherited my grandmother's and it runs like new!) The recipe is fairly easy, the braiding is only slightly trickier. It's something I could do in my sleep now though, and if I have to slow down and teach someone I get stuck!

The Recipe:

  • 1 Tbsp. instant yeast
  • 1 C whole milk
  • 1 to 1  1/4 C water
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 9 C all purpose flour (I scoop, tap the air out, and scrape the top flat)
  • 1/2 C butter (one stick)
  • 3 LG eggs + 1 egg
  • 2 1/2 tsp. salt

Warm the water and milk. Place the yeast, milk, water, and sugar in the Bosch and mix a tiny bit. Add 5 cups flour and mix until the ingredients come together. Add 3 eggs, butter (cut into chunks), salt, and the last 4 cups of flour. Turn the mixer on the lowest speed and watch the dough. As soon as it starts to come together, set the timer for 7 minutes and let the mixer knead the dough. You'll think it needs more liquid, but it probably doesn't unless it's just not coming together.

You may need to adjust the amount of liquid, 2 cups total works well for me. The dough is supposed to be dense and hardly sticky. If it's too moist it doesn't look as pretty after it is braided, risen, and baked. See the video below to observe the dough as I roll it out.

Once the dough has kneaded, place it in a large greased bowl and cover. Let it rise about one hour, until double in size. Dump the dough out onto a greased work area and divide into fourths. Take one portion and cut it in half.


How to braid:

Roll the dough out in two equal length strands. Place them on the counter in a plus sign, with the vertical strand on top of the horizontal strand. The horizontal strand is 1 and the vertical strand is 2. The horizontal strand has an obvious left and right. For the vertical strand consider a compass - South is left and North is right.

Remember "1, 2, switch, 1, 2, switch," and you'll do fine!  Start with strand 1 and bring the right over one strand, then the left over two strands. Then pick up strand 2 and move the left over one strand, then the right over two strands. Switch back to strand 1 and repeat the process until you get to the ends. I tuck them under and pinch them together so they stay put and make a nice looking end.

(You'll notice I roll the strands fairly thin. You don't need to do it that thin, in fact, the traditional Zopf way is to leave a large lump in the  middle and taper towards the ends, so the final loaf is wider at one end.) Notice as I'm rolling out the strand - sometimes you'll get a bubble in the dough. I gently pull the dough to pop it, then let the dough roll over the hole so it's not noticeable.

Here is a video we made that shows how to braid. I had a child help record and I was trying to keep myself mostly off to the side without being able to tell what the camera could see... YouTube trick - Click the little gear icon at the bottom of the video. Choose Speed and you can play the video in slow motion or fast motion! I had to slow myself down to record this!


Place the braided dough on a pan lined with parchment or a silicone mat and cover with a clean cloth. Let rise for 30 minutes. Partway through this rise, preheat your oven to 350° F.

When it's time to bake, make an egg wash and brush it over the bread. I use one egg and one tablespoon water whisked together. Bake for 15 minutes, then take the pans out one at a time and brush with the egg wash again. Pay special attention to the cracks; you can see in the image below how it has risen more. The pans should switch places in the oven and bake for another 15 minutes.

Halfway through baking, apply the egg wash again. This is one regular loaf with the children's tiny loaves around it.

We like to slice the bread and eat it with butter right after it comes out of the oven. If it makes it to the next day, we toast a slice and spread butter and/or jam on it.


It's no wonder this is a special bread in parts of Europe! It is soft with a perfect outer crust, barely sweet, and so good to eat! Now, I need to get back to my 8 batches of bread for this year.

Merry Christmas!




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