Okay, I give up. When is bread not bread? Why, when it’s Zupfe, of course. Everyone knows that. You never go into a bakery and ask for bread when you mean Zupfe.
Zupfe is a special braided white bread. For a long time it was only sold on Saturdays to be eaten for Sunday breakfast. It was and still is a special occasion ‘bread’. Things aren’t as strict as they used to be, you can now buy it any day of the week. If you make it yourself you will garnish amazement from everyone.
Being the artsy type of person I am, of course I wanted to learn how to make Zupfe and do the braid. My sister-in-law showed me how to make the traditional 4 strand braid using 4 kitchen towels. The towels represented 4 strands of Zupfe dough. When doing this with dough, make two long strands and cross them over as seen in the picture below. The concept is easy to grasp. Grab the 1st and 3rd strands and cross over the 2nd strand. Keep your arms crossed! Now with your arms still crossed you let go of the strands you were holding and grab the 2nd and 4th strands and uncross your arms over the ‘new’ 3rd strand. Then you repeat from the beginning, using the 1st and 3rd strands and crossing them exactly as before (if your right arm was over your left, then do it that way every time) and then the 2nd and 4th strands. You pile it high and keep it tight, it’s not a flat braid. When you are finished you find the best side and use that as the top, brush diluted egg yolk on it and pop it in the oven.
How to do the braid:
At some point the 4 strand Zupfe was too easy and I tried the 5 and 6 strands. Which are really nice if you are making a huge Zupfe (and your oven is large enough). I like the way the 5 strand looks and if made well it always gets lots of ohhhs and ahhhhs and ‘did you really make this yourself?’. Not all Swiss can do this. Below is a picture of the instructions on how to braid 5 strands. Even if you can’t understand German the pictures might be enough. After you’ve finished braiding it you turn this one too, to the left.
Here is the recipe I have always used:
for two middle sized, about 800g (1.7 lbs) or one large Zupfe
150 g (5.3 oz) butter
1 kg (2.3 pounds) white flour
1 soup spoon (1 tbsp) of salt
20 g (0.7 ounces) yeast (I use dry yeast, make sure it’s enough for 1 kg flour!)
2 teaspoons of sugar
5 – 6 dl (2.1 – 2.5 cups) milk
1 egg yolk diluted with a little bit of water (to brush the Zupfe before you put it in the oven)
Put flour and salt in a bowl and form a hollow in the middle. Slowly melt the butter and pour into the hollow, Add the yeast, to the sugar and cold milk and pour into the hollow. Mix, first using a wooden spoon, then knead by hand.
Place dough back into the bowl, cover and set in a warm place so it can rise to double the size (about one hour). Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it again. Cut the dough into 2 (or 5 or 6) pieces and roll stands and then braid. Put the Zupfe in a pan (I use baking paper or aluminum foil so it doesn’t stick) and let rise again 15 – 30 minutes. Then put the braided bread in a very cold place (like the refrigerator or freezer while you preheat the oven to about 200°C (400°F). Once the oven has reached the right temperature brush the top of the Zupfe with diluted egg yolk and put into oven.
Baking time for middle sized Zupfe = about 40 minutes
Baking time for large Zupfe = 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
Important: do not open the oven door for at least the first 20 to 30 minutes! (this comment was in the original recipe, I guess it was written before the advent of windows in the oven doors and ovens being eye level. Now most ‘modern’ ovens have windows and no one would even entertain the idea of opening the door to peek in…)