But after tasting a lot of different loaves over the years of living in Switzerland, I’ve found that not every Zopf is to my liking. Some try to save money and skimp on the butte, while others bake until the crust has a dark tan. Some regions must include an egg, while others wouldn’t dream of adding one in.
So over the past eighteen months, I have experimented with different Zopf recipes, blind tasted Zopf with an egg and without, and experimented with different methods until I came up with this recipe. My recipe has no egg, a lot of butter, and I always check for bubbles after kneading. The most challenging part of making this recipe is the self-control needed to wait thirty minutes before cutting into the freshly baked Zopf.
Recipe for Swiss Zopf
- 1kg White flour (I use both plain white flour or a mix of 90% white and 10% spelt depending that I have in the house)
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 40g fresh yeast (or 13g of dried yeast)
- 600ml milk at room temperature
- 170g butter, cut into small pieces
- For the Egg Wash: 1 egg and a drop or two of water.
1. In a small bowl add sugar, 100 ml of milk and the yeast. Mix and set aside in a warm spot until the mixture starts to bubble, about 10 or so minutes. You can skip this part and move straight onto step 2, but this is where I believe the flavour starts to develop.
2. In a separate large mixing bowl mix all of your flour and salt followed by the activated yeast mixture. You can add the rest of the milk (500 ml) here too. Start to mix with a spatular or in your kitchen machine with the dough hook.
3. Now it is time to add your butter. If not using a machine, take it out of the bowl now and start kneading, the dough will be very sticky, and you will question my methods, but keep on kneading. The texture will soon become silky smooth.
4. Keep on kneading. The secret to beautiful airy bread is not to skimp on the kneading. I know it is annoying, but trust me, the longer you knead, the better the texture. Start with 10 minutes before cutting down the middle to see how many bubbles have formed. I usually knead for 15 minutes in total.
5. This is where I should tell you to let your dough rise in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, but honestly, I never do it. I just pop the ball of dough back in the bowl I mixed it in and drape over a damp tea towel. Let the dough sit in a warm place, by a window, a radiator or even in a cold oven with just the light turned on works well, for about 2 hours until doubled in size.
6. It’s time to create your Zopf. Divide your dough into two equal portions – 1kg makes two loaves – and then set one aside under a damp cloth.
7. Divide that first portion again into two equal parts and lay one strand horizontally and one strand vertically and start braiding – see video below. Repeat with the second portion.
8. Place the two loaves on a baking-paper-lined tray and lightly glaze using the egg wash (1 egg and a few drops of water) and then pop them into a cold oven and turn the oven on to 200 C (fan-forced) and set your timer for approx 35 minutes.
9. As the rich butter smell wafts through your home, you will know the Zopf is ready. But to be sure, at the 35-minute mark check the colouring, mine usually needs 5 minutes longer. The bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Do your best to wait at least 30 minutes for the bread to cool before cutting into it.
- If you want to freshly bake your Zopf on Sunday morning begin at 6 pm Saturday evening, working through until step 8, including the egg wash. But instead of popping it into the oven, pop covered it into the fridge. (or if it is cold enough outside could work too) covered. Save the egg wash though to refresh the loaf the next morning and try and leave the dough out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes before continuing with the last part of step 8.
- You can halve this recipe to make just one 500g loaf, but if you have the freezer space, save yourself some effort and make the two loaves, freezing one for next weekend.
- The key to kneading by hand is finding a bench with the correct height. My kitchen bench is too high for me, so I need a small step stool or sometimes move to the dining room table.
- I have heard that it is best to work with cold ingredients if using a kitchen machine to avoid heating the yeast. I have yet to try this so if you do, please let me know your results!