Have you ever heard of Zopf? No, probably not, unless you are bona fide Swiss of course. This rich bread was an essential part of my Sundays when I grew up. It is buttery and milky and soft on the inside, with a good crunch on the outside. It is also pretty and makes for a good bring along present for a BBQ, or brunch maybe. Zopf is the Swiss German word for braid, in case you were wondering. You are guessing right if you think this is a braided bread.
I have been wanting to share this recipe for a while and finally today, I am getting around to writing it up for you.There are probably as many recipes for Zopf as there are bakers but of course, mine's the best :)
I would choose a extra strong white flour for this recipe, and fresh yeast if you have any. Fresh yeast is not something that is sold by supermarkets in this country but I'll let you into a little secret of mine(since we are not all shopping in the same place): make your way to the supermarket bakery, ask for the baker on duty and, with puppy dog eyes and a smile, ask for fresh yeast. If you are lucky, you might be given a big fresh crumbly lump of yeast, sometimes free, sometimes at a small cost. Of course, more often than not, I use the dried stuff in the little sachets. Works fine, but it doesn't have that same heart-warming smell of fresh yeast.
300 ml milk,
60 g butter
1 tsp salt (don't omit this, or your Zopf will taste vile)
approximately 20g of fresh yeast or a sachet of the dried yeast.
This is what you do: mix flour and salt and yeast in a large bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, gently melt the butter, then add the milk and sugar. Dip your finger in to test the temperature, it should be finger-warm but not any hotter. Remove from the hob and cool down if the milk is too hot.
Dip the buttery milk into the flour and mix well, starting to knead as the milk is incorporated into the flour. You may have to add a little flour if the dough is too wet, or a little milk, if it is too dry. This largely depends on the quality of your flour (so I have been told).
Knead your dough until it is smooth and soft. It will be a lovely temperature to work with because of the warm milk. It is a rather pleasant process, the kneading of dough, particularly if it is warm. I usually plug my earphones in and listen to something nice. At the moment, I am catching up with the BBC Radio 4 program "Inside the Ethics Committee". A great listen. I can't tell you how long it takes for the dough to be smooth and soft, maybe 5-10 minutes?
Shape the dough into a nice round ball and place it back into the bowl. Cover it with cling film or a clean kitchen towel. The dough will rise quite quickly because it is warm. Let it prove until it doubles in size.
I admit, on this photo, the dough has risen far more than I would have liked. Mr and Mrs Great British Bake-Off would call this a clear case of over proving, with all its dire consequences....
Now comes the fun part: turning a ball of dough into a braid. Divide the dough into two equal parts. Roll each piece into a rope, thicker in the middle, thinning out towards the ends.
Place one rope on top of the other rope like this:
It is far too complicated to explain how to braid the Zopf but I took a photo of the process from my home economics cookery book. Not a great photo, but it shows what you need to see. You can of course braid it in any other way you like, or not at all, or bake it in tin. Or you could divide the dough into small balls and let the kids make any shape they like. Hedgehogs look cool.
Set the oven to 220 degrees (centigrade). Let the Zopf prove until the oven is hot. I have a bread setting on my oven, producing a little steam for a good finish. You can place a cup of water in the bottom of the oven if you like, but I don't think it is essential.
Beat an egg and use the mixture to paint the Zopf evenly. Place it in the lower part of the oven. After 15 min, turn the temperature down to 200 degrees and finish baking. It takes approximately 30 minutes altogether but this depends on your oven. Tap the bottom of the Zopf with a wooden spoon to check if it is cooked. It should sound hollow of sorts. Your braided bread should look a bit like this:
I like to eat Zopf most with butter and jam because that's how I used to eat it when I was a child. It is really good for beans and toast, and stale leftovers can be used for bread and butter pudding.
Have I tempted you to make your own version? Happy baking! Cx
P.S. I have been meaning to reply to all your kind comments on my last two posts but unfortunately, life got in the way. So here a collective thank you for your kindness and for your encouragement.