Butterzopf or Bärner Züpfe is the traditional, Swiss brioche-like Sunday bread simply made with flour, butter, yeast and milk. Nothing quite evokes warm, wonderful childhood memories as this rich, buttery soft bread. Just as my mom learned to make this braided bread from my Swiss grandmother, she in turn passed the tradition to me and my siblings. How satisfying it is to do the same with our kids. The process is therapeutic and very satisfying as the dough comes together and transforms into a delicious, beautiful braided loaf. Let's get started!
18 grams salt - about 1 Tablespoon - salt is more dense than sugar, therefore salt weighs 25% more than sugar
12 grams sugar - 1 Tablespoon
For the pre-ferment:
100 grams bread flour
70 grams milk
1/4th teaspoon instant dry yeast
If choosing to make the dough WITHOUT the pre-ferment, make sure to still add the ingredients for the pre-ferment to the rest of the recipe. Why prepare a pre-ferment? The advantages of a pre-ferment are manifold. Although a bit of a longer process, a pre-ferment will create a bread with a more complex and delicious flavor development. Not only better flavor but more extensibility of the dough, and a loaf that will have a longer shelf life.
The preferment is an optional dough to make. One of the advantages of a preferment is that it creates greater complexities of flavor. For the preferment combine the flour, milk and yeast and thoroughly mix and knead into a smooth consistency. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and allow to rise for several hours or even overnight.
In a large capacity bowl place the rest of the flour and salt, mixing them together thoroughly.
Form a well in the center of the flour with your hand or a plastic spatula. It is here where the milk and butter will be placed.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Once it has melted remove the pan from the heat source and pour the milk over it. This will allow the butter to cool to the perfect temperature. Add the sugar to the milk, stir and pour the mixture in the well that has been formed in the flour.
Place the yeast over the milk and butter inside the well. Add also the preferment by braking it into smaller pieces.
Incorporate the dry ingredients with the wet, mixing all the ingredients with the help of a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
When the dry ingredients are mostly incorporated, transfer the dough on a clean work surface.
Work the dough with your hands for about 10 minutes, until soft and smooth. Allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes and begin kneading again. The stand mixer can also be used, but there is just nothing like working and feeling the dough with your hands.
My Swiss grandmother used to pick up the dough and beat it on a marble countertop about 80 times. Who knows, it may have been her resourceful way to get rid of some frustration but she claimed that this method allows the dough to stretch and develop the elongated crumb typical to Züpfe.
Bring everything together into a round dough ball.
Place the dough back into the kneading bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap.
Allow the dough to rise in a draft free area for about 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size. You can also place the dough into the refrigerator overnight. If the dough is cold proofed for the night, make sure to take it out of the refrigerator for at least one hour to bring it back to room temperature before proceeding to the shaping.
Transfer the dough on a clean work surface and with the help of a bench scraper or knife divide it into 4 equal portions. Four portions will make 2 Butterzopf.
Gently roll each piece by placing both hands on top of each other in the center of one portion. Gently roll the dough strands by moving both hands out from the center toward the ends. Four equal rope like strands will be formed, tapered at the ends. Traditionally the center of each strand should be a little thicker than the two ends. If the dough resists the stretching, set it aside and allow the gluten strands to relax for a few minutes before stretching and rolling again. Make sure to cover with some plastic wrap or a damp cloth during the rest periods.
Place two strands on top of each other at 90 degrees. Once braided, tuck the ends under. With hands cupped on the braid roll the loaf gently back and forth, as shown in the video. Fold the left end of the horizontal strand all the way over to the right side. Simultaneously bring the right end toward the left side. Do the same process with the two vertical strands. Continue doing this while making sure to always go in the same pattern.
Lightly rub some butter on the bottom of a baking pan or simply cover the pan with parchment paper.
Carefully place the braided Butterzopf on the pan making sure to leave enough space for the second loaf.
Crack an egg and place only the egg yolk into a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and the heavy cream to the egg yolk and mix thoroughly.
With gentle strokes brush the egg wash over the braided dough. Avoid degassing the loaf. Remove any spilled egg wash with a paper towel as it will burn and cause an unpleasant smell.
Cover the dough loosely by simply sliding the pan into a large, clean, plastic bag to keep the dough from forming a skin. Allow to rest for about 30 minutes.
Before placing the bread into the oven, remove the plastic bag and gently brush the loaf once again with the egg wash.
Place the pan into the preheated oven and allow to bake for 40-45 minutes or until a deep golden brown color develops on the surface.
You know the Butterzopf is ready when you tap the underside of the bread and it sounds hollow. So delicious when served for breakfast or an afternoon snack accompanied by good butter, honey, and homemade preserves. Also very good when served with cold cuts. Enjoy!