Butterzopf or Bärner Züpfe is the traditional, brioche-like Sunday bread proudly made and loved by the people of Switzerland. Nothing quite evokes warm, wonderful childhood memories as this rich and buttery soft bread. Just as my mom, Nonna Verena, learned to make this braided bread from my Swiss grandmother, she in turn has also passed down the tradition of making this delicious Swiss Sunday Züpfe to me and my four siblings. How exciting and satisfying it is to now teach the same to our own six kids as the tradition continues to pass to the next generation. The process is therapeutic and satisfying as the dough comes together and believe it or not, Züpfe will certainly become a much loved tradition even in your home. Let's get started!
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 measure 100 grams of bread flour, 65 grams milk and 1/4 teaspoon yeast and thoroughly mix. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and allow to rise for one hour.
In a large capacity bowl place the rest of the flour and salt, mixing them together thoroughly. In the center of the flour, make a well with your hand or the plastic spatula.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Remove it from the heat source once it has melted and pour the milk into the pan. This will allow the butter to cool to the perfect temperature. Add the sugar to the milk and pour it inside of the flour well.
Place the yeast to the milk and butter, working it into the mixture. This is the time to also add the preferment.
With a plastic hand spatula, or wooden spoon incorporate the flour, preferment and milk, mixing all the ingredients.
When the dry ingredients are mostly incorporated, transfer the dough on a clean work surface.
Continue kneading and working the dough with your hands for about 10 minutes, until soft and smooth. The stand mixer can also be used, but there is just nothing like working and feeling the dough with your hands. Allow it to rest for about 10-15 minutes and work it once again.
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, soft dough ball.
Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap.
Allow the dough to rise in a draft free place for about 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size. You can also place the dough into the refrigerator overnight. In the morning 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.
Simply, but gently roll each piece from the center out into long, equal rope like strands. 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.
Braid the strands, and tuck the ends under, as shown in the video. With hands cupped on the braid roll the loaf gently back and forth, as shown in the video.
Lightly rub some butter on the bottom of a baking pan or simply cover the pan with parchment paper.
Place the braided Züpfe on the pan making sure to leave enough space for the second loaf.
Crack an egg into a small bowl adding a pinch of salt and the heavy cream. Mix thoroughly. It is best if you use only the egg yolk with the cream and salt.
Gently brush the egg over the braided dough making sure to avoid degassing it. Avoid spilling the egg wash on the pan as it will burn when baking and create an unpleasant smell. Simply remove any spillage with a paper towel.
Cover loosely with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes. A large, clean, clear plastic bag is also perfect to get the job done.
Right before placing the bread into the oven, gently brush the loaf once again with the egg wash.
Place the pan on a lower shelf into the preheated oven and allow it 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, an afternoon snack or just about any time when accompanied with some good butter, honey, and homemade preserves. It is also good when served with cold cuts. Enjoy!