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!
Following are the measurements for a pre-ferment. Make sure to add the following pre-ferment ingredients to the dough recipe if choosing not to do the step of the pre-ferment. Why 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 development with more complex, delicious flavors. Not only better flavor but more extensibility of the dough, and a loaf with 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. In the center of the flour, make a well with your hand or the plastic spatula.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Once it has melted remove 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 of 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.
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!