Swiss Plaited Loaf

Zopf

People in Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria have a tremendous tradition of fancy baking, for feast days, holidays, or just for Sundays. This plaited bread, ideal for butter and jam for tea or breakfast, but good as well for luxury sandwiches (it contains no sugar), is what the Swiss family likes to eat on a Sunday: home-baked because it is the baker’s day off.

There is a symbol behind the plait: it represents the braid of the warrior’s widow, cut off before joining him in the afterlife.

Ingredients

  • 600 g/ lb unbleached white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 30 g/1 oz fresh yeast
  • 150 ml/5 fl oz milk and 150 ml/5 fl oz soured cream, warmed together to 32°C/90°F
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 120 g/4 oz butter, softened
  • 1 egg, beaten, for glaze

Method

  1. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Crumble the yeast into the well and add the warm milk and soured cream. Mix to dissolve with your fingers. Add the beaten egg and the butter, and mix to a dough. Turn on to a floured work surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, until soft and shiny. Leave the dough to rise in a bowl covered with oiled clingfilm in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
  2. Turn it on to the lightly floured work surface, knock back and form into a ball. Divide this into four and roll each piece into a sausage shape, about 25 cm/10 inches long and 2.5 cm/1 inch thick. With a strong flour, you will have to work in stages, with a little rest between, so as not to stretch the dough too quickly.
  3. To make the dough into a plait, press the four long pieces together at one end, giving them a little twist and tuck for neatness.

    Top: To make the plait, press the four long pieces together at one end, giving them a little twist and tuck for neatness.

  4. Counting from your left, fold 1 over 2, 3 over 1, 4 under 1, and 4 over 3. Repeat until you reach the end. As you work, the strands will probably lengthen. Nip and tuck the second end in the same way as the first end. Place the finished loaf on a greased baking sheet, cover it with oiled clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm place for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.

    Counting from your left, fold 1 over 2, 3 over 1, 4 under 1, and 4 over 3. Repeat until you reach the end.

  5. Brush the loaf with the beaten egg and bake in the centre of the oven for 35-45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.