The Zopf / Tresse / Braided Bread Loaf
In German Butterzopf, Hefezopf or Zopf, Swiss German Züpfe, French Tresse, and finally Italian Treccia, is one of the most famous Bernese specialties in Switzerland. Over time, it has spread throughout the country and has established itself as the unavoidable “Sunday bread”. In some areas, the breads that held this role before the arrival of the braided plaited bread loaf disappeared in favor of the latter.
The braided bread loaf would have spread from the year 1530 through the bakers of the city of Bern. Until 1629, the plaited bread was only made during St. Thomas, on December 21 and on New Year’s Day. From that date on, Bernese bakers obtained the right to produce all year round.
The Bernese origins of the braided bread are well established. The testimonies collected allow us to say that it is at least since the early twentieth century that the braided bread has been produced in many other parts of Switzerland. It can be said that the production of the braided bread loaf has been widespread in Switzerland throughout the last decades. Domestic production is still very much alive, in town and in the countryside, which is a singularity in the world of Swiss local products. Most bakeries produce them, as well as large distributors.
Where does the shape of this brioche come from?
So many explanations that remain conjectural. One of them would connects it with the traditional hairstyle of Alsatian women, another one connects it with ancient times, during which it was customary for the woman to follow her husband to the grave when the latter died. This practice was then replaced by the sacrifice of a braid of hair and then by a braided bread.
– 500 g (3 cups and 3/4 cups) bread flour
– 1.5 tsp salt
– 1 tsp sugar
– 60g (1/4 cup) softened butter
– 15 g ( 5 tsp and 1/4 tsp) fresh yeast
– 30 cl (1 cup and 1/4 cup) warm milk (between 32°C and 38°C / 89.6°F and 100.4 °F)
– 1 egg yolk
Activate the fresh yeast: Crumble the yeast in a bowl, add the sugar and pour 10cl (1/2 cup) of warm milk (between 32°C and 38°C / 89.6°F and 100.4 °F). If the milk is colder than that range the yeast won’t activate, if it is warmer the yeast will die. Put the bowl in a warm place for 5 to 10mn.
Stir yeast sugar and milk to mix well. The yeast must dissolve completely. It is possible the mixture will have a fairly thick and pasty texture. Put the bowl in a warm place free from drafts. You will know when the yeast is ready as it will foam or increase in volume.
Put the flour in a bowl. Add salt, and butter in small pieces, and the activated/dissolved yeast.
Mix everything by hand, and add the remaining warm milk little by little.
Work the dough for about 10mn.
Let the dough rest for 2 hours in a bowl that is large enough covered with a damp cloth (it will double in size).
Now the shaping begins, watch the YouTube video underneath for a 2 strands braiding method.
Let the plaited bread rest for half an hour.
With a brush, spread the egg yolk so that bread browns during cooking. Put on a baking tray on a baking paper.
Bake for about 1/2 hour at 180 °C/356°F. To know if a braid bread is well cooked, strike it gently with the fist or against a rigid surface. If it sounds hollow, it is the sign that it is cooked to perfection.