Let me start by saying, I am a border-line zopf addict.
I’m not referring to the zopf everyone can regularly buy in most store locations throughout the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, although freshly baked store-bought zopf is not bad. No, I’m referring to the real thing.
I crave that taste of real butter and full fat milk in genuine zopf. I marvel at the light and airy texture. I become utterly intoxicated whenever the aromas gently waft out of the kitchen. I drift with those aromas and begin to visualize soaking up the last bits of olive oil infused with tomatoes and mozzarella, or slathering marmalade on lightly toasted zopf…
Oops…sorry about that divergence. I suppose I should write a bit about zopf and how it’s made.
Classic zopf is a bread braided in a very specific manner to give it a unique shape (the word zopf actually means braid). It is a simple bread enriched with high proportions of milk and butter, which played an important historical role. Zopf was traditionally made on Friday and consumed on Sunday. To prevent the bread from becoming stale large amounts of fat were incorporated into an otherwise basic bread dough, and voila…a bread that stayed fresh for several days.
Zopf is not uniquely Swiss, although the tradition has survived since the mid-fifteenth century. The origin of the bread is a bit hazy, but it is not too difficult to imagine that zopf came from the widely-known Jewish Challah bread (or Hallah), which is virtually identical in its make-up but often braided differently. Challah bread was known throughout Austria and Southern Germany shortly before zopf emerged in Switzerland. The Jewish tradition of making and consuming the bread was also quite similar to the Swiss custom. The dough was formed on Thursday evening, baked on Friday morning and usually consumed Saturday night or Sunday morning.
The shape of the bread is filled with symbolism. Some say the braid represents intertwining arms and symbolize love. Others have a more biblical reference, saying the twelve humps from the braid represent the twelve original tribes of Israel. According to Swiss lore, some believe the shape grew out of the old custom of widows cutting off their braid to bury with their husband. Over time, the braid was replaced with a fresh loaf of zopf.
Today’s zopf is mostly mass-produced and made without the use of butter or fresh milk. Instead, most commercial zopf is made with milk solids, aroma and plenty of hydrogenated fat (not exactly our idea of a fresh alternative). But as it turns out, making your own zopf at home is not too difficult.
Have a look at our video to see how it’s done… More...