Swiss New Year Bread

Bake Swiss New Year Bread

Happy New Year

Helen Stuckey Bair Kohler

I’ll admit that I am a little late in wishing you a Happy New Year with this Swiss New Year Bread. I hope that I will get back to regular blogging, and intend to start with a collection of recipes that I used over the holidays.

Welcome back and thanks for reading.

Way back in November 2016, I shared a bread recipe used by my husband’s grandmother, Helen Kohler and his mother Agnes Badertscher. They used this incredibly delicious bread dough to make either rolls, loaf bread or coffee cake. My husband’s sister, Kay, told me that Grandma Kohler called it New Year Bread.

That seemed odd, because when I looked up Swiss New Year bread, I saw images of a braided loaf, and Granda Kohler, as far as we could remember, did not make braided bread. However, when I checked the Mennonite Cookbook that I like to refer to for traditional Swiss Mennonite recipes, I found a recipe for a braided New Year Bread that was very similar to Grandma Kohler’s recipe.

Sonnenberg Mennonite Cook Book
A collection of recipes from the Mennonite community where my husband grew up.

What is Zupfa?

In the Sonnenberg cookbook, I discovered a bread titled Zupfa And as is the rule in small communities like the Wayne County Ohio Mennonite community, my husband immediately recognized the name of the recipe contributor. Mrs. Merl Lehman, in fact is married to one of his not-too distant cousins.

I compared the two recipes–Grandma Kohler’s and cousin Mrs. Lehman’s Zupfa. The main difference between the two was that Grandma’s recipe included 1/2 cup of sugar. Additionally, she mixed the yeast with some sugar and water to proof it before mixing it in whereas Mrs. Lehman, mixed her yeast with the dry ingredients. And the Zupfa is a braided loaf that takes more than four hours to complete when you include all the waiting for multiple rising periods.

And what is Zupfa? As you may have suspected, Swiss New Year’s bread — a braided white bread.

Bread is Simple/Bread is Complicated

Note: Everyone makes bread with the same basic ingredients: flour, salt, yeast and water. However, it is amazing how many variations of bread exist by tweaks to that basic recipe. (For instance check out this very simple peasant bread). You can add eggs or shortening/butter, milk instead of water, or sugar. And of course there are a multiplicity of flour types, and you can add in fruit, nuts and seeds to the finished product. The shapes are different, the way you handle the dough, how many times it rises–all these variations to the simple basic four ingredients can make an enormous difference.

Swiss New Year Bread
Swiss New Year Bread (Zupfa) braided dough before baking.


I think some people don’t try baking bread because bread making involves a kind of “baby sitting.” You can’t just mix up some stuff, pour it in a pan and put it in the oven. Zupfa particularly demonstrates that challenge. Although the work is not extensive, the baby sitting takes up more than three hours.

So here you have Swiss New Year’s Bread (Zupfa). Just remember:

  1. Start early. (If you are in a hurry, bake the Peasant bread I linked above.)
  2. Don’t be afraid of the braiding process. It probably won’t be perfect the first time–or in my case–ever.
  3. I watched a couple of You Tube videos on braiding bread, and recommend you look for the King Arthur Flour video lesson. Plus a tip from another video–always pick up the bottom strand to fold over to the center.
  4. You’ll notice if you are searching for tips on braiding bread, that you get a lot of challah recipes. The breads are very similar in appearance.
Swiss New Year Bread/Zupfa
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Swiss New Year Bread (Zupfa)

The Swiss New Year Bread (Zupfa) is not as complicated as you might think, but it does take a long time to make because of several risings–so plan ahead.
Course Bread
Cuisine Swiss
Keyword bread, Swiss
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Resting/Rising 3 hours 10 minutes
Servings 32

Ingredients

  • 2 pkg dry yeast 4 1/2 teaspoons
  • 6-7 C flour
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 C Milk whole
  • 1/2 C Butter plus some for brushing top
  • 3 eggs for dough
  • 1 egg for glaze
  • 2 tsp water for glaze

Instructions

  • Mix 3 Cups of flour, yeast and salt in large bowl.
  • Heat milk with butter over low heat until just warm. If you are using an instand thermometer, you are shooting for 110-115 degrees. (I think of it as the temperature of baby’s bath water.) Mrs. Lehman adds that the butter does not have to completely melt.
  • Gradually add liquids to dry ingredients in bowl, Beat either by hand or electric mixer for at least two minutes.
  • Add one cup of flour and blend in.
  • Beat eggs slightly and add to the batter. Beat at high speed for two minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.  
  • Keep adding flour to handle easily, and stir in until no flour is visible. 
  • Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead until smooth–five to ten minutes.
  • Grease another large bowl (or scrape out all remnants from mixing bowl and reuse).  Shape dough in ball and turn it in the bowl so all sides are shiny with the butter. Leave sooth side up, cover with cloth or plastic wrap and let rise until double–about 1 1/2 hours.
  • Punch down gently, cover and let rise again until double–30-40 minutes.
  • Turn the dough out on board and divide in two parts.  Make two rounds and let it rest 10-15 minutes.
    Half of dough for Swiss New Year bread
  • Divide in two parts, and set one half aside, covered.  Divide the half into three equal parts and roll each into a 14″ strand.
  • Using the three strands, place close together on lightly greased baking sheet. Braid the stands gently and loosely. Do not stretch.
    Braiding of bread
  • Fasten ends and tuck under securely.  Repeat the process with second half.
    Swiss New Year Bread
  • Brush the braided dough with softened butter, cover with damp cloth and let rise until double — 40-50 minutes.
    Bread dough buttered
  • Brush with egg yolk glaze and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes. (190 degrees on instant thermometer inserted in center)  Let rest on pan for ten minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  When totally cool, wrap tightly for storage or freezing if you are not eating the bread immediately.
    Swiss New Year Bread

Notes

Mrs. Lehman called for 7 1/4 to 7 1/2 cups of flour, which I found excessive. 
I put the bowl of dough  into an unheated oven with just the oven light on and that worked very well for the first rising periods. Just remember not to preheat the oven, until you get to the point where the braided dough is rising. You will let it rise on the counter or near but not on the stovetop while the oven heats.
When I was braiding the first loaf, at first I did not get the strands close enough together as I braided, so I had large lumps. It was not hard to unbraid it and start again.  Of course you can make the loaf longer and skinnier or shorter and fatter as you wish.
I added the 1/2 cup of sugar to the recipe because I thought a slightly sweet taste would be appropriate for this special bread.
Finally, I have to mention that I apparently let the braided dough rise a bit too long.  If you look at the final picture with the instructions you will see some strange strands. That is the sign of what is called over-proofing. Had I been aware, I could have corrected it by starting over with the shaping. Honestly, I don’t think the problem was serious enough to do all that, but it is handy to know that you can correct the problem and get a pretty loaf.
 

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