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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.
 

Easiest Bread Recipe EVER

One of the reasons I got back to making bread after many years hiatus, is that donning that floury apron and baking bread makes me feel like I’m bonding with my grandmothers.  For all those 18th and 19th century grandmas, making bread wasn’t just some Martha Stewart exercise in being trendy and “artisan.”  If you wanted bread, you baked it! They were not making the easiest bread recipe, but I like to think that somebody discovered an easier way than their usual difficult job.

Easiest bread recipe

Easiest bread , sliced

Great-Great-Great Grandma Bakes Bread

If it was early in the 18th century, you went to the miller and bought a sack of flour, lugging it home in a wagon or on the back of a horse or mule.  And you stopped off at the brewers to pick up some of the yeast that was a by-product of his operation–because packaged yeast was somewhere in the dim future that you couldn’t even imagine. And the easiest bread recipe may not have been part of your repertoire.

You went home and mixed up the magic three ingredients–flour, water, and yeast –or you pulled your sourdough starter from the cool underground icehouse–and stirred up your batter in a big wooden bowl with a carved wooden spoon. (Perhaps you used a different grain, or added salt or even a bit of sugar.

Then you set the dough aside to rise, perhaps covered with a towel made of flour sack.  And you went about your other daily chores–collecting the eggs, milking the cow, sewing the clothes, cultivating your kitchen garden, perhaps “putting up” some fruits and vegetables (canning we call it now) for the winter. All in a day’s work.

Of course, the first thing that morning you had stoked the fireplace fire and from long practice, you knew which part of the hearth made the best place to bake your bread. You took time off from your other chores to give the dough a good workout–kneading, kneading, kneading, and set it aside to rise again (if you were not using the easiest bread recipe). When the dough had risen to perfection, you pulled off a hunk and shaped it into a loaf, and set it on the sweet spot on the hearth to bake.

And the next day–or perhaps two days later–you did it all over again.

The Easiest Bread Recipe

Easiest Bread Recipe

King Arthur’s easiest bread recipe–Peasant Bread out of casserole dish.

While I make plenty of bread that takes a lot of kneading and rising time, I recently found this recipe for peasant bread from King Arthur Flour, and it is the simplest and easiest bread recipe I have come across.  Those ancient grandmas would not have made this exact bread, because it calls for quick-rise yeast, which they definitely didn’t have. However, making a simple bread that bakes without extensive kneading and multiple risings would have been appealing, and might well reach back even to Europe before our ancestors came to North America.

Just mix the flour, water, salt, sugar and yeast.  Let it rise for 1 1/2 hours.  Deflate it a bit, put it in a oven-safe bowl and let it rest for about 15 minutes. Bake for 15 minutes–and you’ve got bread.  No kneading, no fuss no bother. Now isn’t that the easiest bread recipe ever?

(Follow the link to the King Arthur site for the recipe.)

A Bit of Bread History

The History Channel website gives us a fascinating look at the beginnings of bread. I learned that early Egyptians made the first commercial yeast–about 300 B.C. People got around to finely milling grains–thus enabling bakers to make softer breads instead of coarse “peasant breads” in 900 B.C. Another online history of bread tells us that bread was formed free-form on the bricks of the open oven until the 1800s. Finally pans were used. After the Civil War, we finally got commercially produced yeast and baking powder, which led to an easier way to make bread, if not the easiest bread recipe.

I love this Getty Museum article that tells you how to make bread the Medieval way–from growing your own wheat to building your own oven. Follow the link to see the entire process.

Medieval bread

Baking bread in Medieval times. Not much had changed by the time our first Puritan ancestors had harvested their first crop of wheat in the 1620s–or throughout the next two centuries.

Dutch Crunch Rolls Do The Two-Step

In Holland they call it tijgerbrood (Tiger bread) or tijgerbol (Tiger roll).  But a British chain store that sells the popular bread officially changed the name of its bread to Giraffe Bread. They have a point. Does this pattern look more like giraffe or a tiger to you?

Dutch Crunch Rolls

Tiger or Giraffe?

If you are American, and unless you live in the San Francisco area, you may never have seen the two-layer roll that is also known as Dutch Crunch Rolls.  Besides being popular in Europe, (I discovered this Dutch recipe on a Welsh cooking site), the City by the Bay loves them, too. For some reason, San Francisco has adopted the Tiger Bread as sandwich rolls, but they are keeping it to themselves–it has not spread to other parts of the country.

What accounts for the soft inside and the crunchy surface? Believe me, if it was some complicated, only-for-chefs secret, I would not be making Dutch Crunch Rolls.  But the “secret” is an easy two-step process.  First you make rolls similar to any yeast dinner roll you might make.  Let the rolls rise, then make a yeast batter out of rice flour and smear it on the raised rolls. Here is a picture of two rolls with spoonfuls of batter on top, and two with the batter smeared all over the roll.

Rice flour batter on rolls

Spreading rice flour batter on top of raised rolls

If you are not accustomed to making yeast rolls, please don’t be afraid to try Dutch Crunch Rolls.  Just don’t get the warm milk or water TOO warm, but do be sure it is warm enough to make the yeast happy.  The trickiest part of baking yeast bread is getting the kneading right.  It usually takes longer than you think it is going to take, but many cooks tell me that they look forward to the opportunity to get rids of agressions–taking it out on the dough.  Unlike biscuits, where the problems arise (or rather don’t rise) when you mix too much, bread dough needs a lot of massaging.  Here’s a You-Tube video if you need a primer.

So let’s show San Francisco and northern Europe that WE can make Tiger/Giraffe/Dutch Crunch Rolls, too! (Even though I cannot claim Dutch Crunch Rolls as a traditional Dutch recipe that would have been made by my ancestor, since no one seems to be able to trace it back further than the 1960s or 1970s.)

Dutch Rolls

Serves 6-12
Prep time 3 hours, 30 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 3 hours, 45 minutes
Allergy Milk, Wheat
Meal type Bread
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold, Serve Hot
Region European
Website Bright Eyed Baker
Soft on the inside, with a surprising crunchy surface, these rolls are popular in northern Europe and the British Isles.

Ingredients

Soft white rolls

  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 3 1/2-4 cups white flour
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast (If you use packets--they are slightly less than 1 T. Save the partial packet for toopping.)
  • 1 tablespoon salt (Use less if you don't want a very salty bread.)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Crunch Topping

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast (If you use packets--they are slightly less than 1 T. Be sure to measure)
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4-1 cups rice flour (Either white rice flour or brown rice flour will work.)

Directions

Soft white rolls
1. Put butter in milk and warm in microwave for one minute, or on stove top until milk is warm and butter has melted. Stir together and set aside to cool to lukewarm
2. In large bowl, whisk 3 1/2 Cups of flour, 1 T. yeast, sugar and salt. Add the lukewarm milk and butter and fold in with spatula until everything is combined in a somewhat sticky dough. If it is very sticky, add a bit more flour. Otherwise, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead incorporating the remaining 1/2 cup flour only if needed, until the dough is elastic, tacky, and smooth.
3. Shape the dough into a ball with a smooth top surface and place in a greased bowl about twice the size of the dough. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled in size (about two hours.)
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, punch down the dough and divide it into 6 (or 8 or more)* balls. Tuck outer edge together underneath and pinch them together. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheet(s), space at least one inch apart. Cover with towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise for 30-45 minutes, until puffy.
Soft white rolls and Dutch Crunch Topping
5. While rolls are rising on baking sheet, preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Crunch Topping
6. Combine the 2nd Tablespoon of yeast with the warm water, sugar, vegetable oil, salt and 3/4 cup rice flour for the topping. Beat together well to form a smooth, thick batter that drips off your whisk or spoon in thick clumps. Add another 1/4 cup of rice flour if needed to achieve the desired consistency. Let sit for 15 minutes.
Crunch topping
7. Spoon the topping in equal amounts over the fully risen rolls. Scoop up any batter that falls on the pan and patch any spots that are not covered. Use all the mixture.
Baking Dutch Crunch Rolls
8. Bake the rolls in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, until golden-brown on top. Serve warm.

Note

* Although the original recipe for Dutch Rolls calls for making six rolls--they would be the size of small loaves. I made eight and the size is like a large hamburger bun. There is nothing wrong with making twelve, which would be a more normal size dinner roll.

Be sure to spread the topping with the back of a spoon so as to cover the entire Dutch Roll for the pretty crackled finish.

Although the recipe calls for one tablespoon, I used no salt in the soft roll and the taste was fine. I believe I will use one teaspoon in the future.

I used brown rice flour instead of the traditional white rice flour and could not see any bad effect in the crunchy covering on the Dutch Rolls.