Tag Archives: Helen Kohler

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.
 

Grandma Kohler’s Triple-Treat Sweet Roll Dough

Like My Mother Made

My husband doesn’t spend a lot of time wallowing in nostalgia for the foods that his mother cooked. But he has frequently mentioned his mother’s cinnamon rolls, so I figured I’d better find a recipe that could replicate Agnes Badertscher’s cinnamon rolls, which were actually made from a sweet roll dough.  What I got was both a surprise and a bonus of three recipes in one, including a loaf of just about the best white bread I’ve ever had.

Sweet white bread

White sweet bread loaf from Grandma Kohler’s sweet roll recipe.

I contacted Kay Badertscher Bass, Ken’s sister, who has written here before about vintage Badertscher recipes and about the Dalton Dariette run by their uncle.  She knew immediately what rolls her brother was talking about, and informed me that they were actually from a sweet dough recipe of Ken’s Grandmother, Helen Kohler. Even better, I thought, a three generation recipe I could pass on to my grand daughter as I did my own grandmother Anderson’s sugar cookie recipe.

Kay went digging for the sweet roll dough recipe, and soon I got the following e-mail, which sheds light on the history of the yeast dough. Turns out it yields three or four different types of sweet rolls, if you would be overwhelmed by three dozen cinnamon rolls and want variety.  Here’s Kay’s message that describes a novel way to help along the rising sweet roll dough.

The Original Sweet Roll Dough Recipe

Okay, I think I’ve unearthed what you are looking for.  It’s called New Year’s Bread* and it is an OLD recipe.  I recall Mom and Grandma Kohler getting together and making this recipe in batches for coffee cake, dinner rolls and sticky buns.  The most distinct memory was how Grandma Kohler asked Mom to put boiling water in both sides of the kitchen sink to sit and then placed the dough underneath the sink in the cabinet, covered with cloth towels to rise.  (and I also remember getting scolded royally when I kept opening the cabinet doors to see what was happening)
Here’s the basic bread recipe:
2 c. scalded milk
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. Crisco
2 pkg. (2 T.) yeast
1/2 c. warm water
2 eggs, beaten
6 – 7 c. flour

Pour scaled milk over sugar, salt, butter and Crisco.  Set aside.  Then mix yeast in warm water.  Add the yeast mixture and eggs to milk mixture.  Add enough flour to make soft dough, knead, let rise.

Depending upon what you decide to make with the dough, the instructions are to bake at 350 degrees for 30 – 40 min. (which may or may not be accurate) (NOTE: It is NOT accurate. It does not take that long. See recipe adaptation below.)

If making dinner rolls brush tops with butter after taking them out of the oven.

The streusel topping was a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and a little flour….of course, no measurements!  Grandma Kohler used to divide the coffee cake dough in half and put some of the streusel in the middle as well as the top.

The sticky buns were usually made by rolling out the dough into a rectangle, sprinkling the streusel mix over the dough and then rolling up into a log.  Grandma Kohler would dust the bottom of the pan with lots of butter and a little streusel and then place the rolls on top and dust them with a little more streusel before baking.

Sorry this isn’t more specific.  Mom and Grandma Kohler used the “by gosh and by golly” method of baking with a pinch of this and a handful of that.  But we grandkids loved that coffee cake just as much as Ken, I’m certain!  Probably why Grandma finally switched to the frozen bread dough in the latter years cause we asked for it constantly.

Well, that’s shocking!! the traditional way of making a vintage family recipe three generations ago was frozen bread dough??? That certainly plays hob with our assumptions of what is vintage, doesn’t it?

*One thing still puzzles us.  Grandma Kohler called the recipe New Year’s Bread, but she did not make a braided bread that is the tradition in Swiss and German New Year’s Breads.  I checked out my vintage Sonnenberg Centennial cookbook, and found the recipe for New Year’s Bread which is only slightly different, so next time I make this recipe, I may experiment with a braided loaf. Wish me luck.

At any rate, I blended some of the instructions in the Sonnenberg book (from a recipe submitted by a close friend of Agnes Badertscher) and I made Kohler’s recipe for sweet roll dough (before she turned to frozen bread dough), and enjoyed making a pretty big batch of dough.  I made a dozen cinnamon rolls, a dozen cloverleaf rolls and one delicious free-form loaf.

Sweet roll dough

Grandma Kohler’s sweet roll dough BEFORE rising! you can see by the 2-cup measure on the side that this is a large amount of dough.

Cinnamon rolls

Cinnamon rolls from Grandma Kohler’s sweet roll dough.

Ken looked at the rolls and immediately said those words every wife dreads–“Not like my mother’s.”  When I turned it over and showed him the side where I had sprinkled granola, obscuring the coils of the cinnamon roll, he said, “That looks more like it.”  Then he gave it the taste test.  Really good, he said. But that is not my mother’s coffee cake.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.  He apparently was thinking of his mother’s baking-powder raised coffee cake with streusel on top rather than the more elaborate yeast dough that goes into the sweet rolls.

Oh well, nothing lost.  He (and I) enjoyed every bit of the cinnamon rolls, sweet dinner rolls and white bread that the sweet roll dough provided.

Adapted Sweet Roll Dough Recipe

Here is the sweet roll dough recipe–hopefully a little clearer than the “by gosh and by golly” instructions that came directly from grandma Kohler and Ken’s mother.

Do not be intimidated by the length of the recipe. Remember, I am trying to give you fairly detailed instructions for making THREE kinds of breads.

THANK YOU KAY!

Sweet Roll Dough – Cinnamon Rolls, Dinner Rolls, Bread

Serves 36
Prep time 3 hours
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 3 hours, 45 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Meal type Bread, Breakfast
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable
A tried and true family recipe yields cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls or loaves of white bread.

Ingredients

proofing yeast

  • 2 packets active dry yeast (Equivalent: 4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup warm water (Comfortable to drop on wrist.)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon sugar (for proofing yeast)

dough

  • 1/2 cup sugar (for dough)
  • 6-7 cups flour (plus more for kneading and patting out dough.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups milk (heat just short of boiling)
  • 2 eggs (beaten lightly)

Cinnamon roll topping

  • 1/2 cup butter (melted)
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon

Cinnamon roll topping (Optional)

  • 1/3 cup granola cereal or chopped nuts

Directions

Proof yeast
1. Sprinkle yeast on warm water in 2-cup container.Briefly mix in teaspoon of sugar. Set aside.
Mix dough
2. Blend dry ingredients--3 cups of the flour, 1/2 C sugar, salt.
3. Heat milk with butter and vegetable shortening and cool to lukewarm.
4. With electric mixer in large bowl, beat the dry ingredients (with the 3 cups of flour) and and the hot milk/shortening mixture until batter is smooth.
5. Add the yeast (which will have risen if it is active) and the eggs and stir with spoon until blended into very sticky dough.
6. Work remaining flour into dough with fingers, 1/2-1 cup at a time until the dough no longer sticks to fingers. Use as much of the 3 cups as you need.
7. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface and knead until springy and elastic.
Mix dough.
8. Shape into a ball, and place in greased mixing bowl. Put the smooth side down first, and then turn the dough that all surfaces are oily. (You can use the same bowl you mixed the dough in if you first scrape out most of the dried dough sticking to the surface.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel.
9. Let rise until doubled in warm, draft-free location. ( 1 to 2 hours)
Shaping rolls
10. Divide the dough into two or three pieces. Put the pieces you are not working with in the refrigerator.
11. For Cinnamon rolls, pat out the dough to a rough rectangle, then roll out (if you use 1/3 of the dough it will be about 14" x 18". )
Baking rolls
12. Grease 9 x 9 square pan or large pie pan, or cookie sheet for cinnamon rolls and mix the sugars and cinnamon for topping. If you are using granola or nuts, sprinkle them on the bottom of the pan.
13. Brush the top of the dough rectangle with melted butter, and sprinkle on the sugar-cinnamon mixture.
14. Roll the dough up from one long side to make a log and pinch closed the seam.
15. Using a very sharp knife or a piece of unwaxed dental floss, cut one-inch pieces from the log.
Baking Rolls
16. Place the rolls on the pan. If you use a cookie sheet and leave space between they will be crusty. If you place the side by side in a pan they will be softer on the sides. Cover with a tea towel and set aside to rise.
Baking rolls
17. When the rolls have risen by a third to double their original height (30-45 minutes), bake in 375 degree oven for 15 minutes (longer for glass pans).
Dinner rolls
18. To make dinner rolls, shape one batch of dough as you wish--clover leaf by placing three walnut-sized pieces of dough in a muffin tin; Parker house by placing balls of dough side by side in cake pan, etc. Place in buttered pan. Let rise and bake as for cinnamon rolls. When they come out of the oven, brush the tops with butter.
Free form loaf of bread
19. To make a free form loaf of bread, make a rectangle as described for the cinnamon rolls. Fold the dough over in thirds lengthwise, pinch the seam closed, and fold under the ends to make a nice shape. Place with seam side down on greased cookie sheet. Raise and bake as described for other rolls, except that it may take a little longer. Test doneness by knocking with knuckles to see if you get a hollow sound. Brush top of bread with butter when it comes out of oven.

Note

The 1/2 cup of butter is more than enough for the cinnamon rolls if you are making 1/3 of the recipe into cinnamon rolls. I used the rest to butter the pans and to brush on the top of the dinner rolls and the bread.

If you are making more than 1/3 of the dough into cinnamon rolls, increase the sugar/cinnamon ratios for the topping.

I have described the three things I did with this dough. Making a good sized loaf of bread, a dozen cloverleaf dinner rolls and a dozen cinnamon rolls. Of course, there is nothing to prevent you from making all cinnamon rolls, all dinner rolls, or whatever you wish. The bread and dinner rolls should freeze nicely. The cinnamon rolls are problematic because of the sugar. And of course you can add raisins or dried fruit or seeds or nuts to the dinner rolls and bread.

This is a recipe with tremendous flexibility.

Have fun!