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Zopf is a traditional Swiss bread that is often served on Sundays. The loaf is braided and glazed giving it the golden appearance of another traditional braided bread — the Jewish challah. While there are some minor variations in recipes, most zopf recipes use the same ingredients. The main differences among zopf recipes lie in the appearance of the finished loaf and depend on whether two or four strands are used to create the braided effect.
Most zopf recipes require similar ingredients: white flour, salt, yeast, butter or margarine, and milk. Numerous recipes that supply specific ingredient proportions can be readily found on the Internet. The glaze is created using an egg yolk diluted with water, and then brushed on the loaf before baking. The ingredients are blended together, then kneaded by hand for about 10 minutes to create a soft and pliant dough. After kneading, the bread is allowed to rise in a warm spot for approximately an hour, or until the volume of the dough has doubled.
Following the first rise, the dough is cut into either two or four pieces, which are then rolled out to form strands approximately 12 inches (30 cm) in length. The strands are placed on a cookie sheet or baking tray, sprayed with water. They are then allowed to rise a second time for 30 to 60 minutes before weaving them.
Plaiting four pieces of dough to form the loaf can prove challenging. There are many photos and diagrams that can be found online illustrating various weaving techniques. A two-strand zopf, while not quite as visually arresting as a loaf using four strands, tastes exactly the same and could be an easier choice for the novice zopf baker.
After weaving the strands together, the ends of each strand are pressed flat and tucked into the bottom of the loaf. The zopf is then basted with an egg yolk and water mixture that will impart a golden glazed effect. The zopf is then placed on the lowest rack in a preheated oven and baked at 400° Fahrenheit (204° Celsius) for 45-55 minutes. To determine that the zopf is fully baked, a skewer is inserted into the thickest part of the bread. If, upon removal, no crumbs cling to the skewer, then the loaf is baked through. The loaf is then removed from the oven and allowed to thoroughly cool on a rack before cutting or tearing it into serving portions.
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