A Sunday treat: the traditional plaited loaf

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A plaited loaf tastes best when it’s fresh and crispy on the out­side and soft as butter in the middle. But this is nothing new. Its inventors had the same idea almost 600 years ago.

Swiss tradition from the oven

The delicious baker’s speciality is still a hot favourite when it comes to Sunday brunch. According to Swiss bread researcher Max Währen, baking the «Züpfe», which originated in Bern, is a tradition that has been maintained since 1430. At that time, white flour – and the plaited loaf made from it – were considered luxury goods. For this reason, the loaf was a festive treat and only eaten on special occasions. In order to distinguish it also visually from conventional bread, it was artistically plaited.

Recipe for classic plaited loaf

To prepare a classic plaited loaf, special flour designed for this pur­pose is often used. This is a mixed flour, consisting of 85% white flour and around 15% spelt flour. Since spelt has a higher gluten content (gluten protein) than wheat, the dough is more elastic and easier to shape. Opinions are divided as to whether or not an egg should be added. Depending on the recipe, one to two teaspoons of sugar are added to the dough. By feeding the dough, the sugar enables the dough to rise well.

Ingredients

500g plaited loaf flour

10g salt

1 pack dry yeast

1 tsp. sugar (optional)

40g butter, in pieces

300ml milk-water (half-half)

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. milk

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The classic plaited loaf recipe requires around 35 minutes of preparation plus 3 hours of rising and baking. As a wreath, it becomes a beautiful adornment to any breakfast table.

Prepare the dough

  1. Mix the flour, salt, dry yeast and sugar in a bowl.
  2. Add the milk and water mixture and butter and mix.
  3. Knead into a soft smooth dough.
  4. Cover and leave at room tem­per­a­ture for approx. 2 hours until doubled in size.
  5. Halve the dough, and form both halves into rolls equal in length.
  6. Make the ends a little thinner and plait according to instructions.
  7. Whisk the egg with the milk and brush the mixture over the loaf.
  8. Place the loaf on a baking tray lined with baking paper and leave to rise for a further 30 minutes.
  9. Bake for around 25-30 minutes in the lower half of an oven pre-heated to 220 degrees.
  10. When the loaf is baked to an even golden brown, remove from the oven and leave to fully cool on a rack.

Plaiting methods

The variety doesn't end with the in­gredients. There are dozens of ways of plaiting the bread. The most common and well-known way consists of creating two strands which are laid out as a cross on the working surface and then plaited. It’s also fun to form the dough into people, animals or wreaths – especially when baking with children at Easter or on other festive occasions.

Classic plaited loaf

The most common: form a cross from two strands and plait (in german).

Knots for small portions

Use one strand to form a knot. Want to make it sweeter? Place a chocolate stick in the middle (in german).

Plaited loaf as a wreath

Needs a little practice: take 3 strands and form the dough into a circle (in german).

How healthy is a plaited loaf?

The nutritional content of the traditional plaited loaf is nothing to write home about. Since the flour for a plaited loaf has a low milling grade, it contains few minerals and little fibre. The higher the milling grade, the more nutrient-rich outer layers of the grain and husk particles the flour contains. Those looking for a healthier version don’t have to go without the tasty treat altogether – there are alternatives.

How to keep the plaited loaf fresh

Don’t store the loaf in a fridge, but in a place that is dark and not too warm. Excellent options are a bread bin or bread bag. It's best to place the left-over loaf cut-side-down or to cover the cut side with cling film.

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