I’m always shocked when I hear that someone is afraid of making bread. Apparently, the word “knead” is scary for many. Well, stop worrying; really all that it means is that you get to push around a lump of dough. After, of course, punching it a couple of times–feel free to let out any aggression. Not hard, I promise. Cheaper than therapy, too.
Growing up we always had a Zopf with honey Sunday morning for breakfast. I still love it and will make it, although it’s hard to eat as one person because it stales quickly. Invite a friend over and try it, though, it’s absolutely delicious warm.
oil for your hands/basting
Dissolve the yeast into the warm milk, add melted butter, sugar, and salt. Stir in half the flour. Separate one egg, reserving the yolk. Add the white and the other egg to the batter, then knead in enough of the remaining flour that the dough is soft but not sticky. Place in a greased bowl, flip, cover with a clean dish towel (not a linty one!) and let rise 20 min. Punch down (yes, punch). Divide into thirds and, with greased hands, roll into equal length “snakes.” Braid together, tucking the ends under and place on a cookie sheet. Let rise 1/2 hour. Use a pastry brush to brush on the reserved egg yolk. Bake at 350 for ~25 minutes. Serve warm with honey.
Recipe comments: The milk should be warm but not hot– think temperature of a baby’s bottle. Held against your inner wrist it should feel warm but not uncomfortably so.
The approximation on flour is normal for bread recipes– the exact amount depends on how precisely you measured your milk, the size of the eggs, the protein content and humidity in the flour, and a lot of other factors it would be far too troublesome to figure out. Add just enough flour so that the dough is no longer sticking tenaciously to your hands. You don’t want your dough to be dry. If you’ve made bread before you should be able to “feel” it, if not you’ll learn to with practice. And don’t sweat it too much, I’ve never had bread NOT turn out due to water content. Bread is pretty flexible. Incidentally, the oil basting is to both 1) prevent the dough from drying out and 2) prevent sticking.
Braiding: You may also divide the dough in half, roll those into snakes, and (starting from the middle of the snakes) do a four-piece braid. I find the three-piece more manageable. If you’ve never braided before, it’s simple:
1. Line the 3 pieces up parallel to each other.
2. Cross the piece on the left over the one in the center.
3. Cross the piece on the right over the one in the center (which is the original one from the left)
4. Cross the piece on the left over the one in the center…right over center…left over center…
5. To finish, gently pinch the ends together and tuck them under.