No Easter holiday is complete without braided bread. In Germany, it’s called Hefezopf while Jewish people refer to it as Challah. It’s very different in taste and texture than typical German bread. It’s soft, fluffy, rich, and slightly sweet.
Some might call it a cake, but I think it’s closer to American or Asian-style bread. It tastes similar to a French brioche and the most common way to serve braided bread is with jam. It’s traditional to eat Hefezopf on New Year’s Day and on Easter Monday. However, in my family, we eat braided bread all year round.
What you need for braided bread
The key ingredient to great braided bread is fresh yeast. It’s even in the name. ‘Hefe’ is the German word for yeast. I know that outside of Europe, fresh yeast can be really hard to source. But once you start baking with it, you will never go back to the dry stuff.
It’s so much easier and more reliable to work with fresh yeast. And I think the taste of bread made with fresh yeast is better. However, you can also substitute dry yeast if there’s no way for you to get fresh yeast.
The butter you incorporate into your dough should be soft but not molten. Don’t melt it in the microwave. If it’s molten the dough will be too soft and sticky to work with.
How to shape your Hefezopf
As with every bread, you will have to let your dough rise until doubled in size, deflate it, and then shape your braided bread. It’s easy to braid bread. You just do it like you would with a girl’s hair. There are many different methods for it and I use the one with four strings.
Before baking your Hefezopf, you need to let it proof until it has doubled in size again. Otherwise, it will come out too dense and heavy. Brush it generously with egg wash before placing it in the hot oven to give it a beautiful crust.
Always leave the braided bread to cool down for at least 20 minutes before slicing it. It’s best to eat it within one to two days as it will dry out very quickly. But with many hungry eaters during the Easter holidays, I guess you won’t have a problem with that.