If the bread is braided, it must be Sunday in Switzerland

A welcome winter sun splashes light and warmth across our balcony. In the distance the gleaming mountain Jungfrau stands like white Dresden china against a Royal Copenhagen sky. From the path below comes the crunching sound of ski boots on fresh snow. In the distance a Viennese waltz gives gentle tempo to early morning skaters.

In such a setting even crackers would taste extraordinary. But Erika, our hostess, is Swiss. No crackers here! She pampers with the fondness of a doting mother hen.

This is Sunday and Erika herself visits the guest rooms with breakfast trays. She deftly spreads white linen on the little round table and adjusts a winter rose in a clear vase.

Then she lays out cheese -- surely from Brown Swiss cows that grazed in these high meadows last summer -- ham, and sausage. She arranges boiled eggs, a basket of creamy white braided bread, and a small bar of Swiss chocolate. But we don't see the usual morning Br"otchen and sturdy dark breads of yesterday.

Erika explains this is Sunday. And Sunday in a good Swiss household is the day for a high golden braid bread called Zopf. This old tradition originated in Canton Bern, she adds. Thank goodness the custom spread and lasted this long.

Slathering slices of Zopf with sweet butter and Himbecre (raspberry) marmalade, we lift our cups of Kaffee-au-lait and toast the Swiss. They not only run the best trains, make the best chocolate, provide this stunning scenery -- but also bake the best Sunday Zopf. Swiss Breakfast Braid (Zopf) 1 cup milk 5 tablespoons sweet butter 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 1 teaspoon sugar (approximately) 1/4 cup lukewarm water 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour Egg glaze

In a saucepan combine milk, butter, and salt over medium heat until very warm. Cool to lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over lukewarm water and stir briskly. Allow to bubble.

Combine yeast and milk mixtures in mixer bowl. Gradually add 2 cups flour and beat 5 minutes with electric mixer.

Gradually add more flour. Turn onto floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. If using a dough hook, knead 6 to 8 minutes.

Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down to eliminate air bubbles. Divide dough into three equal pieces. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes to relax the dough.

Roll each piece into a 20-inch rope and lay side by side. Beginning in the middle, braid to one end. Turn braid over and finish braiding. Pinch ends together tightly. Place on greased baking sheet. Cover with wax paper or clean kitchen towel and set in warm place until double in size.

At this point, if desired, the dough can be placed in the freezer 5 to 10 minutes just before going into the oven.

Brush with 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. for another 15 to 20 minutes or until bread has turned golden brown and is hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom. For a soft crust, cool bread on rack, covering loaf lightly with a kitchen towel. Makes 1 large braid or 2 smaller braids. This bread freezes well.

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