BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Butterzöpfe (Sunday bread)

High above the Simmen valley in the Berner oberland, Andrea Sprenger-von Siebenthal and Markus Sprenger run a big family hotel in the village of Sannenmöser. Long known as Les Hauts de Gstaad and Spa, it also goes by the name Golfhotel and is gradually building a solid reputation for excellent food using fresh local produce.

Beef, lamb, veal and wild boar comes from regional suppliers, fruit and vegetable is seasonal, fish is from mountain lakes and their alpine cheese comes from two small farmers further along the valley.

Simmentaler cows, who graze alpine flora, produce cheese and milk with a depth of flavour that is distinctly alpine. Markus calls it a ‘feeling,’ and you can taste that feeling when you eat their alpkäse and sample the cultured butter Joachim makes fresh in his kitchen.

His ‘plain’ butter is a melt-in-the-mouth experience that lingers and remains unforgettable. He also makes a beetroot butter and a herb butter. We haven’t mentioned the boletus mushrooms they served as a mousse and as a soup. The flavour is so strong you can still taste the forest.

Then there is Sunday bread, known famously in Switzerland as zöpf or butterzöpfe.

One of Switzerland’s oldest traditional foods, this bread has been a feature of weekend life since the 15th century. The dough was made Saturday, baked Sunday. The Swiss use zopfmehl, a combination of wheat, spelt and barley flours.

Some people think it owes its origins to a custom whereby widows cut off a braid of their hair and buried it with their husbands. As time went on, they buried a loaf in the same shape instead of their hair.

  • 870 g strong white wheat flour
  • 600 ml whole milk, warmed
  • 120 g butter, softened
  • 115 g white spelt flour
  • 30 g yeast
  • 25 g salt
  • 15 g barley malt flour

Dissolve yeast in the milk. Sieve flour into a large baking bowl, add salt and work in the butter. Add yeasty milk, work into a dough. Fold out onto a clean work surface, knead for 15 minutes into a smooth dough. Leave to rise for an hour, de-gas and leave for a further hour. Place dough in refrigerator overnight. Divide dough into four equal pieces, and form each into a long sausage, tapered at each end. Braid two of the dough sausages, repeat, place both loaves on a large greased baking tray. Leave to rise, about an hour. Preheat over to 180°C. Bake for 50 minutes, until the surface of each loaf has browned.