Blog - Breads & Quick Breads

Almost Traditional Irish Soda Bread

by Jack McNulty
March 17, 2013
Almost Traditional Irish Soda Bread

Traditional soda bread recipes should only contain flour, baking soda, salt and sour milk – that’s it! I have seen many recipes that a fat or raisins in the ingredients, but this is actually considered an entirely different recipe called ‘spotted dog’.

Soda bread will often turn out rather heavy, with a gummy texture when using the simple ingredients.  I find the interior of the bread becomes more flaky and the crust a bit harder when adding about 20 gr. of olive oil.  The added fat will shorten the gluten a bit, which can also be achieved using butter. But, olive oil also hardens the crust during the baking process and butter just creates the flakiness inside.

You can also make this recipe lactose-free by replacing the buttermilk with a mixture of: 180 gr. soy yogurt, 220 gr. rice milk, 5 gr. cream of tartar and 1 Tbl. lemon juice oil).

This recipe makes one large round loaf.

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Olive Oil Zopf

by Jack McNulty
August 20, 2012
Olive Oil Zopf

Zopf has always been one of my favorite breads – especially fresh out of the oven and slathered with jam on a lazy Sunday morning. Traditional zopf, though, has quite a lot of butter and milk…not good for those watching their health or waistline. So, we came up with this method as an experiment to see if we could substitute the butter with olive oil and create something similar to a traditional zopf. We already knew substituting rice milk for the milk in the original recipe would be no problem, and just to keep things challenging and vegan, we came up with a vegan egg wash (combine 35 gr. water with 1 tsp. malt, 1 tsp. corn flour and 15 gr. olive oil).

The result was astonishing. We simply couldn’t believe how good the experiment went and proceeded to consume the entire loaf. To ensure the recipe works consistently, we went ahead and made the zopf again the next day…you know, just to see if we could produce the same high quality bread a second time or if we were the benefactors of beginners luck.

Fortunately, the recipe worked a second time and we are once again enjoying zopf at home – but without the animal fats!

Braiding of the zopf is simple – once you get the hang of it. We have a nice video in our original zopf recipe posted in our blog. Follow this URL: /blog/How-to-Make-Zopf/


olive oil zopf two

Olive Oil Zopf

Makes about 3 loaves of 500 gr. each

1 kg. zopf flour
30 gr. fresh yeast
1 Tbl. sugar
1 Tbl. salt
5,5 dl rice milk
145 gr. olive oil
egg wash or vegan egg wash

Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast with the rice milk, then add this to the flour by creating a well in the middle of the flour and pouring in the yeast mixture. Leave for about 10-15 minutes to let the yeast come to life. Once the yeast is foamy, add the rice milk and olive oil then mix together to form a dough. Knead for about 5-7 minutes. The dough should be a bit sticky, so add some flour when it sticks too much to your surface. The dough is right when it’s still sticky, but not sticking to your hands. Put the dough in a bowl, lightly cover with a towel and allow it to double in size – about an hour. Form one large zopf, or 3-4 smaller loaves. Allow the formed bread to proof for 20 minutes, then coat with an egg wash (or vegan egg wash). Add poppy seeds to the bread and bake at 200° C (with fan) for 30-40 minutes (bake for 20 minutes if you would like to freeze the bread). Cool before slicing.


Avocado Cornbread

by Jack McNulty
August 13, 2012
Avocado Cornbread

I was quite surprised to be served cornbread with steamed lobster during my recent trip to Boston and Maine. I really didn’t know this was a common accompaniment to sweet lobster. My previous experience with cornbread always came with a good steaming bowl of chili…and I really enjoyed the combination. But the lobster connection was completely new to me.

I didn’t actually taste the cornbread-lobster combination because I don’t eat anything made with dairy products – and cornbread has lots of butter and milk in the ingredients. Bummer really, as I could imagine the taste of a well-made moist cornbread would match nicely with the sweet meat of steamed fresh lobster. This idea stayed in my head and I knew I would be making cornbread my way very soon.

I decided to experiment a bit and try to create a version of cornbread which would have a very moist consistency and rich corn flavor. I replaced the milk with rice milk, which worked very well and basically identical to normal milk versions. I used my standard conversion of 75% olive oil to butter in the recipe, which again worked perfectly. Substituting the eggs were a bit more challenging. I have used a smashed banana in combination with ground flax seeds successfully in the past, but I didn’t want any strange banana flavors in my cornbread. The idea of using a smashed avocado just came to me one morning and it seemed like a good replacement of the banana.

The outcome was very good, if not a bit different. A friend of mine commented on the cornbread and told me it was quite ‘Californian’ of me

Not a bad thing really!


Avocado Cornbread
This recipe makes about 12-16 squares…depending on the size of pan you use and how big you cut the squares

175 gr. Bramata Polenta (coarse cornmeal)
175 gr. all-purpose flour
50 gr. masa harina
20 gr. baking powder
10 gr. salt
1/2 avocado, mashed
1 Tbl. ground flax seeds
10 gr. vinegar
75 gr. olive oil
30 gr. honey
4,25 dl. rice milk

Preheat your oven to 180°C before you start gathering the ingredients. Generously coat your baking pan with oil – I use a 20-cm X 30-cm stainless steel pan. In a large bowl, mix together the polenta, flour, masa harina, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, add the mashed avocado, ground flax seeds and vinegar. Mix in the olive oil. Combine the rice milk and honey, then add these two ingredients to the avocado mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed together. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean – this will be about 35-40 minutes. Cool slightly, then slice into squares. I like storing any leftover cornbread on a plate with a paper towel draped over them. Storing them in an airtight container makes them go mushy.


Vegan Blueberry Muffins

by Jack McNulty
July 29, 2012
Vegan Blueberry Muffins

Warm freshly made blueberry muffins oozing their flavorful purple juices are one of my favorite summer treats.

The lure of tasting these muffins at the peak of blueberry season inspired me to develop a vegan version since I no longer consume eggs or dairy products…and this exercise became a perfect way for me to learn how to bake in a plant-based manner. Replacing the milk was actually quite simple and straight-forward because there are a lot of dairy-free milk alternatives: rice, almond, soy, hemp and oat to name a few. I chose rice milk for this recipe because the flavor is neutral and the consistency is very similar to fat-free cow’s milk.

Replacing the eggs were a bit more challenging. I first referred to Jason’s Egg Substitutes For Vegans posting, which I consider very informative and well-researched. Next, instead of simply using one of the styles, I elected to replace one egg in my more traditional muffin recipe with a flax egg and one egg using the mashed banana technique. I did this because I wanted the added background flavor of the banana and I thought this would also create more moisture in the batter. Finally, I replaced the butter with olive oil, which is something I have successfully done in previous baking recipes. I like to use a 75% ratio of olive oil to butter when substituting and I add 1 small spoon of arrowroot to the mix which helps the oil to slightly bind.

Make sure to use a gently hand in mixing the batter to insure a very light and airy muffin which just dissolves in your mouth.

I think these are a great alternative to regular muffins which are made with milk products and eggs. I am definitely looking forward to further vegan muffin experiments.

300 gr. all-purpose flour
60 gr. buckwheat flour
20 gr. gluten
100 gr. sugar
20 gr. brown sugar
20 gr. baking powder
5 gr. salt
50 gr. banana
5 gr. baking powder
1 Tbl. ground flax seeds
1 Tbl. water
1 tsp. arrowroot
250 gr. rice milk
75 gr. olive oil
1 tsp. arrowroot
150 gr. fresh blueberries, washed well

Mix the flours, gluten, sugars, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mash together the banana and baking powder, then mix in the ground flax seeds, arrowroot and water. Add the rice milk, arrowroot and olive oil. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until all the flour is moistened. Fold in the blueberries just to combine. The batter will look lumpy, but do not over mix. Add the batter to the muffin tin, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake in a 200° C oven for about 20-24 minutes.

King’s Cake

by Jack McNulty
January 6, 2009


King’s Cake (called Dreikönigskuchen throughout the Swiss German-speaking Cantons) is the first food tradition of the year. As it turns out, this recipe is simple to make and has many possible variations…allowing you to enjoy a fresh version for more than just one day!

Virtually everyone in Switzerland is in some way touched by the special bread overflowing from every bakery on January 6th.

Enjoying a King’s Cake is an old tradition with distinct Christian roots falling on the Festival of Epiphany. The cake itself is an odd-shaped bread consisting of 7-11 small rolls, which are often garnished with almond slivers, coarse sugar and sometimes raisins. One of the rolls contains a surprise buried inside, which allows whoever finds the hidden icon (mostly a plastic figurine) to be named king or queen for the day…and of course, also explains why these breads are sold with paper crowns.

The tradition in Switzerland can be traced back to the early 1300s, but its popularity waned considerably over the years and nearly disappeared altogether.

That is until large Swiss bakeries revived the tradition during the early 1950s and quickly flooded the market with mass-produced King’s Cakes…conveniently with a paper crown included! The bakers’ marketing efforts were rewarded and the King’s Cake has now become the number one selling specialty item for bakers in Switzerland with over one million being produced – an astonishing number for such a small country…but also leaving everyone with pretty decent odds of being crowned king or queen for the day.  read more

Zopf: US Recipe Conversion Tips

by Silvia
November 23, 2008

Our recipe conversion tips for making a successful zopf in the U.S.

Since our original posting on How To Make Zopf appeared, we have received a number of conversion questions from our readers in the U.S. – and rightfully so!

There are always a number of issues to consider, which can affect the outcome of most recipes. Different measurement standards (U.S. system of weights vs. British system vs. metric system), temperatures (C vs. F), and ingredients are the major factors to think about when reviewing a recipe.

Measurement and temperature conversions are easy enough to find or calculate, but the ingredients often require some special considerations. This is also true with our original zopf recipe as we discovered last year while attempting to make a fresh zopf in the U.S.

Here’s how we converted the recipe and produced a successful and tasty version of zopf:   read more

How to Make Zopf…

by Jack McNulty
April 5, 2008
How to Make Zopf…

Let me start by saying, I am a border-line zopf addict.

I’m not referring to the zopf everyone can regularly buy in most store locations throughout the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, although freshly baked store-bought zopf is not bad. No, I’m referring to the real thing.

I crave that taste of real butter and full fat milk in genuine zopf. I marvel at the light and airy texture. I become utterly intoxicated whenever the aromas gently waft out of the kitchen. I drift with those aromas and begin to visualize soaking up the last bits of olive oil infused with tomatoes and mozzarella, or slathering marmalade on lightly toasted zopf…

Oops…sorry about that divergence. I suppose I should write a bit about zopf and how it’s made.

Classic zopf is a bread braided in a very specific manner to give it a unique shape (the word zopf actually means braid). It is a simple bread enriched with high proportions of milk and butter, which played an important historical role. Zopf was traditionally made on Friday and consumed on Sunday. To prevent the bread from becoming stale large amounts of fat were incorporated into an otherwise basic bread dough, and voila…a bread that stayed fresh for several days.

Zopf is not uniquely Swiss, although the tradition has survived since the mid-fifteenth century. The origin of the bread is a bit hazy, but it is not too difficult to imagine that zopf came from the widely-known Jewish Challah bread (or Hallah), which is virtually identical in its make-up but often braided differently. Challah bread was known throughout Austria and Southern Germany shortly before zopf emerged in Switzerland. The Jewish tradition of making and consuming the bread was also quite similar to the Swiss custom. The dough was formed on Thursday evening, baked on Friday morning and usually consumed Saturday night or Sunday morning.

The shape of the bread is filled with symbolism. Some say the braid represents intertwining arms and symbolize love. Others have a more biblical reference, saying the twelve humps from the braid represent the twelve original tribes of Israel. According to Swiss lore, some believe the shape grew out of the old custom of widows cutting off their braid to bury with their husband.  Over time, the braid was replaced with a fresh loaf of zopf.

Today’s zopf is mostly mass-produced and made without the use of butter or fresh milk. Instead, most commercial zopf is made with milk solids, aroma and plenty of hydrogenated fat (not exactly our idea of a fresh alternative).  But as it turns out, making your own zopf at home is not too difficult.

Have a look at our video to see how it’s done…

Our Zopf Recipe…

1 kg. Zopfmehl
1 Tbl. sea salt
1 Tbl. sugar
6 dl. milk
150 gr. butter, melted
30 gr. fresh yeast
one egg yolk mixed with 2 spoons of milk

yield: 4 loaves weighing about 400 grams each, or 2 loaves weighing in at about 800 grams each

Before you try making your own zopf, we think it is a good idea to understand the importance of each component and why we are careful in choosing specific ingredients.

The Flour: Zopf is traditionally made with a special type of flour called Zopfmehl. It is readily available throughout Switzerland. This type of flour is mostly a mixture of all-purpose white flour and white spelt (gr. Dinkel). It is especially well-suited for fat-filled doughs, because the increased amounts of protein from the spelt will improve the dough’s elasticity and help hold the shape while keeping a soft texture. If you do not have access to zopfmehl, then try making your own mixture by combining about 15% bread flour with 85% all-purpose flour.

The Fresh Yeast: We use fresh compressed yeast in our zopf recipe. Dry yeast can be substituted by using 40% of the fresh yeast’s weight (I’ll do the math for you…that would be 12 grams of dry active yeast in place of 30 grams fresh yeast). You will need a bit more time to develop the sponge if you are using dry yeast.

The Milk: We like using full fat milk in our bread recipe, which contributes to the texture, flavor, crust color, and keeping qualities. Using low fat or non-fat milk will produce lighter colored breads, which are slightly more dense.

The Butter: Butter is about 80% fat, which is very important for a good zopf. Fats tenderize and soften the texture of a dough, while adding flavor, richness and keeping qualities. We prefer using unsalted butter in our recipe, because it has a fresher and sweeter flavor when compared to salted butter. If you want to use salted butter, then make sure to reduce the amount of salt you use in the recipe. We don’t recommend the use of margarine or other types of shortening to produce zopf…we just think these fats defeat the purpose of making your own zopf.

The Salt & Sugar: Salt plays a very important role in baking. It is more than just a seasoning or flavor enhancer…it also strengthens the structure of the dough and improves the texture of the bread. Salt will also inhibit yeast activity, so never add salt directly to the liquid in which the yeast is softened. The addition of sugar will add sweetness and flavor to the dough, as well as creating a soft texture. Sugar helps yeast to ferment and retains moisture in the finished bread.

Ok, let’s get started…

Steps in Making Your Own Zopf

The first step is to create a sponge (the common term used by bakers). This step is important because it gives the yeast a head start…and it allows you to check to see if the yeast is in fact alive and well. Place the yeast in a small bowl and break it up a bit with your fingers. Add the sugar to the yeast, then add about 1 dl. of the warmed milk and mix slightly (make sure the milk is not over 40° C or you will kill the yeast). Place the flour into a large bowl and sprinkle the salt around the edges. Form a well in the middle, then add the sponge mixture, making sure to blend in a small amount of flour with the sponge. Let the mixture sit for about 10-15 minutes in a warm location to allow the sponge to develop. You will notice bubbles forming as the fermentation process gets going, and the sponge looks like…well…a sponge. You are now ready to begin mixing and kneading the dough.

Melt the butter and add it to the remaining milk (remember…keep the milk mixture warm, but not over 40° C). Mix the dough well in the bowl, then place it onto a clean work surface and begin kneading. You should knead the dough for about 10-12 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, soft and slightly moist to the touch. Place the kneaded dough in a clean bowl, lightly coat the top of the dough with oil, then cover with a clean towel and allow the dough to rise for about one hour in a warm location. The fermentation process is complete when the dough has doubled in volume. A dent will remain or fill very slowly after you press lightly into the top of the dough. If the dough springs back, fermentation is not complete. Once the fermentation process is complete, you are ready to begin rolling and braiding the bread.

Begin by splitting the dough into four equal parts if you want to make two larger breads or alternatively, split the dough into eight equal parts if you would prefer making four smaller loaves. One loaf requires two equal parts, so we will begin there.

Roll two of your portions into a long log shape (the video demonstrates an effective and simple method to rolling out the dough…even though most professional bakers would…hmm…mock our simplified approach). You are now ready to braid the bread.

Braiding is often the most difficult part of learning how to make zopf, but once you get the hang of it…well, it’s actually not that difficult. Place the logs in a wide ‘X’ shape in front of you. Pick-up the furthest end of the bottom log and bring it towards you, placing it between the bottom portion of the ‘X’ shape. Place the other end of the same log over the top to form a new ‘X’ shape. Next, pick-up the furthest end of the second log and again bring it towards you, placing it in the middle of the bottom portion of the ‘X’ shape as before. Place the other end of the same log over the top, and continue with this same process until the braid is completed. When you get to the bottom, just gather the loose ends together and tuck them under the braid. When you’ve finished one bread…well, go ahead and make the remaining breads. Simple…right?

Allow the braided zopf to rest for about 30 minutes. Make sure to keep the bread covered with a clean towel during the resting period. Meanwhile, go ahead and prepare the egg wash, which can be prepared in a number of ways. You can simply use one whole egg, or combine an egg with a bit of milk or sugar. Our preference is to use an egg yolk mixed with two spoons of milk, which we think produces a nice dark crust.

Bake the bread on a baking tray lined with parchment paper in a pre-heated 200° C oven (if you are using a convection oven, then reduce the heat to 180° C). Allow about 45-50 minutes for larger loaves and about 35-40 minutes for smaller loaves. Cool completely on a rack before slicing…if you can wait that long!

Tip: Zopf freezes very well…but, there is a trick. Don’t bake the bread entirely, but rather remove it from the oven after 20 minutes of baking and cool the bread completely. Place the half-baked zopf in a plastic freezer bag, seal tightly and freeze. To finish baking, simply place the frozen zopf directly in a cold oven, turn the temperature to 200° C and bake for exactly 20 minutes. Cool slightly before slicing and enjoy! You can keep frozen zopf in the freezer for up to six months.

än guete…