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What Is Hefekranz?

Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Updated May 16, 2024
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In the Central European nations of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, two types of sweet yeast bread are favorites, particularly during holiday celebrations. The hefekranz is a wreath made of braided raisin-dotted dough, decorated with slivers of almonds, while hefezopf is the same cake only laid into a fat, braided log. Both customary treats are dense sweet doughs made with flour, milk, sugar, yeast, butter and some eggs.

The names for these desserts are merely expository. Hefe means "yeast" in German. Kranz and zopf mean "wreath" and "braid," respectively. Depending on the household, either hefekranz or hefezopf could be served, or even both. They are popular desserts not only during Christmas celebrations but also at Easter and to ring in the New Year.

Making the dough correctly for hefekranz is crucial to achieving the bread's rich, flaky folds. First, yeast, water and sugar is mixed and allowed to rise. For 1 pound (0.45 kg) of flour, one recipe calls for this yeast mixture to contain 1 tbsp (about 14.3 g) of yeast, 1 tsp. (about 5 g) of sugar and 0.5 cup (about 60 ml) of water.

While the oven preheats to 350°F (about 177°C), this mixture is rolled through flour, more sugar, melted butter, eggs and raisins. Again, a recipe with 1 pound (0.45 kg) of flour has three eggs, 2 oz (about 60 g) of butter, 4 oz (about 120 g) of sugar and at least 1 cup (about 200 g) of raisins. The hefekranz dough is kneaded into a ball and then left to rise until it is expanded to three times its original size. Some cooks also add citrus zest to the dough mixture before kneading.

After first rising at room temperature, many cooks will give the ball a punch, roll it into a ball again, and then leave it covered in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, it can be divided into three equal portions and rolled out on a counter dusted with flour into long thick logs at least 12 inches (30 cm) long. Laid side-by-side, these logs can then be braided into a single loaf of bread. Almond slivers are pressed into the dough. After a quick brushing of milk or egg yolk, it then cooks on a baking sheet for about a half-hour — either in a long loaf or turned into a circle.

To make the bread sweeter, some extra sugar or raisins would not be unusual. Some chefs even add macerated maraschino cherries. This is often not needed though, especially once a traditional confectioner's sugar syrup is poured all over the top.

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