A loaf of Swiss bread on the last day of school
FOR children in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland, the last day of school is a mixed blessing. Soon there will be swimming, hikes through Alpine meadows, sailboating on the blue waters of Lake Zurich. Meanwhile, there is still studying to be done and exams to pass with good marks.
While American students often give gifts to their teachers after exams are over, in Zurich it's the teachers who must treat their students. The reward? Lollipops? Creamy Swiss milk chocolate, perhaps?
Indeed not! In sturdy Swiss tradition, the gift is bread. Examenweggen or Z"uri-Murren, as they are called, are really little ``milk breads,'' or buns, crusted on the outside, soft and buttery fragrant on the inside.
Specially shaped breads, or Gebildebrot, have long been part of many festive Swiss celebrations. Among the different kinds of Weggen there are Baptismal Weggen, Butter Weggen, and Examenweggen.
On the last day of school, the bakers of Zurich are up before dawn baking thousands of Weggen to celebrate the day. Each bun is stretched and rolled. The top is snipped with scissors and baked in huge brick ovens.
Early-morning customers, like teacher Dora Reichart-Nussbaumer, pick up large bags of these breads at the nearby bakery. When her students pack up their book bags for the last time, she bids them goodbye with a warm handshake and Examenweggen.
All the way home Zurich children munch Weggen with the same delight and pleasure as did their parents and grandparents before them.
It's not a bad tradition to start in your own family -- warm crusty buns, served with chunks of Swiss cheese and chocolate milk to launch the summer fun, or serve anytime.
Below are directions for making this treat for your own school-weary brood when they come racing into the kitchen on that last day. Examenweggen 1 tablespoon active dry or instant yeast 1/4 cup lukewarm water 1 teaspoon sugar 1 cup water 1/4 cup unsalted butter or margarine 1 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups (approximately) hard winter wheat bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour 1 egg 1 tablespoon milk 2 teaspoons sugar
Sprinkle yeast and sugar over 1/4 cupof lukewarm water. Stir briskly to dissolve. Over medium heat, blend 1 cup water, butter, and salt; cool to lukewarm.
Place nonfat dry milk and 2 cups of the flour into a mixer bowl. Add the yeast and water/butter mixtures. Beat well with electric mixer 5 minutes to begin gluten development. Gradually add remaining flour as needed to make a dough which is not sticky.
Turn out onto lightly flour-dusted surface. Knead 8 to 10 minutes until dough is smooth, soft, and elastic. If using a mixer dough hook, knead 6 to 9 minutes or until dough forms a ball and becomes shiny and elastic. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and clean kitchen towel and set in warm place until doubled in bulk.
Punch dough down. Divide into 6 or 9 equal parts. Let dough rest 10 minutes covered. Form each piece into a smooth ball so edges and folds disappear. Shape into a long roll (8 to 9 inches for 6 buns, 6 to 7 inches for smaller buns), rolling it back and forth with the palms of your hands. Taper slightly at the ends.
Place rolls on greased baking sheet, leaving a 3-inch space between rolls. Cover with kitchen towel and set in warm place until almost doubled in size.
Preheat oven. With a razor blade or very sharp knife, make a light slash down both sides, the length of each roll. Then with scissors, make 5 deep cuts across the top of the bun. Push open slightly.
Beat egg lightly with milk and sugar. Brush each roll with egg glaze mixture. Bake at 425 degrees F. for about 20 to 25 minutes. (This will make a crusty roll.) Turn baking sheet if necessary to equalize heat.
Rolls are done when glossy brown. They should be hollow-sounding when thumped on top and bottom. (Be sure bottom crust is firm.)
Place on metal rack to cool. Rolls are delicious when eaten fresh and warm but are equally tasty when reheated.