Switzerland has so many different bread styles and shapes, and my newest favorite is Pfilenbrot, a round loaf with multiple curlicues and a 4-strand braid in the middle. Don’t be intimidated by this bread! I have an easy recipe for you, but I recommend using a scale to weigh out the ingredients and to shape the loaf.
Philenbrot originated in the canton of Appenzell Innerhoden, and it falls under the category of “Bröötis,” according to the inventory of Swiss food products, Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse. Another version of these breads has a braided outer ring, which I have yet to see. One possible theory for its name is that “Pfile” is a variation of the Greek word, “philo” for friend (“brot” means bread in German). This fits with the custom of giving Pfilenbrot at holidays, particularly at the end of the year.
If you would like to buy Pfilenbrot in Switzerland, I’ve read that you can find them at Gschwend in St. Gallen. Otherwise, you can use the recipe below. Honestly, I find that making the 4-strand braid for this bread is easier than braiding a loaf of Swiss Zopf!
Recipe adapted from Notre Passion (2012).
Makes one round loaf of bread.
Contains: egg, milk, wheat
- 450 grams white bread flour
- 10 grams salt
- 250 ml milk
- 7 grams active dry yeast
- 50 grams unsalted butter
- 1 egg
1. Add the flour and salt to a large bowl and whisk until blended. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Set aside.
2. Gently heat the milk over the stove in a small saucepan until it is very warm. Remove from the heat and dissolve the yeast in the warmed milk.
3. Once the yeast has dissolved, pour the mixture into the middle of the bowl with the flour and salt. Add the softened butter. Still until a dough forms.
4. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. Return the dough to the bowl and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap. Let it rise for at least 40 minutes.
5. When the dough is ready, use a kitchen scale to measure out 360 grams of the dough. Use this to form the outer ring of the bread. Form a large cylinder and place it on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and connect the two ends to form a ring.
6. With the remaining dough, divide it into 10 pieces of equal size. Take four of these pieces and form long cylinders. Braid the four strands together (here’s a video, if you need some guidance). Place the braid inside the ring of dough that you already prepared. Each end of the braid should be touching the inner edge of the ring.
7. Form the remaining 6 pieces of dough into shorter cylinders and then shape them into curlicues or “S”-like shapes. Place three on either side of the braid inside the dough ring. It should look something like this:
8. Cover the shaped dough with plastic wrap and let it rise for another hour.
9. When it’s done rising, whisk together an egg in a small bowl and then lightly coat the top of the bread with the beaten egg using a pastry brush (or the back of the spoon works too!).
10. Make 4 cuts into the outer ring of the bread with a very sharp knife (use the photo above as a guide).
11. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 210°C (410°F). The bread should be nicely browned and sound hollow when you tap it on the bottom.
It always tastes best on the day you make it, and the loaf doesn’t last much more than a day in our home. I love this bread because it isn’t terribly hard to make (it just takes some time), and the shape is so unique. I hope you like it too – either as a gift, for special occasions or just for everyday.
Have you ever heard of Pfilenbrot? Do you make it at home? Where do you buy it? If you have information to share about this traditional Swiss bread, please leave a comment below or send me an email. Many thanks!