All Saints’ Day on 1 November means it’s time for a very special annual tradition: All Saints’ braids. This sweet pastry made of yeast dough in the shape of a plait is traditionally baked in the days around All Saints’ Day and then given as a gift.
There are a few different stories about where this custom came from. In ancient times, mourners are said to have cut off their braids as a mark of respect, which the All Saints’ braid symbolises to this day, while in the Middle Ages the pastry was given to those who were most in need. Of course, the custom also goes hand in hand with superstition. A loose, airy yeast dough is supposed to bring good luck in the coming year and, if the dough didn’t come out well, grave misfortune was feared.
In some parts of Austria, All Saints’ braids are also a traditional gift from godparents to their godchildren, and that’s exactly why this year I decided to bake the braid myself for my godchild.
For my yeast dough, I stir the milk and the egg together. Then I add the flour and crumble the yeast over it. Lastly come salt, sugar and the butter. Knead all the ingredients into a smooth dough. I had a bit of help from my machine blender, but it works just as well with pure muscle power.
Cover the dough and leave it to rest for at least 30 minutes, ideally in a warm place. This takes a bit of patience – the yeast dough needs to rise for a long time to make sure the pastry is nice and airy.
Once the dough has risen, I separate it into parts with the same weight – in my case, seven parts because I want to make one quadruple and one triple braid. I mould the parts into smooth balls and then roll them out into strands of equal length.
First up is my quadruple plait. For this I lay four strands out in a cross shape and braid them. 'Right, left, under, over,' I keep telling myself. So the right strand goes to the left, the left strand to the right, the lower strand goes up and the upper strand goes down. Repeat this until all the strands are nicely interwoven. I know it sounds pretty complicated but, once you get the hang of it, it works beautifully.😉
Once I've finished my triple plait too, I brush both of my braids with a whisked egg, and if you like you can sprinkle them with coarse sugar too. Then, I bake my sweet pastry in a pre-heated fan oven at 170°C for about 25 minutes until it’s golden brown.
Best of luck – and don’t forget to be patient with the plaiting! I can’t wait to see the look on my godson’s face when I give him his All Saints’ braid.
St John’s Parish Church, sometimes called ‘Pongau Cathedral’ because of how big it is, is a special place to remember loved ones – especially on the days around All Saints’ Day.
photo credits: Kathrin Brandner