We’re into week 8 of COVID19 isolation/social-distancing here in Ontario, and may finally be near the end of everyone’s obsessive “quarantine bread baking” phase. I did not participate in the ransacking of grocery stores for flour and yeast, instead simply buying the lovely breads that seemed still to be readily available everywhere.
That said, all those pictures on Facebook, added to the ones sent to me by #2 son who tried new recipes almost daily (and took pictures of everything from dough kneading to proofing to the end results being eagerly eaten by our grandsons) meant that bread has been on my mind. So…. since there is no travel to blog about…
The French have two different words to describe the places where you buy baked goods: a boulangerie for breads, and a pâtisserie for cakes and pastries.
Germans also separate the place where the buy their daily bread (between 6 and 10 a.m. if you want the best choice!) and the place where they get their Pflaumenkuchen, Bienenstich and Schwartzwalderkirschtorte (Google them – you’ll find recipes!) to enjoy with afternoon coffee.
Both these bread-loving countries recognize that breads deserve a place of their own.
While I enjoy cakes and pastries as much as anyone, it is bread that I truly love.
In a world where “gluten-free” has become a bit of a diet religion, I am one of the old school of bread eaters. Maybe it’s genetic. I just love fresh croissants or brioche at breakfast; an evening meal with crusty dinner rolls, garlic bread, or breadsticks; and there is nothing more satisfying mid-day than a sandwich of cheese or meat and fresh vegetables (with mayo!) on really good bread.
Yeast and I have a love-hate relationship: I love eating foods made with yeast, but hate baking with it. I’ll make pie crusts all day before attempting bread dough. That means that, wherever we are in the world, I look for places to buy great bread.
Back in 2000 we spent New Year’s week in Cuba. While there were some tourists at our resort who complained about the food, I was completely in my element (spit-roasted pork is worth a whole blog to itself): the resort had gorgeous loaves of freshly-baked bread each day, along with a wide variety of local cheeses, and some very nice wines. Bread, cheese, and wine – who could ask for more?
In 2013, on our very first visit to Europe, we took a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. Most of our meals were on board our Viking cruise ship, where everything was made from scratch, including wonderful breads and rolls baked daily, and yet whenever we had free time in one of our destinations I found myself looking in the windows of bakeries. I remember especially the open-air stalls in Cologne, where the smell of freshly baked bread pulled us close, and the kiosks in Vienna where we could choose from a wide selection of Brötchen (buns, literally “small breads”) and have them made into fresh sandwiches to eat as we strolled.
In 2016, we spent a month in Germany and Austria: eating incredible seeded rye rolls and flaky croissants in Vienna; breakfasting on crusty dense pumpernickel under thin slices of smoked salmon and capers in Salzburg; feasting on poppyseed-bedecked semmeln (shaped like Kaiser rolls) in the Viktualienmarkt in Munich; and munching fresh doughy pretzels with our weisswurst in Frankfurt. The best bread we ate, though, was with breakfasts at my cousin Helga’s home in Holtum Geest. Each morning, before we were even out of bed, Helga’s husband Manni walked about 1 km down the road to the village bakery, where he joined the queue of neighbours picking up their daily bread orders. The bakery is open 7 days a week (bakeries are the one exception in a country where stores are closed on Sundays), but only until noon, because by then they’re sold out. Each day the bread basket on the table was a surprise, as the baker created a new selection to tempt the “Canadians”.
2017 saw us wintering in the southeastern U.S., where – for me – the big food attraction is southern buttermilk biscuits. There was a distinct lack of “real” bakeries with European style breads, but the biscuits made up for it. Biscuits with jam at breakfast (definitely no sausage gravy for me!); biscuits with butter, or slices of ham, or sharp American cheddar for lunch; dinners of biscuits with pulled pork, biscuits with chili, biscuits with chicken….. you get the picture.
In the fall of 2018, we traveled to Paris and Normandy. Everyone raves about Parisian baguettes, but honestly I preferred the less dry German version. That said, the croissants did not disappoint – especially when filled with dark chocolate or (even better) chestnut puree. On one of our excursions, Ted and I were touring the home where Van Gogh spent many months in Auvers-sur-Oise when I was completely distracted by a huge tanker truck outside the town’s bakery. Leading from the truck’s tank and through an opening into the underground level of the building was a huge hose, over a foot in diameter, pulsing with…. FLOUR ! So much flour is used in the bakery of this small town that it is delivered, not in 50 kg bags, but in tanker loads. The French, like the Germans, sure do love their bread.
In Scotland in the summer of 2019, we were pretty focussed on the many ways in which haggis could be presented, but bread still featured prominently in the form of almost daily scones…. no yeast, but plenty of baking powder.
This past winter we were on a month-long cruise in South America. My favourite restaurant on board The Viking Sun was Manfredi’s… for the Italian bread basket! Everything in the basket was baked on the ship, and served ONLY in Manfredi’s (the other restaurants had different selections of breads – delicious too, but …). There was olive focaccia, crusty rye flour Calabrese, garlic rosettes, crispy-crusted pannetone-shaped gorgonzola loaves, a delicate almost paper-thin lavash shard with sliced roasted garlic, and cumin breadsticks, all served with balsamic-infused oil for dipping and big chunks of fresh parmigiana cheese cut from the huge wheel near the restaurant’s entrance. Bread heaven.
Hunkered down in Collingwood, we are lucky to have access to bread from a couple of outstanding commercial bakeries specializing in German-style breads, Rudolph’s and Dimpflmeier, and a wide variety of flatbreads and wraps thanks to a vibrant middle eastern community of refugees settling here. While I am going to miss being in Germany this December (we’ve cancelled our winter plans this year), we won’t be going short of good bread here in Canada.
I just had a final thought…. do you suppose my obsession with the band BREAD when I was a teenager had anything to do with their name?