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December 18, 2004

Bread and Butter

Most Saturday mornings, Julius gets up early and runs in to Aigen to the bakery. He goes to buy kipferl, the crescent shape rolls that Austrians insist are the predecessor to the croissant. (This should not be confused with a vanillekipferl, which is a ground-nut-and-butter shortbread crescent shaped cookie.) Kipferl come with and without raisins. I’m not a fan of the kipferl, I find them to be a bit too plain, and Julius knows that, so for me he brings the brownest, grainiest rolls they’ve got on the shelf that morning. Yesterday he brought a couple of ‘fladen’ – oatmeal and multigrain flat bread about the size and shape of a Pop-Tart, and a couple of spelt ‘weckerl’ – square brown rolls that are dense and chewy.

We buy our regular loaf bread in Liezen. Julius favors the kornbeisser, a molasses colored loaf made from a finely milled dark grain, and I’m partial to the sonnenblumenbrot, the sunflower seed bread, a dense whole wheat loaf with a variety of whole grains mixed in. Or the kurbiskernbrot, the same thing, only with pumpkin seeds instead of sunflower. Occasionally, we’ll get a small brick of pumpernickel, which is nothing like pumpernickel from an American supermarket. Pumpernickel is moist, like cake, but also, sort of like a grain pudding. I like to warm it in the toaster for a few minutes before eating it with real butter.

If you want a more refined white bread, you can get a kipfel or a semmel (I think we’d call that a Kaiser roll). You can get a brioche (a braided egg bread like a challah) or a stritzel (the same, only sweeter, sometimes with raisins). You can also get a very good baguette. You can buy US style bread here, along with a "matching" sliced processed cheese – it’s sold in a red, white, and blue plastic wrapper with the words “American Toast!” emblazoned in Uncle Sam typeface across the front – but why would you?

There is one loaf of bread in Seattle that has made the cut for the discerning European bread eater. (FYI, it’s the Tall Grass Bakery rye. Tall Grass is in Ballard, but you can buy their bread at Rainbow and Madison Market on Cap Hill.) When you eat bread here in Austria, you understand why it’s so hard to find something that even comes close to good enough. Bread in Austria is Food, with a capital F. It’s not some spongy filler or a vehicle for a spread; it’s a Food with its own merits.

In the US, our standard source for bread is usually our local supermarket. Even if our market has a bakery, chances are they aren’t cranking out production style loaves of decent whole grain. You’ll get a baguette, with or without seeds, a sourdough, um, that’s usually about it. Maybe a ciabatta. We get the Italian style white breads. (Aside – the last time we visited our friend in Italy, she asked us to bring Austrian brown bread for her.) It’s because of this, the prevalence of over processed white breads, that bread has gotten such a bad rap. Maybe Dr. Atkins was right in suggesting that we give up carbs, but that’s because your standard American carb lacks substance.

The other day we were at the Merkur, a new chain supermarket that recently opened in Liezen. They have a bakery and they had just packed up a fresh batch of sonnenblumenbrot. When I picked it up, it was still warm. It held the warmth until we got it home and when I sliced the end off, sunflower seeds scattered across the bread board. I ate my fresh slice with a slab of butter. It was delicious and satisfying.

Posted by pam at December 18, 2004 10:45 PM | TrackBack
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