One of my favorite things to bake, and well, eat for that matter, is bread. I know it doesn’t get more basic than bread and butter, but it really is one of my favorite snacks, and sometimes meals. I credit my mom with this habit– she always baked a fresh loaf of bread every week and I ate a sandwich in my lunch almost every day throughout school. Although I generally try to cut back these days, the past few months of quarantine have seen more bread baked in my kitchen than I care to admit. Add a sourdough starter to the mix, and my oven has gotten non-stop action (of course that is an exaggeration… sourdough is largely a waiting game).
Anyway, all of this bread I’m making has me thinking about breads of the world and how I can make them at home, especially since I won’t be traveling for the foreseeable future.
Last summer we took a road trip from Italy through Slovenia, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. As always, when traveling on a budget, and largely camping and staying in Airbnbs, we prepare most meals from items we find at grocery stores. I like to plan ahead when picnicking because I tend to get hangry if I don’t stick to a schedule.
On our second day in Austria, we wandered around Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart, filming location of parts of “Sound of Music” and, most importantly, home to a very, very old bakery. I discovered Stiftsbäckerei by chance– we had a jar ajvar that we had gotten in Slovenia and had plenty of cheese, and I took a huge liking to ajvar and cheese sandwiches. (Aside: Trader Joes has a version, but I don’t think it’s as good as what we got at Aldi over the summer. That being said, Aldi Nord is the parent company of TJs and we may have been shopping at Aldi Sud or Lidl. Much conversation was had about this while driving around.) Avjar, a which consists of red peppers, eggplant, oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and vinegar, seems fairly easy to make and may be tackled in a subsequent blog post. Indeed, on that fair morning, I didn’t know that such a bakery existed, or was famous… We had gone into a cathedral, took some pictures, then sat down at a cafe for some coffee. Because we had only had a few slices of cheese for dinner the night before and some biscuits for breakfast, I figured I had better find something fast to prevent the afternoon food slump. I knew I wanted bread, so I typed “bakery” into GoogleMaps. Lo and behold, Maps led me right to Stiftsbäckerei, well, until my nose took over and followed the sweet yeasty smell of bread rising.
Of course there was a line out front. Dating back 1160, it’s the oldest bakery in Austria and is, subsequently, a major tourist attraction. The bakery itself is somewhat underground;
a staircase down leads into a cave-like area, the inner room seeming more museum-like than bakery-esque. A video showed “how it’s made” and an antique water wheel spun around in the corridor. My German is limited to singing the alphabet song, some colors and counting to 100 (thanks Austin Road Elementary School), but once I got to the front of the line I put my Euros down and grabbed my loaf. Here I will backtrack a bit and admit kilos are hard for me. When asked how much I wanted, I don’t recall what I said, maybe “eins,” but what I received was the largest amount of bread that I’ve ever bought. The exchange that played out in my head went something like, “I’ll take one,” but it soon became apparent that that wasn’t the reality. In the end, I think it may have been about 10 pounds of dense round loaf, but Giovanni described it as “a 5 pound brick of brown bread” in his journal. Needless to say, it weighed down my backpack. It’s made from sourdough, of which I’m an aficionado, and rye, which give it the distinctive color, texture and extra-fresh made bread out of the oven smell. The dough is given a long time to proof, which isn’t always the case in modern bakeries, and also requires a full-cooling before it can be eaten. Some Trip Advisor reviewers claim theirs was raw on the inside, but we had no such problem. I’ll admit, though, that I’ve had the problem of slightly raw bread when I’ve made it because I get overeager and cut into my loaf too soon. I, however, purchased my extra large loaf later on in the day and it had had ample time to sit on the shelf.
We made our way to some park benches, after wading through large groups of tourists, and ripped into the bread (my plastic knife didn’t suffice). The result was a vibrant, earthy flavor that paired nicely with the ajvar and cheese. It lasted us 3, or maybe 4 days, so at about 15 picnics in all, I can’t complain. Should you ever find yourself in Salzburg, be sure to type “bakery” into Maps, although Stiftsbäckerei isn’t hard to find– it’s a short 2 minute walk from Salzburg Cathedral.
Once I get rye flour, I will certainly experiment with my own version and post the results, in order to relive the magic.