At the end of the summer, Rog and I were lucky enough to spend a week with our dear friends in Itzehoe, Northern Germany. I spent a very happy year living there in my early twenties and have some wonderful friends from that time with whom we are in regular contact and who visit us often. This time though, we were visiting them for a family wedding and a birthday party. It was a great trip and as well as being a sociable visit, I was able to spend three of the nights we were away baking at the town's busy bakeries. All three were extremely welcoming and I learnt a great deal in preparation for my German Baking course: 'Brot' which I am offering from January.
First up was the small bakery behind the Café Königsberg - partiularly popular for it's huge range of bread rolls. I rolled up at around 1.30am and spent the first quarter of an hour or so chatting to the three apprentices outside about their training whilst we waited for Meisterbaecker Martin to arrive. The owner of Café Königsberg is a lecturer at the local college and has a continual stream of young apprentices moving through the bakery as they complete their development and training as a baker. Unlike here, in Germany you have to complete a three-year apprenticeship in order to be able to call yourself a baker and get a job in a bakery.
Once Martin had arrived, naturally the hard work got under way! As specialists in the German breakfast favourite, the Brötchen (or bread roll), the Café produces over fifty different varieties. Particular favourites of the Germans are 'Laugenbrötchen' which are dipped in lye solution prior to baking to give them the distinctive shiny brown crust.
Although interesting to see, I am unlikely to introduce them at the loaf given our keenness to avoid chemical additives! However, they did give the apprentices an opportunity to show of their skills in making fun designs of rolls for the younger customers.
...and after baking!
Martin took a great deal of time to show me his hand-molding skills and the different techniques used in producing different shapes of rolls. For example, here is a series of photos showing how Hörnchen are made.
He also showed me a couple of techniques for getting different finishes on the loaves they produce. I particularly liked the finish on these beautiful rye breads.
Martin showing his skills hand-molding rye bread.
Look at the lovely pattern on the rye breads from the proving basket. These are ready for the oven.
I just loved the way these ones came out.
Next up was the patisserie specialist, Konditorei Frähmcke. Here I was welcomed initially by Jörg, the son of the father/son baking team. He turned out to be the German equivalent of a Real Bread proponent - just like me. I really got on well with him and was delighted to learn that their techniques, recipes and processes were all very familiar and similar to ours. Additive-free, using sourdough and preferments in all their breads and everything made by hand.
When Jürgen, Jörg's father, arrived, I started to ask about one of my personal favourites - poppy seed cake, or Mohnkuchen. He was only too pleased to get underway with the two-day process involved in making delicious yeasted poppy seed cake, inviting me to pop back the next morning to watch him finish them off.
Like me, Jörg has read up extensively to further his skills. A series of books he relies on are the Brotland Deutschland trio which I would just love to get my hands on! So if anyone out there has them and doesn't want them... !!!
Jörg has also promised to come and visit us in the new year when their hectic Christmas baking season is behind them.
Just loved these Ostpreussische rye loaves!
Here are a few more photos taken by a visiting journalist, Gaby Knoop:
With Jörgen, now friends in Real Bread!
Tucking in to the Laugenbretzel - Pretzel - I had learnt how to roll, twist and shape.
My final bakery visit was to Bäckerei Carstens. This is by far the biggest of the three bakeries and is run by Howe Carstens who I actually knew from my time teaching at the Kaiser Karl School twenty years previously. Howe had been in his final year at the time, and we actually took sport classes together and socialised with his group of friends in the local pubs! So it was really wonderful to see Howe in his bakery and to see it so busy and successful.
Despite its size (with 7 outlets and this year taking on 10 apprentices across the whole business!), Howe continues in his father's footsteps by making everything by hand and using traditional recipes and methods. One key difference, and one which was vital in a business of this scale, was the amount of product that was being frozen and chilled (retarded) during the production process. This was essential for being able to keep up with the volume of orders - particularly at the weekends. What impressed me most of all was the speed and hard work of the master baker, the bakers and the apprentices as they worked to produce literally thousands of each product line. All by hand. All in a relatively small bakery.
The fact that I don't have any photos to share of my visit here is testament to the fact that it was my third baking night during a short week when I had been socialising at full tilt during the days and evenings too! Evidence also of the fact that Howe put me to work hand-molding the two hundred odd fruit-loaves they had on order that day!! I am really hoping that Howe and his master baker pay us a visit here in Derbyshire so I can show them a rather more laid-back approach to baking (though we think we work quite hard too!!)!
I had an inspiring and educational week and, thanks to the organisation of Amke and Hans, my dear, dear German 'Eltern', I complete visits to three wonderful bakeries. Amke had also organised for the local newspaper to interview me so, if you read German, do have a look at the lovely article here.
I am really looking forward return visits from these bakers - we would be delighted to welcome them all at the loaf.