Random Observations About Life in Germany: Brot versus Bread

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Nordwestzentrum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

Image: GrrlScientist, 20 March 2010 [larger view]

One of the things that I cannot seem to ever get used to in Germany is the Brot (bread). Especially when compared to American-made bread, which is universally horrible and often disgusting, German Brot is simply amazing. I have spent these past few months trying to identify which type of Brot is my favorite, but they all are so wonderful that my favorite is usually the one I am eating at that very moment.

All of the German Brot that I've tasted so far have a hard outer crust while the inside is dense and chewy and tremendously flavorful. Although butter or fruit jams are delicious toppings, I actually prefer my Brot plain, so I can enjoy the flavors and textures.

Being unable to identify which is my favorite Brot hasn't stopped me from designing and conducting numerous preference tests to solve answer this question. Preliminary test results indicate that I prefer dark Brot (rye, especially) that have been rolled in lots of whole seeds (sunflower or pumpkin are favorites) prior to baking. This means, of course, that I must participate in many more taste tests before I can identify which Brot is my favorite.

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Even though I live in Canada, some of the markets here offer a small selection of brots.
A favourite standby is good ol' pumpernickel (the real kind, not the American abomination). It's basically a rye bread, but baked slowly at low heat, up to a day. The end result is a sweet nutty ode to the Maillard reaction.
Even the name has an interesting etymology -from wikipedia:
" ...the Germanic origin of the word, in the vernacular, Pumpen was a New High German synonym for being flatulent, a word similar in meaning to the English "fart", and "Nickel" was a form of the name Nicholas, an appellation commonly associated with a goblin or devil (e.g., "Old Nick", a familiar name for Satan), or more generally for a malevolent spirit or demon. "

In other words, pumpernickel is the Devil's fart!

In a related note, I believe you can still find "Crotte du diable" (the Devil's Poo) cheese in Germany. It's probably the stinkiest cheese on record, but quite the gustatory delight.

By Frank Habets (not verified) on 31 Mar 2010 #permalink

I love baking for my European friends -- they actually pay attention to brot/bread/pan/motzi/etc. As one puts it, "I grew up with bread as a meal, not with a meal."

And if you wander over the border into the Netherlands, you'll find that they have also not lost the art of baking. Brewing is a different issue entirely.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 31 Mar 2010 #permalink

"American bread... universally horrible..."


I bake bread.

I am American.

I bake *wonderful* bread, with a variety of flours, yeasts, starters, etc.

I do so in America.


Don't make me come over there and hunt you down...


I enjoy good bread, although not entirely plain. Plenty of quality butter, and a morsel of fine English cheese. (I don't care what the Froggies say, ours is the best!)

i should have also mentioned finnish leipä (bread), which is heavenly as well. i think i actually prefer finnish bread to anything i've eaten, but again, this is something that requires numerous preference tests before i can say with any confidence that this is the situation. ;)

that said, i think that european breads are marvelous. i've never eaten any bread anywhere in the EU that tastes less than spectacular. i am simply trying to define which sort of spectacular appeals most to me.

cuttlefish: i am not comparing american-made bread that was made by people in their homes and using real ingredients along with plenty of TLC since i have not had the opportunity to taste such luxuries. (of course, i am happy to taste your bread when i visit america next -- and of course, i would take plenty of bread photographs to share on my blog, too).

i am comparing breads that i can purchase in stores or in bakeries. using that as a comparison point, well, americans universally suck. it's damned pathetic, when you realize that america is "the great melting pot." it seems that immigrants' bread recipes were lost during migration to america.

SimonG: i still remember the day when i ate my first english scones. i was at Down House, sharing a table out-of-doors with strangers as well as with a couple of my sciblings. it was windy, cloudy, cold and wet because it was raining intermittently. then the scones arrived, along with raspberry jam and whipped butter. from the moment the hot scones touched my tongue, everything melted away. i thought i'd cry, the taste was so amazing. i promised myself i'd do that again. unfortunately, it has been too long. must return.

American bread is not always vapid. But you can only get the good stuff at a bakery that's run by artisans. Never at a grocery store or a large commercial bakery, even if they claim otherwise.

I don't know what I'd do if the local artisan shop went out of business!

One of the necessary conditions for getting good bread is local sourcing, which is common in Europe but rare in the US. By the time you ship a loaf any significant distance, the good breads will have gone stale.

There are some halfway decent breads available in my local grocery store, but they are from bakers located within a 20 mile radius. I never buy the mass-produced stuff, for the same reasons you don't.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 01 Apr 2010 #permalink

I've heard it said that you can't make really good bread West of the Rockies - something to do with the water. It is indeed hard to get good bread here in Vancouver; it does exist, but you have to get lucky! The best I've had recently was a French-style baguette from a Vietnamese sandwich place.

I keep meaning to get a bread maker, but I'm scared it'll turn into one of those things you use four times and then leave in the cupboard.

I describe the difference between US bread and Brot like this. You can take a load of US bread, wad it into a ball, throw it against the wall and it pops back as a nice rectangle. You do that with German bread you go fix the hole in the drywall.

I've said for years that the USA should just admit that in general we don't know how to bake good bread, make good beer (although it has improved with microbreweries), or run a train system. Let's just outsource these things to the Germans or Swiss, or for the beer, the Czechs.

Cath@VWXYNot?: Go ahead and get the bread maker. Just only use it to automate the kneading and provide a nice controlled place to proof the dough. Most bread makers have a cycle that beeps when the dough is kneaded and proofed so you can form your loaves and bake them however you want. And if you feel lazy one day, go ahead and let it run through the whole cycle. After a few practice rounds, you'll still wind up with a result far beyond what you'd get at the grocery store.

By speedwell (not verified) on 01 Apr 2010 #permalink

Welcome to Europe.

Good bread at your typical grocery store is hard to come by in the States. Those shops stock a lot of cheap, national brands that have a lot of preservatives by necessity. If you want really good bread, either learn the recipes for it or go to artisan bread shops like someone suggested.
Here in LA though, I've noticed quite a few bakeries specializing in Mexican style breads. I haven't sampled them, but they look and smell delicious. Typically I get my sliced bread from Trader Joe's. White Shepherds breads is the best I've found so far.

Ahhhh, now you can maybe imagine the tormenting agony a german living abroad lives with every morning. And lunchtime. Actually, and coffee time, too. Sometimes, dinner.

Your description made my mouth water. Simple, sour-dough rye bread, with a hard crust, a bit caraway, a hint of aniseed and fennel each, fresh from a bakery, with unsalted butter. Oh...

And it will be a long, long time until I'll have german bread again. And our oven is broken.


Enjoy it as long as you can.

Learning to make good bread is essential to survival in the US - my personal nominee for best bread producing nation in Europe (a tight competition) is Latvia - Latvian bread is stunningly wonderful. I want some now. It took mild threatning of a native Latvian (yes, it was unethical and I regret the necessity, but hey, bread was at stake) to learn to make it.


I keep meaning to get a bread maker, but I'm scared it'll turn into one of those things you use four times and then leave in the cupboard.

That's up to you, of course -- but I'm on my third. Don't settle for just the given recipes, though; you have the time to do a proper sponge instead of a hurry-up. Some adjustment is necessary to account for dryness of the flour etc, which hand-kneading takes care of without hardly thinking.

However, once you get the hang of it you'll give up the commercial crap for good because it's easier, cheaper, and vastly better.

FWIW, a co-worker liked the samples I brought in so much he hunted up a never-unwrapped Oster on eBay for chump change.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 01 Apr 2010 #permalink

Oops, forgot: if you're not going to use specialty yeasts, get the stuff at Costco and keep it in an airtight container in the freezer. For about the same price as a handful of packets, I have a half-kilo of yeast that's lasted for years of regular use.

For that matter, even if you are using specialty yeasts, get the bulk stuff (and for that matter your bread flour too) because having a half-kilo of yeast in the freezer is just too danged convenient most days.

Buying flour in commercial quantities is actually smart, not least because it saves a lot of travel and packaging.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 01 Apr 2010 #permalink

Mu: heh!

DrA: the germans' train system sucks (their public transit system really sucks in general). i also hate german beer, which tastes rather like pisswater to me.

Cath@VWXYNot?: i've never had a breadmaker, but everyone i know who has one loves it. on the other hand, if you know someone who has a breadmaker that is languishing in their cabinet, maybe you can volunteer to take it off their hands in exchange for a few loaves?

sharon: looking forward to checking out latvian bread!

Grrl, which Germany are you in? I used the RMV for many years, and I still have to find the equivalent anywhere in the US.
As for bread makers, they give you the flavor, but they can't imitate the texture. So they are handy to help with the kneading and raising; and after 10 years my sourdough is starting to work well even with rye flour.