German Bread - latest version

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The Germans are very proud of their bakery culture. The word "Brot" translates to mean "bread", "pain", "pane", "hleb" (sorry no Cyrillic letters) etc, but, more than any other word ever translated, it conjures to the mind's eye of the reader a completely different concept, whichever culture he comes from:

  • The French picture a "flûte".

  • the British a white tin or bloomer

  • the Italians the somewhat more substantial ciabatta

  • In India, you have flat loaves, baked using ground lentils,

  • in Turkey or Iran a flat loaf more like a deep pan pizza base

  • the ancient Romans wound a very simple flour and water dough round a stick and baked it over a fire for eating the next day, off the stick.

  • And the German visualises a very heavy, very strong-tasting rye-based loaf of very dark, very densely textured bread. It seems that in Germany, bread is a foodstuff, whereas everywhere else in Western Europe, the Near, Middle and Far East (not to mention the American version, which defies description) it is either a necessity, an instrument for eating dishes with a high liquid content or just there so you don't have to spread your jam on your fingers.

There is a great choice of bread for all tastes and pockets available in Germany today. As mentioned above, the main ingredient is usually rye flour. This gives a sour, strong taste, mainly also because the technique used to cook it is not like the yeast-and-wheat-flour known elsewhere.

The basis is a "Sauerteig" (sour dough). This is made by mixing rye flour and water and leaving it to stand for almost a week. The bacteria that form (if you're lucky) create the sour-tasting catalyst, which causes the bread to rise. For a recipe and for the Danish version of this please go to "Danish Rye Bread"

Housewives on their own bread-baking trip will have a continuous culture going and will share it among the neighbourhood. As the dark, heavy German bread keeps for up to a week, baking need only be done on Saturdays.

The denseness is due to the fact that the heavy flour does not rise so readily.

To simplify matters, the rest of the information is summarised in the following glossary, as the main purpose of this Entry is to give assistance while faced with the shelves in the German bakery.

(Even Germans need help here, because the regional names for everything are so varied, they often have difficulties making themselves understood.)

The Baker's Shop

The Baker's Shop ("Bäckerei") is marked by a Brezel-shaped sign hanging outside (see below)

There will be a baker's shop on the corner practically everywhere you live. They open at 6 am and are open until 6 pm, but they are usually pretty much sold out by the afternoon.

Just go in and smell!

Loaves are arranged at the back, sweet pastries and rolls in the glass-fronted counter. Some people may be shocked to see the girls taking the unwrapped loaves from the shelves with their bare hands and dropping them into a paper bag. But believe me, in France, it's worse, and no one ever died from eating bread as far as I know. These shops very rarely bake their own bread, but they are branches of a real baker's not very far away, and the bread comes to the shop direct from the oven. The bread sold at the counters in the shop rows attached to supermarkets is usually baked by the same bakers. They are simply another branch of the baker on the corner at home.

If you buy a loaf, the assistant will immediately offer to cut it for you - "Geschnitten?" or "Schneiden?" she will say. Most families have an electric bread-cutting machine at home and will not need this. To my mind, you should only accept this offer if you are feeding a large group and are in a hurry. Cut bread, obviously, dries out quickly and the German bread is already quite hard and solid and chewy.

Also, when catering for groups, remember that this bread is very filling. No "Six slices a day is the well-balanced way" - Two or three will make a full meal with cheese or ham or cooked meats (German "Wurst") for a normal appetite.

Types of Dough

  • Roggenmischbrot : Rye mixed with wheat or other flour. This is the most common and cheapest type of bread. Has a lighter colour and texture and is sold in loaves of one or two pounds "Einpfunder", "Zweipfunder". Does not keep for long once cut

  • Weizenmischbrot : a lighter coloured bread, with different proportions of wheat and rye from Roggenmisch.

  • Bauernbrot : Similar to Roggenmisch, somewhat lighter, tastier, slightly more expensive.

  • Weißbrot 1: White bread. Does not cut or toast quite like the type of bread sold in Britain. Has a good taste when absolutely fresh.

  • Vollkornbrot : Uses the whole grain. Some are ground finer, some coarser. If possible, ask to see the inside of a cut loaf, if you prefer the finer grain for easier digestion, or the coarser to get the old bowels moving again. "Vollkorn" can of course be applied to any type of grain.

There are various proprietary names for other types of doughs using different mixtures of grain; some local ones in the South include "Kraftkorn" (grain for strength) "Sechskorn" (six grain), or any other variety with a number indicating the types of grain involved in the mixture.

Some specialist bakers will also sell "Laugengebäck". This is white bread boiled in salt water before it is baked. This gives the effect of the delicious and practical "Brezel", but is also available in roll form, or a small stick, or a complete loaf. Special "Brezel" stands will sell Brezel spread with butter, or even with cheese, or the sticks with cheese baked on the top - you eat these walking along the street or buy ten and take them back to the office for coffee break.

Shapes of loaves

White bread is sold as "Baguette" or "Stangenweißbrot" (French stick) or "Kasten" (tin) but can also be obtained in an oblong shape, baked loose on the tray, like a bloomer. Some bakers have also started offering "Ciabatta" which is based on the Italian bread, the shape is similar to the bloomer, an elongated oval, but the dough is a light wheat dough, slightly yellow.

"Bauernbrot" (pron: Bowernbroat) is usually round; the others mentioned above are generally sold in the shape they grow into when baked loose on a tray.


This really is a treat for all visitors because the choice of rolls is almost as great as the choice of bread. Just point to what you want. A good choice is a mixture of dark rolls, although for breakfast you may prefer white rolls for a lighter meal and for eating with jam, marmalade and honey.

Plain white rolls are baked continually in the shops, on trays delivered from the bakery.

A soft white roll could be called a "Milchbrötchen" (Milk roll), the others are often full of air and are sometimes derogatively called "Wasserweck" (Water rolls).

Because they are available in the shops at 6 am, fresh rolls are guaranteed. (This will, of course, also apply to hotels, etc.)

It is polite to tell the girl before you start how many rolls you intend to buy, so she can get the right size bag ready. Over 20 rolls, it might be a good idea to reserve them the evening before. You can pay when ordering or when picking up. Give your name, to simplify matters, and in case someone else comes to pick them up.

The biggest problem with rolls is what to call them.

You can never go wrong with the word "Brötchen" - difficult to pronounce, but universal. It is the diminuitive of "Brot"/bread. So squash the "o" sound to an "er" sound and don't struggle with the "ch" too much, "sh" will do. Further North, you can substitute the "ch" for "k".

You might also hear the words

  • "Semmel" in Bavaria (South East) (e.g. "Brezelnsemmel" is a "Laugenbrötchen")

  • "Weck" in Baden and the Palatinate (South West)

  • "Weckle" - further South, the "le" being a diminuitive you will find used for everything there, including being the ending of most surnames.

  • "Schrippen" - in Berlin.

  • "Rundstücke" - in Hamburg. (Literally "round pieces")

The Shape of the Brezel

There are many stories for the origin of the traditional shape of the Brezel. It is a kind of knot made of a long thin roll of dough, crossed over twice and the (thinner) ends pressed into the thicker middle bit, something like a "B". The usual explanation is that some high Churchman commissioned a baker to make something to represent the Trinity. The Brezel has three spaces between the parts of the knot. This makes it very practical for children and for eating in the street generally, you can hook it round your little finger while reading the paper.


The Brezel is about the size of a man's hand and the wider part of the dough is soft. It is only loosely related to the hard and dry "Pretzels" you get at parties. These are also sold in Germany, but not in kiosks on the street, you get them from the supermarket shelf with your crisps and breadsticks.


It might be easier to point out the loaf you want by telling the girl what it looks like. It could be covered with any of the following:

  • Mehl - (pron male) - flour

  • Sesam - (pron. Say Sam) - sesame seeds

  • Kümmel - (pron cue mel) - caraway seeds

  • Mohn - (pron. Moan) - poppy seed.

  • Haferflocken - (pron. Harferflocken) - rolled oats

  • Sonnenblumenkerne - (pron. as written) - Sunflower seeds

  • Kürbiskerne - (pron. Cure biss cairner) - pumpkin seeds (these are dark green)

  • Salz - (pron saltz) - salt (on Brezels)

  • Leinsamen - (pron line sarmen) - linseeds (small and dark brown, like shiny cress seeds)

Shop-bought Bread

Some types of bread are not available from the baker's. For example, you may not find the legendary "Pumpernickel". This is available inside the supermarket, packed up. It keeps for an extremely long time, is usually tightly wrapped in foil or even sold in tins. It is worth while trying, try it with just butter, or with Philadelphia cheese or jam.

On the same shelves you will find further variations on this theme. Once you have got used to the idea of black breads, you will be surprised how juicy and tasty they are. Again, here, the maxim applies that the breads are very filling, and a packed lunch with two sandwiches of black bread and ham or cheese will certainly keep you going for a good long time. The advantage of these is that they are only sold in slices and you can keep them in your drawer or fridge at the office or just whip off a sandwich quickly before leaving for work or school in the morning.

They are also decorative when arranging buffet trays with different types of bread.

Baking your Own

In small villages in the South of Germany it is still quite common - and it's becoming more popular again - to work with some kind of "Gemeindebäckereien" (Parish bakeries), i.e. the village administration runs a small "Holzofen - bakery", mostly one or two ovens made of a special kind of stone. You fill them with pine wood in specific dimensions (helps you to determine the heat exactly), then you burn it. After everything has burnt down you wipe the ashes out with a broom.

That's the big moment for all the housewives of the village. They make their dough at home and then they meet at the bakery where the loaves are put into the oven with the heated stones, where the bread bakes in roughly two hours. So everyone can make exactly the bread he wants to have (and the size). The difficult thing is to place them exactly and at the right distance from each other, because otherwise the heat treatment gets out of control. So if you have too many or too few loaves you have a problem. The baking time corresponds to the gaps between the loaves. Therefore you need one person to be responsible for the baking

This is more a social event than a culinary one, as they all meet up on a Saturday morning and have a good opportunity to chat and ask when their husbands cam home from the pub the night before.

Normally this village service is free, all you have to pay is a small fee to the baker, for example 50 Pfennig per loaf.

1 "ß" is equivalent to "ss" and is pronounced that way, i.e. Weißbrot is pron "Vice Broat"

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