18 September 2011

A German Brotzeit in California

Enjoying the September sunset in Santa Barbara yesterday evening, Germany started to be on my mind.  Thoughts of my grandmother, who loves flowers and lays out a well-planned flower bed in her garden every year, of my uncle and his bakery already in the midst of their Christmas baking season (those Lebkuchen are in high demand when the weather turns cool!), and as I returned from my walk, sat down at my computer, and started looking over my collection of recipes on Apricosa, I realized that the German side of me has not been getting as much attention here.

Granted, my culinary obsession now centers on the flavors of the Mediterranean with a healthy does of Korean cuisine, but I'd have to say that my first inspiration for getting into the kitchen and making something to eat came from the days I'd spend as a little girl playing around in my grandfather's Backstube, watching him and his apprentices turning out huge loaves of rye bread and light, crispy white rolls in the wee hours of the morning, and standing at my uncle's elbow as he put together delicious Sahnetorte creations of exquisite beauty.

With callouses from much physical work and constant handling of hot bread, my Opa (grandfather) would often slide loaves out of the hot ovens into large wicker baskets using his bare hands.  I remember him laughing one time when I tried it myself and ended up surprised over how hot it was to touch.  I think I was quickly consoled, however, getting set on one of his wooden stools tucked off to the side of all the activity in the bakery and being handed a fresh, steaming roll to munch on.

We're always lucky when my uncle and his family come to visit in Santa Barbara, bringing with them loaves of real German rye bread.  There's nothing like it to be found in the United States, as far as I've been able to find: dense crumb and hearty crust, based on a mix of wheat and rye flours and a starter from leftover loaves of bread.

The small crisp white rolls, cut in half and eaten with butter and homemade jam or Bavarian honey, or a slice of cheese and ham, are lovely breakfast treats, but the big loaves of Roggenbrot or Mischbrot are more of the staple.  Eaten at breakfast, used for snacks (my mom used to pack me Mischbrot and Lyoner sandwiches for my mid-morning break when I was a school student in Heidelberg), and the basis for evening Brotzeit (supper, literally meaning "bread time").

At traditional German suppers, it's always fun to put together different combinations of open-faced sandwiches: maybe salami, cheese and pickles on one, and butter and tomatoes and hardboiled egg slices on another.  I remember discovering what is now one of my absolute favorite combination at a bread restaurant-cafe in downtown München.  It was a large slice of this hearty bread, with a slathering of Quark, a generous sprinkling of chives or green onions, and slices of tomato sprinkled with a little salt.  Absolutely divine to sink my teeth into the soft yogurt-like cheese supported by the sturdy slice of bread, flavored with juicy tomato and hints of onion flavor.

So whenever a loaf of German bread gets into my hands these days, I am always sure to have a few slices topped in this way.  With the discovery of 0% Fage Greek yogurt, I have been able to get a pretty decent substitute for the traditional Quark, and green onions (or chives), with tomatoes from the garden, finish off this wonderful breakfast, lunch, or supper.  And I'm also enjoying the addition of thinly-sliced cucumber as well these days!

See how you like this combination: thick, spreadable Greek yogurt on a slice of hearty bread.  You can go the savory route with these great veggies, or perhaps add a bit of jam or honey, if you prefer something sweet!


Susan Lindquist said...

When we lived in Germany, we had a bread called Vollkornbrot every day with slices of cheese, hams and sliced vegetables ... it was very dense and had sunflower seeds and another type of seed (?) in it ... it was just so very good! Thanks for this post ... it brought back such good memories!

erica said...

Hi Susan--oh yes, Vollkornbrot is fantastic! Mmmm, wishing I had some of that now too! :)

the Junkie book said...

that first pic is to die for! so you're from a bakers family and poor Opa...had a tough life...tasteful though.
what do you do now? have you ever wanted to start a patisserie or something like that?

erica said...

Hi Thoma, it's good to hear from you! With bakers in the family, I indeed have, at various stages in my live, dreamt about having a bakery or a restaurant of my own, but now I'm realizing I'm glad not to have the pressure of working in a professional bakeshop on me all the time.

I'm now starting into my last year of a Ph.D. in biology...don't know exactly what will come after that (actually hoping it doesn't involve too much science ^_^), and I'm looking forward to all the new adventures that are sure to come after grad school!

the Junkie book said...

wow a Ph.d throws open a lot of options. i did my pre doc. now it's been kids and then i want to work. and a patisserie is my dream if my sis is willing to join me...she's cool and good at PR but that's only my post retirement plan if i live to see it! as of now it's academics.

good luck with your studies! why don you start a flickr profile...your photos are fab and sooo original. my flickr id is thomajaggery. chk it out when you get time!

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