The key to good bread

8 Feb

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St Peter with his key, watching over his bakery

A cold, wet February morning does nothing to lift the spirits, especially when you’re in Salzburg and have been hoping for a picturesque covering of snow and fine, crisp weather.  What a difference a visit to a bakery can make, especially when the bakery in question has been in existence since 1160 and greets customers with the tempting smell of freshly baked bread well before you’ve stepped inside.

I was in Salzburg as part of an ICOM Costume Committee group working on a project to produce a web based resource for making the most of costume collections in museums.  When you’re going to spend a day deep in discussion and debate over formats and contents an early morning visit to a such bakery provides not only edible sustenance but also a ver welcome psychological boost.  We needed no encouragement from our host Dorothea to take up her suggestion of a pre-meeting visit, especially as she explained to us that often on a cold winter’s morning she would use a loaf of St Peter’s bread as a sort of edible hot water bottle, pressed tightly to her coat as she walked back home.

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baked rolls at Stiftsbäckerei

Stiftsbäckerei St. Peter is the monastery bakery, just a little to the west of St Peter’s church in  the heart of Salzburg.  For the past eight hundred years or so it’s been producing bread in its wood fired oven, with the monastery mill powered by a waterwheel, that happily churns and roars at the entrance to the bakery.  The bakery’s current simple interior bears little signs of change since the 1950s; boards of loaves ready for the oven waited on shelves, while the sturdy and dependable looking bread mixer dated from an age before computer technologies.  Bread is baked and sold in the same room, allowing the customer to enjoy not only the aroma of the newly baked bread, but also whole process of bread making from the mixing to baking.

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The bakery interior with a range of the different breads and rolls produced and the mixer in the background

The main product of the monastery bakery is a wholemeal sour dough loaf, developed from the bakery’s own sourdough starter and rye flour.  This wholesome and hearty loaf comes in a range of sizes – ½, 1 and 2 kgs and is priced uniformly at 2.95 euros per kg.  Something about its very rustic solidity seems to encapsulate the longevity of bread baking on the site and offers a very edible reminder of the bakery’s history and purpose.  Since I wasn’t in a position to try taking one of these loaves home, however, I went for another of the bakery’s products, a brioche roll, beautifully soft and studded with raisins.

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my brioche roll, perfect for elevenses!

St Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg was founded in 696 by Saint Rupert (we were staying in buildings belonging to the monastery, now smart visitor accommodation) and the monks probably had some way of producing their own bread early on in the Abbey’s history but it was in 1160 that the monastery mill was established near the Abbey’s cemetery (the abbey church was established in 1147).  The mill survived in the building until 1967 and the wheel was refurbished in 2006, so that once again the bakery uses water power, and generates enough energy to feed it back into the public grid.  It’s great to think that a bakery first established to provide the monastic community of St Peter’s with good, wholesome bread, today not only offers the wider community of Salzburg the fruits of its rich bread making tradition but also gives back all the surplus power generated by its waterwheel.  A heart warming thought for a cold and grey February morning.

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The bakery waterwheel in full flow

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