Blog - Bake a good luck charm with a recipe from food blogger Heddi Nieuwsma

07.04.2020 By Madlaina Bundi
Bake a good luck charm with a recipe from food blogger Heddi Nieuwsma

 

In these days we all need a good portion of luck in addition to the necessary distance. The Agathabrötli, which according to popular custom protected from fire and were also considered beneficial for the sick, are actually served on February 5th. Why not make an exception and bake your loved ones an edible good luck charm? Heddi Nieuwsma, who’s writing a book about bread, explains what makes Swiss bread so special. And she shares her Agathabrötli recipe from the Sense district in the canton of Fribourg.

Interview

Helvetiq: Heddi Nieuwsma, what compelled you as an American food blogger living in Western Switzerland to write about Swiss bread? Switzerland is known for its cheese and chocolate ...

Heddi Nieuwsma: Since moving to Switzerland in 2012, I’ve developed a passion for learning about Swiss food, and the variety of bread here really fascinates me. I love visiting bakeries to discover new regional specialties. For a relatively small country, you’ll find very different culinary traditions as you pass through Switzerland’s four linguistic regions. 

When did you get into baking Swiss bread?

Honestly, I started baking bread the first week we arrived in Switzerland. My youngest son used to have some dietary restrictions that required my husband and I to prepare nearly all his food ourselves. During our first few years here, I baked allergy-safe versions of Swiss breads for my family. Thankfully, my son can eat everything now, but that period of time when he couldn’t was when I began developing my own recipes for Swiss breads.

How many types of bread are there in Switzerland? Are there special references to regional or local customs and history?

Switzerland has over 200 different types of bread. These range from breads you can find throughout the country to special cantonal breads to sweet and savory yeasted cakes and so much more. Many of these breads have distinct histories, some of them based on facts and other based on legends passed down from generations. Also, there are breads that have existed primarily in professional bakeries, while other grew from traditions that started at home. I really enjoy baking these breads and sharing their stories with others.

Bread is both a food and a cultural asset. What do the different breads say about Swiss culture and tradition? How old is the bread baking tradition in Switzerland?

Did you know that the oldest bread found in Europe comes from Switzerland? Can you imagine a classic Swiss cheese fondue without cubes of bread? There’s a long tradition of baking bread in this country. Professional bakers have organized themselves in guilds (trade associations) for centuries here. A recent study conducted by Schweizer Brot / Pain Suisse found that the vast majority of people surveyed regularly consume bread. Today, the Richemont Craft School, headquartered in Luzern, has gained an international reputation as a leader in educating bakers and pastry chefs. Throughout the country, bread continues to feature heavily into daily life, in addition to religious and cultural events and other celebrations. 

Which breads are typical for which regions? And are there region-specific ingredients?

Switzerland has many types of bread that you’ll find throughout the country. In my book, I’ve identified certain breads that I consider to be “national breads.” Generally made with white flour, these are breads that most Swiss people know about and have tasted before. When it comes to region-specific ingredients, you’ll find breads made from dried pears in Graubünden, for instance, that are not commonly made by bakers in Suisse Romande where I live. Ticino has breads made with chestnut flour. And in the Linth Valley, an old variety of corn makes a yellow-hued flour used for a sweetened bread made with raisins. You can find many of the same breads throughout the country, but you can also discover some of these unique differences too.

 

TürggenbrotBütschellas

Left: “Turkish bread” made with corn flour from Switzerland’s Linth Valley
Right: “Bütschella” for the festive occasion of Chalandamarz, Engadine, Grisons 

Waadtländer KreuzbrotPfilenbrot

Left: Pain Vaudois à la Croix, a bread that can be used to celebrate Vaud’s Independence Day on January 24
Right: Pfilenbrot, one of Switzerland’s most beautiful breads, Appenzell Innerrhoden

 

Are there different recipes for the same custom, depending on the canton (e.g. different recipes for Swiss National Day, Christmas or Easter)?

Some festive breads have virtually the same form throughout the country, such as the August-Weggen for August 1 or a bunny-shaped Zopfhase for Easter. Of course, each baker has its own distinct recipe, but the ingredients and preparation are generally the same. At the same time, you’ll find some of these breads can vary depending on where you are. The breads baked for St. Agatha’s Day, for example, can have different characteristics. In Central Switzerland, you’ll find two types of ring-shaped breads known as an Agathenringli. One version consists of a braided ring with a shiny, golden brown appearance. Another version also has the shape of a ring, but without the braid, and receives four slashes in the dough before baking. And in Fribourg, it comes in the shape of a pretzel.

Are there cantonal breads? And how old is their tradition?

The concept of cantonal breads grew from a trade show held in Ticino in the 1950s. Developed in part as a marketing strategy and as a way to create uniform standards for professional bakeries, these cantonal breads primarily drew from existing bread traditions. Some of the cantonal breads have a reputation for being made specifically for this campaign, while others have deep-rooted traditions within their canton, like the Pain de Seigle from Valais. A few cantonal breads have grown in popularity and can be found throughout Switzerland, such as the Pane Ticinese. Others, like the Pain Neuchâtelois, generally only exist in the canton they’re named for. 

Fondue is considered "the" Swiss national dish. Is there anything similar with bread as with cheese?

Fondue certainly has captured the unofficial title of Switzerland’s national dish. It’s recognized as such outside the country as well. In terms of Swiss bread, I think a braided loaf of Zopf (what I know as Tresse on the other side of the Röstigraben) could also be considered one of Switzerland’s national dishes. Swiss people eat Zopf throughout the country and especially on Sundays. 

Why make your own bread?

I think everyone should try making their own bread at least once. There’s just something so incredibly satisfying about working with dough and baking a loaf of bread. It’s a very tangible act that I particularly enjoy, especially because so much of what we do these days has become a virtual experience. When the bread comes out warm from the oven, a comforting smell fills your home. I take great satisfaction in sharing my bread with family and friends.

Honestly though, not everyone has to make their own bread if they don’t want to! If you live in Switzerland, you have so many wonderful bakeries to choose from. You can read about some of my favorite Swiss bakeries in my book (although I have many favorites!). 

If I've never baked bread before: What do I have to look out for? Oven? Utensils? 

I find that people can feel very intimidated by making bread, if they’ve never tried it. Even if your loaf of bread isn’t perfect, most often than not, it still tastes good. What I like about making bread is that you often don’t really need very many ingredients or special tools to get started. For most breads, it helps to have a good mixing bowl and a baking sheet. I used to knead all of my breads by hand, but I must admit that now I use an electric mixer with a dough hook. My wrist started to hurt from all the kneading! 

What about the Agathabrötli: Has it brought you luck?

The Agathabrötli has not specifically brought me luck, but it’s one of the Swiss breads that’s really inspired me to write this book. This little bread, so closely tied to the region where it’s from in Fribourg, has become a special annual tradition for the people who live there. You can learn about Switzerland’s history, culture and geography through its food, and this is particularly true for its bread. I feel pretty lucky to be able to share these breads and stories from Switzerland through my book.

Your favorite bread?

My favorite Swiss bread constantly changes! I couldn’t pick just one, which is why I’ve chosen dozens of different breads from Switzerland for my book. If I had to share my current favorite, it would be the Pane Valle Maggia, a crusty, porous bread from Ticino.

 

Heddi Nieuwsma

Heddi Nieuwsma is an American living in Western Switzerland, who enjoys learning about Swiss food. Through her blog, she shares recipes and information about Swiss regional foods, as well as culinary events and travel. In September 2020, Helvetiq will publish her book on Swiss bread with over 40 recipes from different regions of Switzerland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tradition of Agathabrötli

The custom of Agatha bread, named after the patron saint Agatha, is widespread in many historically Catholic regions. In the Sense-Oberland region of Fribourg, bakers have been making little breads called Agathabrötli since the 1930s. Formed in the shape of a pretzel, they receive a blessing from the local priest.

People in this region typically buy one Agathabrötli to eat, and another one to keep. They’ll place it in a drawer or a closet at home, perhaps until the following St. Agatha’s day. Given her status as the patron saint of fire protection, this bread acts as a type of good luck charm to prevent flames from overtaking one’s home. People also used to add pieces of this bread to their soup, thinking it would help the sick. If you believe in the power of good luck charms, or if you just like eating fresh homemade bread, we recommend giving this recipe a try.

 

Recipe: Agathabrötli

Makes 10 little breads.

Ingredients

500 g white flour (type 400 or 550)
75 g butter, softened
2 teaspoons (12 g) salt
20 g fresh yeast, crumbled (or 7 g dry yeast)
300 ml milk, lukewarm
1 egg, beaten

Agathabrötli_Rezept

Instructions

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the softened butter, in pieces. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Set aside.

Separately, add the yeast to the lukewarm milk. Let it rest for a few minutes and then whisk together until the yeast has fully dissolved.

Pour the milk and yeast into the center of the large bowl. Stir until a dough forms.

Knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes, or use an electric mixer and a dough hook, until it becomes smooth and elastic. When you press the dough and make an indentation with your finger, it should bounce back.

Place the dough in a bowl and cover it with a damp kitchen towel. Let the dough rise for about 1-2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 10 equal portions. Roll each of the pieces into cylinders about 45–50 cm (18–20 inches) in length and then form them into a classic pretzel shape.

Place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Let them rest for about 30 minutes.

Apply a thin coating of the beaten egg to the pretzels with a pastry brush.

Bake the pretzels for about 20–25 minutes in an oven preheated to 200ºC/400ºF, until their surface becomes a light golden brown. Place them on a wire rack to cool.

 Would you like to learn more about the book project and be informed upon publication? Please send us your e-mail address to info@helvetiq.ch.

 

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