Monday, June 23, 2014

The Serious Business of the Prodigal Pastry that Built a Railroad

Having a special coffee with my sister at Himmel
It is no secret that baked goods rule the culinary scene in German speaking countries.  Having traveled from a extremely carb-conscious U.S.A., I was so surprised at how much bread people here eat.  Every meal there WILL be bread...and probably something breaded...naturally served with a side of potatoes.

But there is a delicious little secret in my Swiss home of Baden of which everyone is very proud: Spanischbrödli.  This "little Spanish bread" is a must-taste item of regional goodness with an interesting backstory.  A pastry so delicious that it is said to have inspired the first span of railway in Switzerland - the SBB or Spanischbrödlibahn.

This little buttery pastry originated from the Duchy of Milan while it was under the rule of Spain (hence the name) during the 16th century.  Eventually,  the Duchy of Milan would pass into the hands of the Austrians in 1714.   During the Protestant Reformation in 1517 one of Martin Luther's biggest fans and pastor of the Grossmünster in Zürich, Huldrych Zwingli, lead the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland.  Under such strict ecclesiastical reform, decadent feasts and desserts such as the Spanischbrödli were perceived to be sinful and banned.  The noble families of Zürich were devastated - how would they get through their days without a mouthwatering, glorious, hazelnut-carrot-filled square?

So they sent their servants to walk from Zürich through the woods to Baden and back during the night to ensure they would have warm pastries for their breakfast tables.  Must have been nice to be rich with a team of Red Riding Hoods to carry your goodies through the forest.  Did I mention that it is a 5 hour hike ONE WAY?  Yeah...and you thought your workday grind was lame.

In 1847, the first stretch of railroad from Zürich to Baden was built in order to accommodate the demand (and thankfully the plantar fasciitis of several hundred servants) for this delicacy.  By the 20th century, however, Spanischbrödli had fallen out of fashion and was rarely seen in bakeries unless by special order.  In 2007, four bakeries in Baden brought the pastry back to life and it is a celebrated piece of history and a point of city pride.

Go ahead next time you pass a Himmel or Moser's in Baden and eat some history!