BRÖTCHEN | The Story of the Bread Roll (2024)

BRÖTCHEN | The Story of the Bread Roll (1)
BRÖTCHEN | The Story of the Bread Roll (2)

The modern bread roll is one of those mother-of-invention moments. A product of the 1800s, when necessity decided that different sized breads were needed throughout the day in the various work environments, it is now ubiquitous across Europe.

The bread roll emerged out of the tradition of baking small bread loaves. These gradually became smaller andbecame known variously across Europe as a bap or a bun, and then simply as a roll or as a small bread (brötchen in Germany, brötli in Switzerland).

In the beginning these bread rolls were made with white wheat flour, warmed water, fat (usually lard), bakers yeast and salt. These were usually the breakfast bread rolls and the lunch bread rolls.

Depending on the environment (factory or field, mobile or office) they were designed large – to hold fillings – or small – to accompany confits and jams and pastes. In some countries whole milkreplaced water, and, unsurprisingly, these became known as milk bread rolls.

Milk was an ingredient in tea bread rolls which were enriched with eggs and a higher quantity to fat, to produce a soft, silky bread. They might contain dried fruit and dried peel.

Dinner bread rolls were characterised by a crisp crust and a soft sponge. They contained less fat and more yeast.

Sugar featured in most breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner bread rolls throughout the 1900s, until it was decided that the quantity of salt determined the quality of the bread, and sweetness was not acriteria.

Small breads were not always round, and for a long time they were shaped like tubes, shorter versions of the Vienna roll. Exceptions included the bagel, the ring-shaped bread of northern Europe, the pirogi, the oval-shaped filled bread of central Europe, pouch-shaped bread of eastern Europe and the crescent-shaped breads that emerged out of Anatolia and Asia.

Viennoiserie defined breakfast breads from the late 1800s, with the baguette and the croissant. Suddenly bread was light or it was flaky. Hydration became a factor and instead of breads with a 2:3 liquid-solid ratio, the amount of water or milk increased to over 70%. This technique could only be achieved with machinery but it produced an aerated crumb with a softer sponge.

Then it changed again, toward the close of the 1900s, as bakers experimented with numerous ingredients. Milk began to feature prominently in recipes that had previously required water. Cream, kefir and yoghurt became popular liquid mediums and apple juice was found to work if it was combined with cream.

Biscuit ingredients, such as grains and nuts and seeds, were adopted and recipes that were once associated with confectionary became bread ingredients, especially in Switzerland where a bread roll revolution took place in the early 2000s.

Small breads began to feature toppings and traditional breads made a comeback, like the onion and poppy seed topped bread of Poland.

Oils began to replace lard in small breads as bakers realised that olive oil and rapeseed oil added a delicate flavour.

And not before time the sourdough techniques found their way into the ‘brötchen’ tradition and wheat began to lose its dominant position.

Pre-ferments or starters made with rye and water crept into small bread recipes, but it was the advent of spelt flour, white and whole, that changed small bread culture.

At first spelt flour was mixed with the various soft and strong wheat flours, then it broke out on its own, usually with a pre-ferment. Rye flour left its traditional position in northern Europe as the desired flour of the encased pie, to gradually become an essential ingredient in small breads.

Even barley flour, used as a pre-ferment and as an improver, got in on the act.

Generally small breads in Europe are made with soft wheat flours. Soft wheat has more flavour than strong wheat. Modern wheat, with its increased strength, now allows the home baker to hand knead dough with high hydration although some doughs are easier to handle with the hook.

This brings us to the type of dough being utilised for small breads. The old tradition of breakfast bread rolls made with a plain dough is still apparent, not so the dinner and tea roll tradition which has been replaced by a multitude of breads made from doughs that are plain or enriched or contain other ingredients and serve various functions.

Years ago all bread rolls fell into the breakfast (crisp and soft, some with fat, some without), tea (soft) and dinner (crisp crust, soft crumb) categories.All three contained water or milk, while the tea roll had milk, butter and egg.

A plain dough is made with water, flour, yeast, salt and sugar. It will produce a bread that is light in texture with larger air bubbles in the crumb, with a crisp crust albeit a little chewy.

An enriched dough will contain fat that can come from butter, egg, milk, vegetable oil, lard (although animal fat is being replaced in traditional recipes), buttermilk, kefir and yoghurt. Fats like butter will soften the crumb and produce an initial light crust until the bread cools when it will become soft. Oil will elasticise the dough to produce a light crumb while eggs will produce a firm crumb. The addition of grains, fruits, nuts and seeds interupt the gluten network and make a dough weaker to produce a denser bread with a shorter bite but increase the flavour immensely, which is why these breads are a challenge for the home baker.

BRÖTCHEN | The Story of the Bread Roll (3)
BRÖTCHEN | The Story of the Bread Roll (4)

Text & Photo © Fricot 1998-2023

  • Legendary Breads
BRÖTCHEN | The Story of the Bread Roll (2024)


What is the difference between broetchen and semmel? ›

“Brötchen” is the Standard German expression used by bakers all over Germany. “Semmel”, “Schrippe”, “Weck” and others are regional expressions. Often, there were activities of organisations in German to find a common name for some food items or other things that are valid all over Germany, so advertising is easier.

Can you freeze Brötchen? ›

If you are serving brunch, these rolls can easily be ready in time. And you can always freeze them and re-crisp in the oven just before serving.

What is brot & Brötchen in English? ›

A “Brötchen” i.e. a “Brot” with the Suffix “chen” which is usually used to refer to a miniaturized version of something, however, can be something similar to a bread loaf, or something different like a fluffy roll, or a “bread”stick with added seeds, or a bun etc.

What happens if you bake sticky dough? ›

The sticky dough can still rise or spring in the oven. The big question is whether the dough has enough strength to trap the gas and stop the dough from collapsing during proofing or when you bake. Make sure you choose high-protein flour to give strength to your dough.

What is the German name for bread? ›

Bread (Brot) is a significant part of German cuisine. In Germany about 600 main types of breads and 1,200 different types of pastries and rolls are produced in about 17,000 dedicated bakeries and another 10,000 in-shop bakeries.

How long does German bread last? ›

Traditional German bread has only six basic ingredients: rye flour, wheat flour, baker's yeast, water, salt and a sour starter similar to that used in making sourdough bread. No milk, sugar, fat, additives or preservatives, though the bread lasts up to eight days.

How do you eat a Brötchen? ›

Dipping pieces of Brötchen into the yolk of a soft-cooked egg is always a delight. Sweet toppings also rank high on the popularity scale. Try honey, fruit preserves, sugar beet syrup (Zuckerrübensirup), or a chocolate-hazelnut spread. And a Fleischsalat (hearty meat salad) can turn a lowly roll into a satisfying meal.

How many types of bread are there in Germany? ›

German bread and baked goods

According to the German Bread Institute, over 3,000 different types of bread and other baked goods are sold in Germany every day.

What do Germans call the end of bread? ›

In northern and western Germany, that would be "Kanten," or "Knust," to name just the most common terms. Bavarians and Austrians might call the crusty dry end of a loaf of bread "Scherzl"; elsewhere in southern Germany it's a "Rand." Jokingly, the heel is also known as "Hintern" (behind).

What do Germans call toasted bread? ›

Toastbrot (Toast Bread), in the eyes of most Germans, is not really bread at all. It might seem odd that Germans make such a distinction between bread and toast, but one trip to a German bakery quickly clears up the confusion.

What is a German sandwich called? ›

The typical German version of a sandwich is called a „Butterbrot“ and is made of darker bread (no toast!), butter and cheese or any kind of sausage/Salami; sometimes people add cucumbers, sliced hardboiled eggs or even salad for beauty and taste.

Why do you not knead sourdough? ›

When done correctly, stretching and folding sourdough will strengthen the gluten and gently incorporate air into the dough without the need for kneading. It will also give your sourdough loaf a lofty high rise and more open interior crumb.

Why is my homemade bread so dense? ›

There may be several reasons for a dense, cake like texture in bread. It may indicate the kneading wasn't enough for the gluten to develop properly, or the dough was proved for too short a time or the dough may have been too dry. It is also worth checking the flour you used.

What is overproofed dough? ›

Overproofed bread dough is dough that's had too much fermentation activity. This could be dough left to ferment for too long or dough that's fermented at too warm of a temperature for too long. Lack of oven spring. An (interior) crumb with lots of little holes but not dense spots.

Is it brötchen or semmel? ›

Brötchen (High German, Rhineland, parts of Northern Germany – simply the diminutive of Brot, which makes sense really, given that these rolls are little breads.) Semmel (Bavaria, Saxony and Austria – derived from the Latin similia for 'wheat flour'.)

What is semmel in Austria? ›

The Semmel

The commonest roll is the ordinary Semmel: basically a flat round crusty whitish roll made using wheat flour. Consider it the packhorse of Austrian bread cuisine. Order a Frankfurter from a sausage stand and it likely comes with a Semmel.

Where is Semmel from? ›

Semmelknödel (German pronunciation: [ˈzɛml̩ˌknøːdl]) are a kind of bread dumplings made from dried wheat bread rolls like Kaiser rolls, milk, and eggs. The name derives from southern Germany, where semmel means bread rolls and knödel refers to something that has been kneaded.

What is the history of brötchen? ›

The bread roll emerged out of the tradition of baking small bread loaves. These gradually became smaller and became known variously across Europe as a bap or a bun, and then simply as a roll or as a small bread (brötchen in Germany, brötli in Switzerland).

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