On a roll in Copenhagen: Three artisan bakeries you gotta try
Bakers and their customers in the Danish capital are rediscovering the joys of breads and pastries.
It’s almost impossible to turn a corner in Copenhagen without being distracted by the enticing waft of freshly baked bread or pastry. It’s as if the city has made a collective decision to turn its back on plastic-wrapped supermarket sandwich bread. Artisan bakeries are on a roll, popping up all over town and staffed by young enthusiasts.
Sour turns sweet
The Meyers bakery brought back the humble sourdough bread.
It’s healthier and tastier and the bacteria in the yeast help digestion. These are some of the reasons that have helped traditional sourdough breads make a comeback in Denmark. One of the first bakeries to start re-experimenting with sourdough is Meyers bakery on Jægersborggade street.
“Claus Meyer of Noma fame started the sourdough bread trend at this shop in 2010. Sourdough bread is a tricky thing to make and chefs like Claus wanted to master it,” says Bjarki Sigurdsson, head baker at Meyers.
Running through the heart of the trendy Nørrebro district, Jægersborggade is lined with artisanal boutiques and small businesses. It’s now a “hipster street,” says Sigurdsson, although in a previous infamous life it was a venue for shady drug deals and biker gang meet-ups. Considering the more respectable prestige of its current Michelin star-winning owner, the shop and baking facilities at the back are surprisingly tiny. Customers can pause at the tables and chairs outside on the pavement to munch their buns and pastries.
“We make about 200 breads and 200 to 300 pastries daily, but we could probably sell more,” says Sigurdsson. This bakery was the first of four Meyers’ outlets across the city, specialising in cinnamon twists, chocolate croissants, and cinnamon “snails.” Breads use various Danish flours and seeds, and croissants might be filled with custard or use seasonal fruits like apple, plum, and rhubarb.
While bakers in Denmark are now feted as modern trendsetters, all Meyers’ bread uses sourdough which is the oldest method of baking bread, notes Sigurdsson. This is how people made bread thousands of years ago. Commercial bakers started using added yeast more recently because it ferments more quickly. Sourdough uses “wild,” naturally occurring yeast to make the bread rise.
“It doesn’t take any longer to bake but the preparation takes longer. We mix the dough and cold-prove it overnight, and it takes about 20 hours for it to be ready to bake. I came in at 3:30 am this morning – I don’t do it for the money! It’s the passion of baking,” says Sigurdsson.
Danish, born and bread
Det Rene Brød started a revival of “pure breads” some 30 years ago.
Claus Meyer gave sourdough baking a boost, but Det Rene Brød (“Pure Bread”) was quietly starting its own revival more than 30 years ago, two decades before anyone had heard of Noma. Founded in 1988 by Johannes Hessellund, still the co-owner, with a collective of friends, the outfit now has six bakeries across town, all of which are also sit-down cafés. Four of the six shops, including Hessellund’s favourite at Rosenvængets Alle in residential Østerbro, bake bread on site, every day. Popular offerings include rye bread loaves and pastries such as Tebirkes dusted with poppy seeds, and cinnamon-spiced “snails” (describing their shape, not the contents!).
“When we started baking organic bread with sourdough and long resting times, everything was quite different from what other bakeries were offering at the time,” says Hessellund. Det Rene Brød’s approach is no longer unique, but the Rosenvængets Alle bakery is typical of its founder’s preference for a neighbourhood bakery. Customers keep returning, dropping by daily or lingering with a morning coffee and roll by the window.
“We want to be part of the local community,” says Hessellund. For all their current cool, bakeries are a tradition in Denmark and people did not travel across town to visit the “latest” bakers, as is often the case now. Hessellund believes in the kind of bakery that is appreciated and enjoyed by the people who live close to it.
“Everyone has an opinion about bread,” he says. “Many chefs are turning back to the traditional roots of our culture. And bread is such a wonderful thing to work with. It’s alive, there are so many ways you can make it, and you get results quickly.”
The counter at Rosenvængets Alle is piled high with mouth-watering loaves, buns, rolls, and pastries, their homely warm aromas floating over the sofas and window stools. Birgitte Christensen extends an equally warm greeting to customers from behind the counter.
“I am always surprised that we sell as much as we do,” she says. “People in this area are into organic, high-quality products. But they also like tradition. Customers tell stories of how their mothers came here to buy their bread. That’s part of our charm; we have a history.”
All the fun of the bun
Andersen & Maillard are all about top-quality pastries.
Back in Nørrebro, newcomer Andersen & Maillard Coffee Roasters has less tradition but has become a popular, bustling fixture since its launch in February 2018. Focusing on an irresistible range of croissants, brioche, and other pastries, and proud of the quality of its coffees, the spacious café is frequented by a lively mix of young families and earnest entrepreneurs huddled over laptops. Perhaps surprisingly, the plain croissant wins out against the succulent brioches and other sweeter, glisteningly glazed pastries as most popular product.
Head baker Asger Skov Hansen takes a break from rolling pastry to speculate on Copenhagen’s emerging status as Baking Central. “I don’t really know why it’s happening, but it’s resulting in some very good products so I’m happy it’s happening.”
Andersen & Maillard are careful with their products and a lot of work goes on behind the scenes before a new product appears on the shelves.
The main creative brains behind the baking is Milton Abel who hails from Missouri and whose credentials include spells as pastry chef at the French Laundry in Yountville, California, and pastry sous chef at Noma. Abel exudes irresistible enthusiasm for his adopted home city and his own project.
“There are a lot of great and talented chefs from all over who came here to work for gourmet restaurants like Noma or Geranium – and many have decided to stay here because it’s such a wonderful place. Copenhagen is the kind of place where people appreciate good things. It’s not just bakeries, and not just gourmet, it’s restaurants in general.”
Just the same, Andersen & Maillard responds to the demand for cafés that serve both top-quality coffee and pastries, and pastries that are sometimes a departure from the traditional fare. Abel prides himself and his bakers on attention to detail and a sense of urgency in their daily work.
“Previously I was a musician and an actor,” Abel says. “What I do is still a kind of performance, and although it’s the pastry that is star of the show, it would be a lifeless performance without us behind the scenes. It’s showtime every day when we open our doors. The pastry must go on!”
Text and photos Tim Bird