The Akademie Deutsches Bakerhandwerk in Weinheim, Germany is a small campus with a big history in German baking. The campus, nestled on a hill overlooked by two German castles, boasts the highest air quality in the region. The property was originally used as a sanctuary for German bakers suffering from white lung in the early 1900s, and in 1938 the bakers' school was opened in an effort to ensure healthy and excellent bread to feed the public, as well as the economy. The school is still an integral part of a German baker’s career as no baker can own a bakery without completing the school’s master baker program. The campus is full of laughter from young adults playing soccer during their breaks from class, and in the evenings, the smell of fresh baked bread permeates the air while students practice their baking for the next day’s assessments.

Kentucky Native Cafe gave me the opportunity to attend a two week traditional German baking diploma course at the prestigious Akademie.  Professional bakers from all around the world attend this yearly course, taught by master baker instructors, fueled by local rye flour and sourdough starter. During my time in Weinheim, I met bakers from India, Mexico, Israel, China, Columbia, Serbia, Iran, Switzerland, Eritrea, and Singapore. It was an amazing experience to share our cultures and differences, all while focused on the same thing: bread. 

My time in Weinheim followed a consistent schedule of daily bread baking. Classes were Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Usually, we started every day with theory or demonstrations. The instructor, Wolfgang, would spend the first hours of the class showing us mixing, shaping, and baking techniques interspersed with anecdotes from the history of German bread. Although these practices seemed like second nature to our master baker instructor, I took detailed notes to remind myself of all the times, temperatures, and techniques required to make bread worthy of the precise German tradition.

After demonstrations, we were sent off in our teams of four to attempt to replicate our teacher’s flawless work. Much time was spent huddled around the mixer, calculating water temperatures for our dough and making sure we stopped the mixing at the perfect time. Shaping the dough into buns or loaves was also a challenge since the shapes were new to most of us. Once our creations had proofed for the required time, they were ready for baking.  There we hit a snag.   Although all the teams were ready to bake, the deck ovens we were sharing could only be loaded one at a time. Our first day of baking turned into a chaotic traffic jam in front of the ovens until we learned to coordinate with the team that shared our oven. Though this caused a lot of confusion and miscommunications at first, by the end of the week, our class was a well-oiled machine. It was very cool to see a group of sixteen strangers become a strong team capable of producing dozens of beautiful traditional German buns and loaves over the course of two short weeks.

The first three days of our class focused solely on buns. We made a large batch of wheat dough and formed it into six different shapes. We also learned how to make spelt spicy bread sticks, ciabatta, and “soul bread”, an extremely light and fluffy long-fermented breadstick. After the bun portion of class, we moved onto loaves. I was intrigued to discover that part of what makes German bread unique is the bakers' focus on the healthiness of their products. Our sourdough starter was tested using a pH meter to make sure the bread we created would be optimally digestible. All of our flour had also been strictly analyzed in order to ensure we were using the healthiest, freshest, and most natural ingredients. This attention to detail showed in the finished product, as the loaves were full of flavor, texture, and nutrients. We made wheat loaves, rye loaves, seeded loaves, sourdoughs, whole grain loaves, and my personal favorite: Stollen.

Stollen is a spiced Christmas loaf filled with fruit and nuts and coated in butter and sugar. It originated as a religious tradition, meant to symbolize baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, but it is now eaten by people around the world for their holiday celebrations. Bakers make their Stollen weeks before sale because the Stollen reaches peak quality and flavor four to six weeks after baking. The result is a fragrant, slightly sweet, buttery loaf. We were lucky enough to each be gifted a Stollen during our diploma ceremony, and the loaf was well worth the space in my carry-on. I couldn't wait to bring back my Stollen and share it with the café team. I loved it so much that I will be adopting the making of Stollen as a holiday tradition for years to come.

After all the festive fun of making our Stollens, we moved onto the final day: the assessment.  In order to receive our diplomas, each team had to complete a practical examination. The exam consisted of four batches of bread: wheat or rye loaves, special bread, bread rolls, and a long fermented product, all to be completed in four hours. Going into the exam, I was nervous about the quantity of bread we had to make in such a short amount of time, so my team and I spent a lot of time planning. We decided to create our own recipe for our special loaf: a marbled sourdough with half dark cocoa dough with cacao nibs and half white dough with dried cherries. Because we created our own recipe, there was a lot of uncertainty about how the final product would turn out. We went into the assessment with a well-constructed game plan, though, and I’m proud to say our breads turned out well with only a few mistakes here and there. The assessment was a great way to round out the course, and it really showed how much we had learned over the two weeks.

The Akademie Deutsches Bakerhandwerk hosted an amazing course, and I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to learn German bread baking alongside amazing bakers from all around the world. It was a great way to build a foundation in traditional German breads, although there is much more to learn. I hope I can implement some of what I learned at the café in the near future so that even more people can appreciate the great tradition of German baking.

By Emerson Thompson

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Flora Michler
Tagged: Team Trips