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For the love of loaves

Master baker Fridolin Artmann has his own ideas about perfect bread. In his "Brotraum" (Bread Room) in Munich, he produces extraordinary baked goods. His recipe for success? Never compromise on ingredients - and do as much by hand as possible.

Delicious bread: entirely hand-made

Germans love bread. Today it comes shrink-wrapped on supermarket shelves, robbing consumers of a wonderful sensory experience. Can anything compare to biting into crusty bread that's still warm from the oven?
This is one of the delicacies produced by master baker Fridolin Artmann. He's living proof that bringing out the best in dough is all about love and passion.

"I want to bring out the best in the dough," he says. "That's what good baking is all about!"

”I bake about 18 tonnes of bread a year.“

”That's a fairly decent amount." It's 5:30 in the morning. The city still sleeps as Fridolin Artmann slides the last loaves of the night into the wood-fired oven. Then he claps his hands, creating a cloud of flour under the overhead lights. Out the window, snowflakes are dotting the asphalt. "18 tonnes" and a "fairly decent amount" - obviously an understatement. But more than that, it's a statement of quality from the 32-year-old self-titled "passionate baker".
Compared to today's large, modern bakeries, this level of productivity is laughable. With a conveyer belt, you can produce 18 tonnes of bread in half a night. But Fridolin Artmann sees good baking as something else. He wants to feel the dough when he kneads it, monitor the proofing with his own hands and be able to respond to the properties of the flour at all times, changing the amounts of the ingredients or the bread's position in the oven. "I want to bring out the best in the dough," he says. "That's what good baking is all about!" Fridolin Artmann still looks on his profession as a craft. Nothing could be more foreign to him than producing bread on a conveyer belt. Artmann has a quiet voice but powerful forearms and massive baker's hands - you can tell at a glance that they've kneaded thousands of balls of dough.
He enjoys standing in his 30-square-meter bakery, where everything is within reach, every flour sack in its place and every employee knows his or her workstation, whether they're baking baguettes, wholemeal rolls, multi-seed rolls or pretzels. Night after night, Artmann stands here with his colleagues. "I call them 'colleagues' because 'assistants' just doesn't sound right," says the master. Fridolin Artmann doesn't care about the size of an operation or its levels of productivity, and cares even less about abstract concepts such as efficiency of production and cost minimisation. For him, only one thing matters: the quality of the bread, which begins and ends with the grain and flour. But more on that later.

This is no time to talk. The croissants have to go into the oven. The shop opens at 7 o'clock, which is just an hour away. It's high time to roll out the dough, over and over again, flatter and flatter. In the end it will have to be 1.5 metres long and half a metre wide - before the layer of butter can be inserted.
The dough is then folded up like a bed sheet, in multiple layers. Then it's rolled out again, cut into small squares and finally, one by one, rolled into croissants. Artmann opens the oven door, retrieves a dozen multi-seed rolls using a peel (a bakers 'shovel') and drops them into the basket.
Now the croissants can go into the oven. "The temperature is lower now than it was at the beginning of the night when we baked the heavy loaves of bread." Open door, insert croissants, shut door, clap hands, make a cloud of flour, take a short break.
"Do you want to know the qualities of good bread?" Yes! And while he's at it, would he also share his recipe for success? Fridolin laughs. "That's no secret. As a baker, you must never believe that there's a perfect recipe that never changes. There isn't one. Every year the flour is different, so I'm in constant contact with the organic mill in Landshut that supplies my flour." He has frequent conversations with the miller at Meyermühle, who produces flour of the exact quality that Artmann requires.
"Making grain into flour is a science in and of itself." Artmann takes a handful of flour from a sack and rubs it between his fingers. "There's no such thing as an 'optimal' flour. If the late summer was dry and hot, the flour absorbs more water. You have to know that when you bake bread. I have to be able to respond to the flour so I can process the dough properly. Only then will my bread be good."

Who is Fridolin Artmann?

In his early 30's, the master baker has already been baking half his life. He began at age 16, first as an apprentice in large operations, then as an employee, and finally in his own bakery. At the age of 24, Artmann founded the "Brotraum" in the middle of Schwabing, less than a hundred metres from Münchner Freiheit, one of Munich's most frequented intersections. Artmann's profession isn't making him rich, but he's found his calling. "My motivation from the very start was to make good bread, and to do it my way." Today every roll and every pretzel sold in the Brotraum is made by Fridolin Artmann and his colleagues. Not a single crumb comes from elsewhere.

The bread is put into the oven at 3:30 a.m.

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Artmann rises when others are just going to bed. Every night he takes the train to Schwabing and walks the few metres from the station to his bakery, which is open for business during the day. At 1:00 a.m. when the night is just getting into full swing in Schwabing, Artmann's workday begins with his first doughs. Biscuits, wholemeal rolls, pretzels, Danish pastries and all types of bread - each one requires a special dough. "I make the dough first so it has enough time to rest." There are tremendous differences between doughs in terms of ingredients and consistency. Wheat doughs can be kneaded. Wholemeal doughs are made very soft and are never mixed by machine.
It must be thoroughly mixed by hand. The dough rests for a long time so that the grain can absorb the water. The intermediate result is so runny that it can't be shaped with your hands. The dough is scooped into tins and baked immediately. Wood oven bread is completely different. Each loaf weighs 1.5 kilograms, is made with wheat flour and a little rye flour and when it's sliced, its interior is light and moist. It's like a loaf of bread in a picture book. Wood oven bread is Artmann's favourite. Why? "I find generally that its the best type of bread to bake. The dough is mixed and kneaded very vigorously and laid in a tub," says Artmann.
"It sits there for at least two hours, sometimes even three. Then it's dumped out of the tub and onto the work surface." But be careful! The most important thing when making wood oven bread is fluffiness. Just before baking, he shapes the bread lightly with his bare hands. "The dough has to be handled very carefully. You have to hold it gently, without pulling or tearing it, otherwise it will lose its fluffiness." The loaves then go straight into the oven, without further proofing.

The real secret to good flavour is a seemingly insignificant detail: the water.

In many large bakeries, dough is made with very little water because this makes it easier for the machines to process. "In my opinion, firm bread made without a lot of water can't develop the flavour of my wood oven bread." Several hundred customers come into his shop every day, most of them from the neighbourhood. But the "Brotraum" also supplies bread to culinary establishments throughout Munich. Artmann bakes bread for restaurants, baguettes for a soup stand and hamburger rolls for a hip burger bar.
"We get a lot of young families who care about good nutrition," says Fridolin. But they also get students on a break between classes, young mothers with prams, many seniors who bring along their own bags and, early in the morning, business people who briefly park their SUVs in front of the shop and run in to grab a quick and delicious breakfast roll.
To the baker'shome page

"When a customer bites into my bread, they immediately taste the quality."

Fridolin Artmann still refuses to sell sliced bread. "Bread should be eaten only when freshly cut," he says. For him, the matter is clear: "Bread that has to contain preservatives so it can be sold pre-sliced is no longer good bread."

Tips from the master

Baking in your own oven:

Most bakers use gas ovens in which the heat from the flame is continuous. Fridolin Artmann uses a wood-fired oven fuelled with pellets and containing stones that hold the heat. If you bake bread at home, note the following: "Heat the oven thoroughly, as hot as it can get," says Artmann. "Then bake the bread at the maximum temperature for at least ten minutes to form the crust - if possible at 260°C or more. Then, depending on the type of bread, reduce the temperature to 200°C and bake the bread for up to another hour.“

Proper bread storage

Fridolin Artmann says: "The way bread is stored depends a lot on individual taste. Crust fans who still want a firm crust the next day should just cut the bread and leave it on the cutting board with the cut side down. If the bread is still warm when you buy it, leave the bag open and when you get home, immediately unwrap it let it cool. But if you prefer your bread more moist, store it in a plastic bag no later than the second day."

Look for additional inspiration in more stories and regional cuisines.

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