31 August 2007

daily bread

This morning I was in the bakery near work, and got to thinking of how endearing these places are. There's the crowd of old guys in the corner that obviously meet every morning for a long gas over coffee, watching the traffic of people arriving and departing. There's the little box of toys in the corner for the kids (as with almost every shop and restaurant), the steady stream of construction guys with their paint-dabbed steel toe boots.

Bakeries here are fortunately more in the European facet of Iceland, not the American one, so they are plentiful and very much a part of the routine. They sell all kinds of breads, from the light and fluffy to the most weighty seed-loaded varieties (I love the type with flax seeds!) plus the more interesting sweet and gooey stuff, like the vínarbrauð, a complicated confection of pastry, with almond paste, frosting, and a sprinkling of nuts. I prefer the pecan variety which just focuses on pecans without all the frosting and chocolate and so forth.

Then we have snúður, the old standby, a yeasty swirl of dough, glazed and drooled with a choice of frostings. I prefer the caramel one, but they come in chocolate or a mysterious pink one. These can be consumed all by yourself but I prefer when they're shared. These are nearly as big as my head so a quarter is plenty for me!

One thing you will not see is muffins though. Muffins have not established much of a beachhead here in this country, so it's going to have to be scones, crumpets, or something else borrowed from another land to the east of us. Sure, Iceland does have its unborrowed baked goods traditions, but they tend to be pretty simple, such as the soðbrauð, basically a fried bread studded with caraway seeds, or the holiday-essential laufabrauð. This one's kind of a fatty cracker made with fancy cutwork patterns. It's pretty evident that centuries of shortages didn't make for much ability for super creative pastry inventions. Still, I'm quite pleased that Icelanders were so willing to borrow the best of other lands and make them so freely here.

The only caveat is that the morning service can be astoundingly slow. Perhaps it's the early hour, maybe it's just the way bakeries work, but this morning I watched one woman buy half the store, including stacks of sandwich toppings (these boxes of "shrimp salad" and and "potato salad" almost require a post themselves), about a dozen loaves of bread (all having to be sliced, of course), five liter-boxes of juice, and when I left she was still adding on cakes and pastries. The other guy in front of me had a good 10 minutes to ponder his order thanks to miss buying-for-half-the-Icelandic-population but when he got to the counter he was all "bara... bara.... sko... bara..hérna" (just.. just... so...just..here). I have to confess that my American give-me-fast-service! kicked in and I was left shifting about impatiently while he decided that what he really needed was two croissants. Yep, borrowing from France too.


SOe said...

You are right I never saw muffins in a Icelandic bakery - only the muffins in plastic bags from Bonús.

tsduff said...

My Sweetie introduced me to Icelandic bakeries when I was there, as his own fond memories were already legend in his telling and re-telling of how his family used to live directly across the street from the old giant bakery in Hafnarfjordur when he was a boy. His favorite is snúður, but mine was a savory something made out of voluminous pastry with orange-colored cheesy goodness worked into the middle. Ummm - the smell in those places is like heaven - and my mouth waters remembering. I also love kleinur... could eat them all day long :-)

sb said...

My favourite is Snúdur with Chocolate milk.
Then if you go to Danska Bakaríid Sudurlandsbraut and I think possibly Kringlan or Smáralind, then I'd say their 'chocolade boller' or their snigill is absolutely to die for. Their white bread is the best in the world, it is so so so so so delicious. I'm so lucky cause they've opened up a Danish Pastry house in Boston :)

ECS said...

soe: since I posted this muffins have become an obsession! I was talking to another expat friend about them, I saw mix in Mélabuðin today, and yes, Bónus does sell them but I assure you, It's Not The Same as a proper American muffin.

tsduff: Snúður is good but good God that's a lot of sugar. I just can't handle it. As for the cheesy thing, is it in a bowtie shape? I might know what you are talking about. And for the kleinur, they are best if homemade. Otherwise I find them a bit heavy.

sb: am not surprised you would like that combo! It's Iceland Essential. I do know the bakery you speak of- it's in Kringlan, and I haven't had the pastry you speak of but whatever I did have there was pretty good. Bakeries in Boston.. there are plenty of good ones but they are still kind of a "special" thing, rather than just a place that people go on their daily routine. That's what I like about the bakeries here.

Anonymous said...

'Vínarbrauð' - isn't that the Danish? Or their variant of it? The 'vínar' being Vienna and the 'brauð' being bread?

'The enchanting sorbet-colored 17th century buildings' - that's fabulous. It's such a pleasure to read you.