The ancient castles nestled along the Rhine and the historical museums and monuments of old German cities are popular tourist attractions. But for me, the piece de resistance in Germany is the little village bakery, tucked among the old buildings of a narrow, meandering street.
German bakery windows, large or small, are works of art, with pyramids of golden brown crescents, stacks of crisp Kaiser rolls, parades of pungent pumpernickels, and thick-crusted peasant rounds. Add to this the tantalizing fragrance of warm bread baking and a stop inside becomes irresistible.
Here is some of the finest baking in the world. Germany is indeed one place where we affirm that good bread is the most satisfying of all foods.
In a country that barely stretches 540 miles from north to south, 32,000 skilled, independent bakers turn out 200 varieties of tasty loaves and 1,200 different kinds of little breads and rolls.
In addition, many German cities have their own special breads.
Hamburg boasts golden oval rolls called Hamburger Rundstucke. For some travelers Berliner Schrippen (rolls)alone are worth the trip to this historic city.
Bamberg visitors delight in Bamberg crescents. In Franken, ask the baker for his Frankenloaf. In Paderborn sample the Landbrot. And nearly as famous as the cathedral in Cologne is Rhenische Blackbread.
For something a little sweeter, the Palatinate offers a special cheesecake. A wedding in this area, local residents say, is unthinkable without this treat.
For some, the German breakfast is a highlight. Each morning proves a new delight, with checkered tablecloths and baskets of five or six kinds of breads - crackly fresh Brotchen (little rolls) sprinkled with sesame, poppy seeds, or caraway and salt.
There is almost an urgency about tearing into that first fresh hard roll, fragrant and crusty. Spread it thick with sweet butter. Slather it with dark berry jam. Then pass the cheese and wafer-thin ham. Morning's at 7 and all's right with the world.
German Pumpernickel 2 tablespoons dry yeast 3 cups lukewarm water 1 tablespoon sugar 1 1/2 tablespoons instant potato flakes 1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds 4 teaspoons salt 6 tablespoons vinegar 3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted 1/2 cup dark molasses 4 tablespoons cocoa 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 4 1/2 cups pumpernickel rye meal
Cornstarch Glaze 1/3 cup water 1 teaspoon cornstarch
In large mixing bowl, combine yeast, lukewarm water, and sugar. Stir vigorously and allow to dissolve until bubbly. Add potato flakes, caraway and fennel seeds, salt, vinegar, melted and cooled butter, molasses, and cocoa to the yeast mixture, and mix well.
Gradually add 3 cups white flour and beat 2 to 5 minutes with electric mixer. Gradually add rye meal. Add white flour as necessary so dough is not too sticky.
Turn dough onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and set in warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch dough down. Turn onto lightly floured work surface. Divide dough into three equal parts. Form into round or oblong balls, and place on greased baking sheet or in greased cake pans.
Flatten loaves slightly. With sharp knife or razor blade, make three shallow slashes diagonally across loaves. Cover with clean kitchen towel and set in warm place. Let rise until doubled in bulk (30 to 45 minutes).
Bake at 375 degrees F. about 45 minutes or until bottoms of loaves sound hollow when tapped with fingers.
Meanwhile, prepare Cornstarch Glaze with water and cornstarch. Bring it to a boil, stirring with wire whisk. Remove from heat.
Ten minutes before bread is done, brush with Cornstarch Glaze. Return to oven to set glaze. Cool on racks when done. The glaze gives the loaves a shiny finish. Preparation time: 4 hours. Yield: 3 loaves.