The Interview: Mattias Ljungberg – Swedish babes really do bread

On a recent trip to Sweden I was fortunate to hang out with Mattias Ljungberg who bakes at and owns Tosse bageriet, one of Stockholm's oldest and finest bakeries.  In addition to being an amazing baker, Mattias is a trained pastry chef and chocolatier, a member of the Swedish national culinary team, a trained carpenter, and runs a restaurant.  In spite of all of that and, coupled with the fact that he should have been practicing making sugar flowers for the upcoming wedding feast of the Crown Princess, on what was just about the rainiest day in the history of rainy days, Mattias took the time to take me on a bread safari in Ostermalm, Stockholm.

Mattias

An Easter Tree hanging above the counter

 We started in his own bakery - from the store room, to the cool room where his father was making marzipan ducks for Easter, to the pizza oven - and continued on to five other bakeries, all of which were within a 500 meter radius of Tossebageriet.  Imagine!  Six astonishingly good bakers in a tiny area all more than capable of making a living; all experimenting, creating, making, selling and pushing the boundaries of bread and how Swedish people view it, buy it, and eat it.  Some of them were no bigger than a large cupboard; in one of them, the baker's mum was serving behind the counter.  In true Swedish style they were all serving sandwiches, coffee, and cakes and were all stylish and cosy:  candles, flowers, and beautifully decorated for Easter.

Bread counter from above

"I am proud of my craft, " Mattias said.  "I am not a home baker - but I am a hand baker.  Every loaf sold at Tosse is touched by human hands:  sometimes many pairs of human hands!  Hand made bread has a humanity and an individuality that people are looking for in this age of standardisation.  They want THAT loaf, not THIS loaf..."

"There are three kinds of bread available now in Sweden:  Home made bread, industrial bread, and craft bread like ours.  There is plenty of room in Stockholm for more craft bakers.  The more the better!  We will not steal from each other, nor will we steal from the home baker.  We will only steal from the industrial bakers and if this means that people in Stockholm eat better bread, that's a good thing.  The industrial bakers may wake up and start baking better bread and that would also be a good thing."

Mattias outside a a bakery (not his) in Stockholm

It poured with rain as we walked and every shop we entered had the fantastic smell of freshly baking bread wafting to greet us through the door.  If you can, take a loaf from a good craft baker and take it with you next time you go to the supermarket.  Walk down the bread aisle sniffing vigorously and concentrate on the odour.  Then, get well away from the bread aisle and break open the craft loaf.  You may never walk down the bread aisle again.  Bread does not smell like the bread aisle at the supermaket.  Bread smells like the earth, like a warm summer day or a rainy autumn one, like a field of wheat, like a cosy kitchen.  Bread does not smell like vinegar or bleach or plastic.  Supermarket bread does and sadly, much of the bread in the average bake shop up and down the land does.  Mattias explained:

"After the war in Sweden, and in the UK too and France, the flour companies diversified into making bread mix.  Afterall, they own the big industrial bakers and make bread mix for them so why not make bread mix for everyone?  They make little 1 kg bread mixes for home bread making machines and they make big 25 kg sacks for sale to bakeries.  Most bakeries use bread mixes, making the bread they make better - but not a lot better - than white sliced bread in a plastic bag.  Look at the ingredients:  flour improvers, dessicated fats, sugar, way too much salt, preservatives, rising agents that have little to do with yeast as it appears in nature...it's a disaster.  It's simply not bread.  When we bought Tosse - this is the baker to the Royal Family - the store room was full of bread mix!  I kid you not:  Danish rye bread mix, Lingonberry bread mix, white bread mix, brown bread mix, fruit and nut bread mix...all the classic Swedish breads in a pre-mixed bag.  It was unbelieveable.  Within a week they were gone and we started again.  Thankfully we were able to recover Tosse's original book of recipes from a man who had bought them off the previous owners.  We have adapted and changed them and are ruthless when it comes to varying the products we sell.  If it does not sell, we just stop baking it and try something new.  People's tastes are always changing although of course there are some classics we will always sell like Danish Rye which is actually sold all over the Nordic countries...yet we all call it Danish rye!"

Mattias' favourite bread is Fruit and Nut Bread

"In fact," he admits, "I am like the shoe maker who has no shoes. My fridge is pretty empty.  But if I have to choose one bread that I love the most it is Fruit and Nut bread...not because I love it so much but because my girl friend does.  It is her favourite and so I love making it for her."

The trend in Sweden, as it is in many craft bakeries, is to bake in a pizza oven.  Baking in a pizza oven - it baking the bread directly on the heat source as opposed to surrounding it with hot air - creates a different crust and crumb texture.  The little bakeries Mattias and I visited were all pizza oven baking.  Tosse does both:  there is a pizza oven and several "normal" ovens.  "It took a while", he said with a smile,"to convince my dad to invest in a pizza oven.  He is very traditional...but we got there in the end!"  Given that he does everything so well and with such passion, that does not surprise me.

Huge sourdough loaves baked in a pizza oven

To find Tosse and other great bakeries in Stockholm, please click here.

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