The Reither Bakery: Tasty traditions
When my alarm clock rings at five in the morning, I crawl out of bed and yawn at the toothbrush. Actually I am a passionate late riser, but the day’s work of a traditional Tyrolean baker begins long before the first dawn. Today an experienced family business invited me to learn some secrets of the ancient craft.
Traditional bakery by Hueber
Heavy wafts of fog are still hanging over the Inntal valley while in Reith near Seefeld the first rays of sun are already glowing over the Alpine peaks. The morning air tastes of ice and snow, pregnant with the scent of fresh baked goods flowing out of the old Reither bakery. Master baker Rudi Hueber knocks the flour dust out of his apron before greeting me with a hearty handshake.
With a broad grin he introduces his colleagues, all are vigorous young men in a suspiciously good mood. You get used to everything, even the early morning routine, the bakers laugh. A demanding craft, but rewarded with special moments – the master smiles suggestively towards the sunrise. Today he leads the name and family businesses in its third generation – Rudi Hueber the third, so to speak. On the first of May 1928, grandfather Rudi Hueber pushed his first farmhouse bread into the wood-burning oven – in a few years from now, the prestigious family business will be a hundred years old.
Back in the day, the small bakery also housed a typical grocer’s shop. Today, the Hueber family again exclusively dedicates itself to the baking tradition: Back to the roots, completely without chemical compromises. It’s a truly heartfelt handcraft, the young baker emphasizes, honest and genuine. The bakery smells of nuts, fruit and sweet honey, as for today original Tyrolean “Zelten” are in the making.
Fruit bread in a gown
The Zelten is a traditional fruit bread in a yeast dough coat – rich, delicious and long lasting. A winter classic in the Alpine region, whose origins can be found in medieval customs. To this day, the tradition of “Anklöpfeln” is cultivated in rural Tyrolean areas. An old fertility custom, where men masked as shepherds beg for alms with songs and poems. They are presented with monetary donations and the nutritious coated fruit bread. At Christmas, the Zelten is cut and distributed by the housefather, the bakers explain their delicious makings.
Meanwhile, strange tools and equipment appear before my eyes, together with the fine yeast dough and the mysterious filling of the Zelten. For bread and dough, brine is used instead of salt, I am inaugurated. An important detail, as the brine is unrefined and original, more complex in taste and contains of 84 essential minerals and trace elements. The enthusiasm of the masters is contagious, I am secretaly taking notes.
Handcrafted by heart
Then everything goes down quite quickly, as with the professionals have perfected their every move. The fine filling was readymade the day before – from hand-picked nuts, pickled dried fruits, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, honey and other delicious secrets. The sweet temptation is now portioned, beaten into shape, brushed with water (keeps the shell and filling together) and then wrapped in fluffy soft dough. In the Reither bakery of the Hueber family it is all handcraft with no convenience, the master baker reveals. The characteristic pattern of the Zelten however is not engraved individually, but applied with a curious small hand roller. Finally, the Zelten are decorated with fine almond slivers and candied cherries, then finally it’s time for the oven. Just moments later, the old bakery is filled with the unmistakable scent of sweet Christmas baking.
(If you would like to try this traditional Christmas bakery yourself, find the old Tyrolean recipe here.)
Seven sweet sins
There are a total of six Reither Brot stores in Tyrol, the last and most beautiful opened just recently, right at the Dorfplatz in Reith – the flagship store, so to speak. Here I get to know mother and father Hueber, as the early day’s work of the young bakers already ends at noon. Rudi and Angelika welcome me as warmly as the boys in the bakery, it quickly becomes clear where the youngsters enthusiasm for their profession came from. Lovingly they lead me through alluring breads and baked goods, with homemade sourdoughs after Grandpa Rudi’s original recipes. Love without frippery, emphasizes the father, and delivered ovenwarm to the seven stores. Baking is done daily fresh and exclusively here in Reith – first-hand quality for three generations.
After a hearty baker’s breakfast (grand)mother Angelika takes me back to the bakery. The best Christmas cookies are grannies little secrets, she grins while sorting delicious treasures into little boxes. Available in stores in Reith, Seefeld and Scharnitz tomorrow, but I get the privilege to taste them today. Once again wishing I had become a baker after all.
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Pictures: Chris Weittenhiller