New Nordic cuisine has been on a tear for the better part of this decade. With a focus on local, seasonal ingredients and strong doses of fermenting, foraging, pickling and preserving, it’s no wonder that New Nordic cuisine has garnered so much attention. But did you know that some of same principles that inform acclaimed restaurants like Noma, which was named best restaurant in the world 2010-2012 and 2014, can be found in everyday edibles like bread and pastries?
Claus Meyer, who co-founded Noma and spearheaded the 2004 Nordic Kitchen Manifesto that guides the New Nordic movement, has recently expanded his food empire to New York with a range of offerings. Among these new ventures is Meyers Bageri, an artisanal bakery in the Nordic style, with locations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and The Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Terminal. We visited the Williamsburg location to talk to Head Baker Jacques Johnson and Communications Director Christina Heinze Johansson, and of course, to taste the delicious selection of freshly baked breads and Danish pastries.
Bread is back big time in bakeries and restaurants across the country. Once a ubiquitous, if uninspiring, dinnertime freebie, high-quality bread is garnering a greater focus at restaurants and bakeries. Perhaps as a reaction to our digitally connected lives, old-fashioned techniques and tangible, rustic experiences that help us reconnect seem to be growing in appeal. Restaurant chefs are keyed into diners’ taste for good bread, with Johnson noting that as chefs are becoming more multidisciplinary and focused on wellness, they are becoming more interested in bread. “It’s no longer an afterthought relegated to kitchen basements.”
Baking high quality bread is an exacting process, requiring “unique” working hours (yup, think 3 a.m. wake ups), but nonetheless bread baking is gaining prominence as an art and a science. Perfecting bread and pastry recipes can require a deep knowledge and understanding of the interaction of what may seem to be ordinary ingredients — flour, water, yeast, sugar — along with the skills of precise measurement and patience. In fact, bread bakers use their own method for indicating proportions known as the “baker’s percentage.”
It’s this precision and care that’s on display at Meyers Bageri. The daily selection of breads and Danish pastries start with flour milled on-site from heirloom grains sourced from farms in upstate New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The recipes are based on Danish baking traditions, with tweaks to suit the American palate. A great example is the Tebirkes — a poppy seed Danish pastry with a marzipan-based filling. It looks like a seeded roll that you’d expect to be savory, but the marzipan, a paste made from almonds and sugar, provides a smooth sweetness that pairs perfectly with the poppy seeds. Marizpan has a bit of downtrodden reputation in the American pasty case, where it’s most well known as a component in rainbow colored layer cookies, but when presented as filing, Meyers Bageri is showcasing the versatility of a traditional ingredient and giving diners a new experience. One interesting side note—the “Danish” pastry actually originated in Austria, but proved popular among Danes, who then lent the style their name.
Some other notable options at Meyers Bageri include Kanelsnurre, the famed cinnamon swirl. These don’t have the ooey-gooey frosting that’s standard issue on American-style cinnamon buns, but instead have a hint of cardamom leading to a more delicate taste. Morning Buns are also scrumptious, made with Øland heirloom sourdough flour and filled with choice of seasonal jam, sunflower butter or Havarti cheese.
While these are some of the standouts, the bread selection is constantly changing and evolving and Meyers Bageri isn’t just keeping their know-how or ingredients within their four walls. They understand people’s thirst for new, interesting and social food experiences. You can get sourdough starter kits to make your own dough or, starting soon, take onsite bread-making workshops. They’ve also embraced the existing bread-making community. Johnson meets regularly with other local bakers to collaborate, sharing techniques, ingredients and ideas. In addition, Meyer’s nonprofit The Melting Pot Foundation, will be opening an outpost in Brownsville, Brooklyn offering a restaurant, bakery and a community center school where students for free can learn about cooking, baking and hospitality.
So what does this all mean? Is the gluten-free craze over? Is the Viking Invasion here to stay? Will we all be mulling bread by hand? All we can say for certain is that both the Nordic influence and the bread boom are alive and well and oh so tasty. A good Danish pastry or loaf is warming, comforting and will always rise to the occasion.