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Swiss Pear Bread: A Sweet Slice of Alpine Tradition

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Swiss cuisine is often characterized by its hearty and comforting dishes, but it also boasts a delightful array of desserts and baked goods that highlight seasonal ingredients. Swiss pear bread, known locally as “Birnbrot,” is a traditional pastry that combines sweet, juicy pears with a spiced filling, all wrapped in a tender, yeast-based dough. This article explores the history of Swiss pear bread and provides a step-by-step recipe to recreate this beloved treat in your own kitchen.

The Tradition of Swiss Pear Bread

Swiss pear bread has its origins in the Alpine regions of Switzerland, where fruit-filled pastries are cherished for their ability to preserve seasonal flavors throughout the year. Pears, being a staple fruit in Swiss orchards, are often harvested in abundance during the autumn months and preserved for winter consumption. The pastry itself is a labor of love, requiring patience and skill to create layers of dough encasing a fragrant pear filling.

Ingredients for Swiss Pear Bread:

For the Dough:

  • 2 1/4 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) warm milk
  • 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature

For the Filling:

  • 3-4 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup (60g) chopped almonds or hazelnuts

For Assembly:

  • 1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting, optional)

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the Dough:
    • In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the warm milk, softened butter, and egg.
  2. Knead the Dough:
    • Mix the ingredients until a dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment.
  3. First Rise:
    • Place the kneaded dough in a greased bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  4. Prepare the Filling:
    • In the meantime, prepare the pear filling. In a medium bowl, combine the diced pears, granulated sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, lemon zest, and chopped nuts. Mix well and set aside.
  5. Assemble the Pear Bread:
    • Once the dough has risen, punch it down gently to deflate. Roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle, approximately 12×16 inches.
  6. Add the Filling:
    • Spread the pear filling evenly over the rolled-out dough, leaving a small border along the edges. Roll up the dough tightly from the long side, like a jelly roll.
  7. Second Rise:
    • Place the rolled dough seam side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let it rise for another 30-45 minutes.
  8. Bake the Pear Bread:
    • Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Brush the risen pear bread with beaten egg to create a shiny finish.
    • Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and baked through. If the top starts to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil.
  9. Cool and Serve:
    • Remove the pear bread from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Tips for Perfect Swiss Pear Bread:

  • Choosing Pears: Use ripe, but firm pears for the filling to ensure they hold their shape during baking.
  • Adding Nuts: Chopped almonds or hazelnuts add a delightful crunch to the filling and complement the sweetness of the pears.
  • Storage: Swiss pear bread can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen for longer storage; just thaw and reheat before serving.

Serving and Enjoying Swiss Pear Bread:

Swiss pear bread is a delightful treat that can be enjoyed with morning coffee or tea, as an afternoon snack, or even as a dessert. Its sweet, spiced filling and tender dough make it a favorite during the cooler months when pears are in season. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply indulging in a slice of Alpine tradition, Swiss pear bread is sure to delight with its comforting flavors and homemade charm. Enjoy the process of baking this traditional Swiss pastry and savor the warm, fragrant slices with family and friends.

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Written by Robert Zelesky

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