Living in a new Renaissance of Finnish bread culture
Bread culture in Finland is currently developing at a fast pace. "Freshly baked bread is the heart of our hotel," says Filip Forsberg, Head of Food Experiences at St. George Bakery, located at Hotel St. George in downtown Helsinki.
This is easy to believe when one sits down at the bakery's cafe, situated right next to the Old Church Park in Helsinki.
The shelves are packed with golden brown loaves and other delicacies that have just been baked in the bakery downstairs. The air is fragrant with the aroma of bread and coffee, interesting artwork can be found hanging on the walls – the collection includes pieces by Ai Weiwei as well as Finnish artists Birger Kaipiainen and Mari Rantanen – and local and international newspapers are waiting on a side table for guests.
- Freshly baked bread is an important part of nearly every culture around the world. Doesn't fresh bread bring that little something extra to the day? Filip Forsberg says.
In addition to bread baked in house, he says that most products at St. George, such as yogurt and cottage cheese, are made from scratch.
No Croissants? Karelian pies are much better
St. George Bakery wants to be part of Finland’s rapidly growing bread culture by bringing it to the current day.
Instead of scouring inspiration from faraway places around the world, Filip has turned his attention to Finland and its neighboring countries, such as Sweden and Estonia. There are a lot of interesting things happening in these countries at the moment.
Instead of filling its shelves with croissants and macarons, St. George Bakery focuses on bringing back traditional Finnish baked goods and modernizing them.
Local areas are represented in the ingredients, which are bought from nearby farmers and producers as often as possible.
Sometimes the producers deliver the products straight to our kitchen door in their work boots.
- This area has a lot to offer. We get our flour, for example, from the nearby Malmgård farm or farmer Pekka Nikkilä, says Filip.
Seasonal thinking is not just for show
In Filip's words, the bakery operates in an experimental manner. He wants the process of coming up with new products to be fun.
The bakery's relatively small size lends the opportunity for flexibility and innovation: if on one day the bakers want to use fresh rhubarb, they can do just that on a whim. Seasonal thinking is apparent in everything.
- We want to provide our staff with the opportunity to work with authentic, fresh ingredients. Seasonal thinking is a current trend. In many places, however, it can mean that during rhubarb season, rhubarb is served merely for appearance's sake – but it comes from the freezer. We are adamant about using only fresh ingredients. In my view, seasonal thinking shows in our work naturally, Filip says.
The St. George Bakery's selection currently consists of four different types of bread that are baked every day: light and dark sourdough bread, saaristolaisleipä or Finnish archipelago bread, and setsuuri-bread, a traditional Finnish sweet-and-sour type of bread.
We’re proud of everything we bake
- Instead of featuring an insanely large repertoire, we would rather serve just a few really good products. We want to make products that we ourselves like. Our selection is abundant, but minimalistic at the same time, Filip says.
I always want everything to happen right there and then. Sometimes I see my colleagues paling as I get an idea and instantly wish for it to be ready for taste testing within an hour.
Even though Filip strives for simplicity in the bakery's selection, he is constantly bursting with ideas for new products and approaches problem solving with a Gyro Gearloose-esque mentality. There simply isn't enough time to make every new innovations a reality, and the finished products are always the sum of the effort of several people.
Children are the most honest arbiters of taste
Much of Filip’s inspiration comes from his childhood. His Finnish Swede family comes from Helsinki and the culinary tradition of the area shows in the bakery's products.
An intrinsic part of Finnish Swede culinary culture is eating herring with Finnish archipelago bread in the summer, and so this traditional bread can always be found in the bakery's selection.
- I don't think there are many children in the world who wouldn't enjoy freshly baked bread, Filip remarks.
His own three children have acted as important arbiters of taste during the development of St. George Bakery's products, and Filip can happily report that they are extremely satisfied with them.
Photos: Oona Pohjolainen & Mikko Ryhänen