Back to the roots: Copenhagen rediscovers old baking traditions

Written by Jule, Johana and Marie

The corona pandemic has made many Copenhageners enthusiastic again about a centuries-old product: bread. What this means for Denmark’s oldest bakery.

The small street in the heart of Copenhagen is busy, if unassuming. A cluster of people has formed in front of a building, peering curiously through a pane of glass, the light from the display illuminating their faces. A warm, sweet scent emanates from the belonging door – the combination of cinnamon, coffee and bread. In the shop window, cardamom buns, croissants, filled pastries and cinnamon braids upstage each other. A woman opens the next door: “My daughter will take time for you in a moment,” beams Agathe Sørensen, owner of Sankt Peders Bageri.

It’s no news that business runs good at Denmark’s oldest bakery – but since Corona, the clientele has changed and grown, reveals daughter Josefine Sørensen, who works full-time in the family business. Their bakery had always been more popular outside of Denmark, she explains, “but during Corona people had time and now we have a lot more Danish customers than before”.

The first months of the pandemic were tough, but since September last year business has been better than ever. It became a kind of sport to try the so-called Fastelavnsboller (carnival-buns) – a yeast dough bun filled with cream, remonce or jam and garnished with chocolate icing – in different bakeries. Now, many take the extra mile to get fresh baked bread instead of buying the industrially produced bun just around the corner.

This fits with the observation that Corona has changed the consumer behaviour of Danes overall: in a survey by Agriculture and Food 31 percent say that they try to buy more local food and a study by the Danish Technological Institute shows the value of food has increased for almost 21 percent of Danes, wherefore they are willing to spend more money and time on it.

‘Good things take time’ could be the motto of the 370-year-old Sanct Peders Bageri. Father and baker Torben bakes all the goods fresh and on site – a uniqueness in Copenhagen. He is in the bakery every day from four in the morning until late in the evening, filling the counter with fresh products. “You can definitely taste the difference between handmade and bought in,” his daughter says.

In the past 12 years the number of bakeries in Denmark decreased as supermarkets widened their offer on baked goods and convenience products became more and more popular. Many customers then chose to combine grocery and bread shopping in one place rather than visiting a bakery.

In contrast, everything in Sanct Peders Bageri, from rye bread to chocolate croissants, is made according to Torben’s recipes and is kneaded, shaped and baked by his hands. This also means: if they get sold out of bread, customers must wait till the next day to buy it. The whole process needs time and patience. “But it also makes it special, because it is so freshly baked and you can’t get it anywhere else,” Josefine says. “When I come in the morning to open the bakery, I can smell the freshly baked cinnamon and bread in the street. This is such a cosy and nice scent.”

Bread has a long tradition in Denmark. Around 200 to 400 AD, Scandinavian soldiers brought home bread recipes from the Roman army. At that time, ryebread was the standard, as the grain could thrive well in the barren Nordic soil. Although the tradition continues today and ryebread is still the basis of the Danish national dish Smørrebrød (a richly garnished open sandwich), other types of bread are also gaining popularity. Josefine feels that sourdough has had a real run in recent years, especially among young people.

Josefine Sørensen works full time in her family’s bakery

 Her family doesn’t try to work against these trends and Torben is constantly developing new recipes. “It is the fine line between keeping the tradition and developing modern versions”, his daughter points out. But no matter if old or new interpretation: the focus lies on not to lose the sense of real bakery.

To prevent this, the preservation of the bakery and its name is fixed: If the Sørensen family decides to sell the business one day, their successors will once again run a bakery with the name Sanct Peders Bageri. In this way, Copenhageners will still have the opportunity to buy fresh bread for the next 370 years and even longer.