Tweibach: The Iconic Bread of the Mennonites

The Steinbach Tribune

Recently, we were inspired to write an article about the grain millers son Cornelius F. Toews. The inspiration came from some of the “Toews Bakery family" in Steinbach and after having received a copy of the Johan F. Toews autobiography.

William (Bill) Toews working in the home bakery, Steinbach.

It’s been said that tweibach and bread speak to the heart of the Mennonite culture. So I thought it might be fitting to start with an article about the funny looking “bun” that is so well known. Tweibach are of course part of a bigger faspa tradition - but let’s stick with tweibach for now.

A short history lesson: Russian Mennonite tweibach is a centuries old food tradition that was enjoyed almost daily, as well as at special celebrations. Pronounced Tweebak in Plautdietsch, it is a yeast bread roll formed from two pieces of dough that are pulled apart when eaten. Placing the two balls of dough one on top of the other so that the top one does not fall off during the baking process is part of the art and challenge that must be mastered by the baker. Traditionally, this type of tweibach is baked Saturday and eaten Sunday morning and for afternoon Faspa, a light meal. Tweibach originated in the port cities of the Netherlands and the Danzig area. The toasted, dried buns were used to provision ships. Mennonite immigrants from the Netherlands, who settled in around Danzig in West Prussia, continued this practice and brought it to Russia when they migrated to new colonies in what is today Ukraine.”

Making tweibach is more about technique. Here is a recipe;

--4 cups milk (or 1 cup dry milk dissolved in 4 cups warm water)

--1-1/2 cups shortening (butter and lard/shortening)

--1/2 cup sugar

--1 teaspoon salt

-- 3 tablespoons dry yeast, dissolved in 1 cup of warm water

--8-10 cups al-purpose unbleached flour.

Mix ingredients in mixer with batter beater. Add enough flour until dough is difficult to mix. Let dough stand 10 minutes. Then add more flour, a little at a time, using a dough hook or kneading with hands to form a soft dough. Let rise again and shape into zwieback by pinching balls of dough about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter for the base and slightly smaller for the tops. Fill one cookie sheet with bases, flatten them slightly and then another cookie sheet with tops. At that point, when they had set a couple minutes, put a top bun on each of the base buns, using the second knuckle of your forefinger or middle finger to press/pinch the top bun quite firmly down to the bottom bun. Let rise 5 minutes and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Sounds easy, right? Well it’s the pinching technique that takes time to master. Here’s a photo to illustrate;

This technique required strength and stamina.  Rosa Amelia Toews (nee  Zilkie) is pictured (below) in the home bakery.  She would have made thousands upon thousands of tweibach in her time.  Can you imagine making making a few hundred dozen of these in a single day?  It was a once a week treat that was only offered Saturdays at the Steinbach Bakery. Why on Saturday?  So you'd have some ready for Sunday faspa our course :-)  And in case "jast" would show up to visit.

Rosa Amelia Toews (nee Zilke)

We welcome comments below from anyone who enjoys celebrating great people and great events of the Mennonite culture and Steinbach history.


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