Polish traditional cuisine includes a rich variety of bread types. It’s a staple product manufactured in this country for over 700 years. During this time, bread has become a respected cultural symbol.
According to a widely known old Polish custom, important guests are to be greeted with bread and salt. At some Polish weddings, the newlyweds are still welcomed by their parents in this way upon arrival from the church. Since it is treated as a godsend, some Polish people mark a new loaf with a “cross” on its back before eating it. Moreover, it is frowned upon to drop or waste even a single crumb.
Although every loaf is special for the Polish people, there is one type of bread so exceptional that evokes instant respect for the skills of the bakers. Chleb prądnicki, or Prądnik bread. But why is that the case?
A loaf-changing taste
Prądnicki bread is a traditional dark rye sourdough bread. What distinguishes it from other bread at first glance is its enormous size. Generally, it comes in two sizes. However, even the smaller one weighs about 4.5 kg and is up to 65 cm long and 35 cm wide with a height of up to 15 cm. Each loaf of bread has a slightly different shape. It could be either round or oval-shaped. When it comes to the larger one, it weighs around 14kg and can be even a meter long and half a meter wide. Quite impressive, right?
Nevertheless, do not think that the gigantic version is made every day. It is baked only for special occasions, such as large events, weddings, or some official celebrations.
No matter its size and shape, all Prądnik bread loaves have to have a 6mm thick brown or dark brown crust sprinkled with rye bran. When cut through, it should be light and evenly porous (no big sockets of air!). Just like the typical rye sourdough, it has a slightly sour aftertaste. The smell of fresh Prądnik bread is divine.
What is also amazing about this bread is the fact that it remains fresh for up to two weeks. After that time, not only the taste is not compromised, some say it’s even better! This amazing feature stems from boiled potatoes or potato flakes that together with wheat flour, rye flour, bran, yeast, drinking water, salt, and caraway seeds comprise the bread mixture.
The bread of yeast-erday?
The history of this baked good is inextricably intertwined with two villages near Krakow – Prądnik Biały and Prądnik Czerwony, which have been famous for baking exceptional bread for centuries. Since both of them were church estates, the history of breadmaking, and Prądnik bread in particular, is pretty well recorded. This baked good is mentioned for the first time in a letter from 1421!
In the document mentioned above, the Bishop of Kracow, Albert, grants his cook a small part of the land in Prądnik. In return, the chef was supposed to provide the Bishop with the so-called chleb rżany, the grandfather of modern Prądnik bread.
Another one bites the crust
Legend has it that Cracow alderman always offered the first loaf baked after the harvest to the King residing in the Wawel castle. However, the tradition did not end even when the rulers moved the capital to Warsaw. Even during the reign of Stanislaw August, the mayor of Cracow delivered Prądnik bread to the ruler in the new capital.
Based on the gathered sources, the researchers suppose that both settlements were from the earliest times populated primarily by bakers who supplied also the inhabitants of Krakow with baked goods. Thus, Prądnik bread used to be a local specialty consumed by rulers, dignitaries, and common people alike.
Chleb prądnicki enjoyed great popularity until the beginning of the 20th century. During the communist era, its production nearly ceased (at that time it supposedly could only be bought at the Old Kleparz market).
Nowadays, Prądnicki bread is, after obwarzanek and maczanka, the pride of Cracow. Its production was resumed after 1989, thanks to the baker Antoni Madej. To recreate the original recipe, he analyzed the references left in the literature and conversed with old residents of Prądnik. In this way, the legend became a reality!
Since March 12, 2011, Prądnik bread has been protected by the Protected Geographical Indication symbol. You will find it only on loaves baked within the administrative boundaries of the city of Cracow.
However, you don’t have a make trip to Krakow to taste it! After all, some of Cracow’s bakeries have shops in other Polish cities. Moreover, they also distribute their products (including Prądnik bread) abroad.
You have to know, though, that this bread is not very cheap. It can be even five times more expensive than its basic cousin. Despite this, Prądnik bread is still very popular (and, oh, so good!).