When I first went to Switzerland to work in the early seventies, Buerli were a common sight in all the little restaurants and train station buffets throughout Zurich and in Eastern Switzerland.  Now both the quaint little restaurants and the excellent chewy Buerli have begun to disappear.  I know I can always get a good Buerli along with an excellent Bratwurst at the Horber stand in the Zurich train station Wednesday market.  When I can’t make it there on a Wednesday, sometimes I make this version of one of my favorite breads.

Buerli are not a lot of trouble to bake, but the dough and the Buerli need plenty of rising time – plan on starting early in the day for maximum convenience.  They are always baked in couples or quartets; I’ve chosen to bake couples to fit them more easily on  two baking pans.  They are a little large, but are a perfect bread with hearty food – and they freeze well.

The ones pictured here are from John Baker, a new Zurich bakery that’s already well known for the quality of its bread.

Makes 6 pairs of large rolls


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup warm water

1 teaspoon active dry yeast


1 3/4 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole what flour

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

Two jelly roll pans dusted heavily with flour

  1. For the starter, stir both flours together in a non-reactive bowl large enough to contain the starter after it has tripled in volume.  Whisk the yeast into the water and thoroughly stir into the flour mixture.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to ferment for 3 hours.
  2. After the starter is risen, prepare the dough.  Put the water into the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk in the yeast by hand.  Use a large rubber spatula to scrape in the starter and mix it with the water and yeast.  Stir in the flours and the salt to form a rough dough.
  3. Place the bowl on the mixer with the dough hook and mix on lowest speed for two minutes.  Stop the mixer and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
  4. Mix the dough again on medium speed for another two minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic.  Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and turn the dough over so that the top is oiled.  Press plastic wrap against the surface of the dough and allow it to rise for 30 minutes.
  5. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Fold both end of the dough in toward the center from opposite sides, then repeat with the other sides of the dough, as in the illustration.
  6. Repeat the folding of the dough again after another 30 minutes.
  7. Finally, let the dough rise covered again and undisturbed for 30 minutes.
  8. To form the Buerli, scrape the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface and cut it into 3 equal pieces.  Divide each of the resulting pieces in half to make six pieces, then divide each of the six pieces in half to make twelve.
  9. Generously flour the pieces of dough and form them into rough rounds.
  10. Place the rounds of dough in pairs with the rounds an inch away from each other to allow for rising space.  Place three pairs of Buerli on each prepared pan.
  11. Cover each pan with a cloth and allow the Buerli to rise until double, about an hour or so.
  12. About 15 minutes before the Buerli are completely risen, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees.  Set a roasting pan in the bottom of the oven and allow it to heat up to make some steam later on. 
  13. Place the pans of Buerli in the oven and quickly add 2 cups of water to the heated pan, averting your face from the steam formed.  Quickly close the oven to prevent the steam from escaping.  Bake the Buerli about 20 minutes, then turn the pans back to front, and place the pan from the upper shelf on the bottom and vice versa.  Lower the temperature to 400 degrees and bake the Buerli about 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until they are very dark – almost black – and the internal temperature is about 200 degrees.
  14. Cool the Buerli on racks.

Serving:  Buerli are never cut with a knife, but broken apart by hand.  Serve them in a basket and each guest can break one off and break the roll to eat it.

Storage:  These are best on the day they are baked, wrap tightly and freeze for storage.  Defrost covered and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees and cool before serving.