Basque Fact of the Week: The “Butter Buns” of Bilbao

When I visited my dad’s family in Munitibar, I’d stay with his brother Martin and his wife Rosario. They ran the Herriko Taberna. Each morning, after I woke up, I’d make my way to the bar. Rosario was already hard at work, cleaning the bar and preparing the days meals. I’d take my seat at the bar and she’d serve up a cafe con leche and a pastry. I never really gave it much thought, but those pastries stayed with me, their subtle sweetness and simplicity perfect for starting the day. It was only much later that I realized their unique place in the life of Bizkaia.

Bollos de mantequilla from Bizkarra Panadería y Pastelería.
  • Bollos de mantequilla, as they are called, are actually a quite simple pastry. Essentially, they are a Swiss bun or brioche, cut in two and filled with a cream made from butter and eggs. They often have a sprinkling of sugar on top. They have a very soft texture and only a hint of sweetness.
  • Their origin dates back to 1813. That was the year that two cousins from Switzerland, Bernardo Pedro Franconi and Francesco Matossi, came to Bilbao. According to one story, they were trying to sell goats milk. Whatever the case, they eventually set up a pastry shop in the old part of town – the Casco Viejo – at Calle Correo nº 2 to be precise. Years later, they opened a second shop in the Plaza Nueva. It wasn’t long before they had a franchise that reached across Spain, with some 50 shops in cities such as Burgos, Santander, Pamplona, and Madrid.
  • The cousins started making milk buns, or brioches, which became known as Swiss buns. But it wasn’t until they added that butter cream filling that the bollo de mantequilla was born that is now so ubiquitous in Bizkaia. Today, you can find shops all over Bilbao that serve these simple delights; BilbaoClick lists several you can check out next time you are there.
  • However, if you can’t make it to Bilbao any time soon, you can always make your own! You can find recipes for bollos de mantequilla all over the internet, but Bake Street provides not only a good recipe but also advice on making them. The ingredients are pretty simply – water, flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, yeast, and salt – but they can take a few days to make, due to the time the buns need to rise.
  • BilbaoClick gives another history of these pastries, though their story also starts on Calle Correo nº 2. According to them, the owner of the shop “Café Suizo” traveled to Switzerland in 1831, where he discovered the bun filled with butter cream. He brought it back to his shop and Bilbao where it quickly became an enormous hit.

Primary sources: Bollo de mantequilla, Wikipedia; Bollos de mantequilla from Bilbao, Bake Street; El bollo de mantequilla, Conoce Bilbao con Esme; Los 9 Mejores Bollos de Mantequilla de Bilbao, BilbaoClick

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