Swiss baked goods you win as prizes, ranked.


Photos, left to right: my own; Einsiedeln-tourismus.chwikipedia.

This weekend I went to Rothenthurm for a 22.5k skate loppet. Rothenthurm is quite close to Zurich and probably one of the lowest-elevation places you’ll ever race in Switzerland. The snow was not fantastic – it’s basically a moor or fen of some sort, so there’s a lot of water bubbling up. This turned into yellowish ice which was in some parts covered in a thin dusting of snow, and in others not. In a few of the drier spots there was grass poking through, or gravel dragged up by the groomer.

The ice did make it fast though – the race was over before I knew it, which was very okay!

I saw a lot of crashes in this race which were caused by peoples’ skis slipping out from under them on the ice as they pushed off one leg. It happens so fast and all of a sudden you’re on the ground. I narrowly avoided this fate twice, and the effort to keep my legs under me made me really sore the next day. At one point a spectator cheered as I managed to pull myself back together after a about six teetering strides in a row. Thanks for the support, random Swiss person! It actually means a lot! My mere 15 days on snow this year showed.

I was feeling pretty flat, but it was fun to race in a group of four women all fighting for third place. It was the first time all year that I’ve actually skied with other women in a race! Of course there were lots of men skiing with us too (and sometimes cutting in between us), but the competition is a lot of fun when you are skiing with the people you are competing directly against. I think it’s safe to say that the four of us all have very different backgrounds – one was a very talented mountain biker whose team ski races in winter for cross-training, another was a woman in a Madshus suit who apparently works on a beef farm, I’m a full-time student – but we were fighting hard out there.

In the end I wasn’t able to hit the podium for a variety of reasons. I finished fourth, 2.8 seconds out of third after 22.5 k. Argh! This was a little frustrating. Fuel for the fire next week I guess. But I won some prize money anyway, for just the fifth time ever in my career. Three of those times have been in Europe after I stopped training full-time – in France, Sweden, and Switzerland. I have to say racing is a lot more lucrative in Europe even if you’re a fairly mediocre runner or skier. It wasn’t a lot, but it was nice to be able to cover my race entry and train ticket.

Besides the cash prize, I also was given a Birnenweggen, a sweet bread from Kanton Schwyz where Rothenthurm. It came in a box and I wasn’t sure what it was until I opened it – was it food? electronics? something else? – but it turned out to be bread stuffed with pureed, spiced pear paste. Yum!

Not every baked good in Switzerland is so wonderful to win. Anyone who has done the Engadin Skimarathon has probably seen, won, or tasted a Nusstorte. After last year’s race, Holly Brooks had won one and left it at my house because she had way too much stuff to transport back to Alaska. I brought it to a dinner party at my friend Greg’s house. It was like I had arrived carrying an ugly, slimy, wart-covered frog. Actually, we were all biologists, so that would have been better. The nusstorte did not go fast.

(Holly, don’t take this personally, I was genuinely excited about it until I tried it… good thing you didn’t let it take up luggage space only to realize you had brought the worst possible souvenir from Switzerland!)

More recently, Greg and I were trying to describe Nusstorte to two American friends. It’s like a pie with two really thick crusts, stuffed with this sort of dry nut mixture. It’s so dry. “So it’s like pecan pie without the good part?” They asked. Yes! Yes! Exactly.

I’ve actually had good nusstorte, made by my friend Flurina. Maybe she has a secret. I could imagine it being better with ice cream on top. But it’s really not my favorite.

In the middle of the spectrum lie the traditional cookies from Einseideln, given in prizes at the Einsiedler Skimarathon (also close to Zurich and actually even lower elevation, but with more interesting trails than Rothenthurm and lacking that pesky water/ice problem). Einsiedler Schafböcke, as they are called, are white sort of fluffy cookies. They are delicately flavored with honey and a little bit of cinnamon and cloves. They probably won’t knock your socks off, but that’s because these days we don’t seem to be impressed by anything without pounds of sugar and huge, bold flavors. They are good.

Moral of the story: if you have a sweet tooth, enter the Rothenthurm race rather than the Engadin. First of all, you’re unlikely to bag a top-six finish in the Engadin Skimarathon, hate to break it to you (well, I’m certainly not… I guess I don’t know who is reading this). But if you can get there in a smaller Swiss Loppet, the birnenweggen is tasty and a very worthy reward for your hours of hard training.

Should you wish to try any of these Swiss specialties, you can order most online, with shipping to some places outside the country:

Birnenweggen (the Lucerne version, but I couldn’t find the Rothenthurmer Birnenweggen online)

Einsiedler Schafböcke

Bündner Nusstorte from Davos

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