Those of you who come by here regularly will know I’m extremely curious about regional food cultures, cooking techniques and culinary traditions; and I’m an enthusiastic supporter of local, independent food endeavours. So mid-January, when I took the train back up to Berlin to spend another 36 hours exploring its ever expanding food scene, I was very excited to spend an evening at a German cooking workshop learning about some traditional culinary techniques – and trying them out for myself. I travelled as a guest of withlocals.com, who had offered me the choice of a selection of tours, classes and home-dining experiences provided by a growing number of locals in Germany’s capital.
Relishing the opportunity to learn more about the German cuisine and be taught two culinary processes that quite frankly terrified me, I opted to take part in a Sauerkraut– and Strudel-making workshop run by Julia Hammond, a native German who lived in the USA and England before moving to Berlin in 2014. Fuelled by her passion for traditional homecooked dishes and the preparation of fresh, dried and traditionally preserved foods, Julia is about open a café and community kitchen, Daheim Manufaktur, in Kreuzberg, a multicultural, bohemian neighbourhood in what used to be West Berlin (details below). While her friends have been helping her finish off the warm wooden interior of the café, Julia has been teaching 2-3 cooking workshops a week to a mixture of English-speaking Berliners and tourists, as well as native Germans, in its sleek professional kitchen.
Julia began offering the workshops in December 2015 in order to share the traditional cooking and preservation methods she finds both fascinating and rewarding but understands many other folk find intimidating. Having grown up in Bavaria baking and eating apple Strudel, she wanted to create a savoury take on the much-loved sweet dish for a pop-up café she ran in the east end of London. She spent a long time refining a southern German meat and Sauerkraut version that she thought would make a great dish to teach people, being both surprisingly easy and incredibly satisfying to make from scratch, whilst also looking terribly impressive once complete. Julia then added to her workshop agenda the traditional process used to make fermented cabbage, or Sauerkraut, which she learned in San Francisco.
It was a cold, dark winter’s evening when I knocked on the rather inconspicious Daheim Manufaktur door for the four-hour workshop, but it opened almost instantly to reveal Julia’s beaming face and behind her, her wonderfully cosy, warmly lit, wood-pannelled café. We were soon joined by two other guests, and sat down to get to know each other over slices of toasted bread with smoked ham and melted cheese and Julia’s excellent homemade pickled quince before heading into the kitchen and donning our aprons.
Me being far from a baking aficionado, and Strudel pastry being paper thin – it’s effectively the equivalent of sausage casing, merely there to keep its filling in – I had anticipated that Strudel dough-making and rolling would be a complicated, fiddly process. However, it’s a very simple, pliable dough to mix, using very few ingredients and needing only half an hour to rise before being rolled out wafer thin and stretched around its filling. Our balls of dough were to encase fillings of sautéed onions with Sauerkraut, ground beef, gherkin and juniper berries for the meat eaters, and leeks with mountain cheese for the vegetararian, which we prepared and cooked whilst the Strudel dough rose.
We then moved on to making Sauerkraut. I’ve wanted to try fermenting vegetables for a very long time, but have put off by the thought of quickly expanding gases leading to glass jars exploding in my kitchen. Julia swiftly allayed my fears, however, briefly explaining the basics of lacto-fermentation, a traditional process created for the preservation of seasonal vegetables in the days when they weren’t readily available year round, before guiding us through the process of actually preparing it. She’s kindly allowed me to share her Sauerkraut recipe here, which I’ll do in a week or so, once mine’s finished fermenting and is ready to eat. (Two weeks on, it’s still not exploded. And it’s starting to smell really, really good.)
Cabbage prepared, jarred and lidded, we retrieved our balls of expanded Strudel dough and set about finishing off our dinner; rolling out the very elastic pastry, wrapping up our fillings, decorating their tops and baking them in a hot oven.
Our Strudel turned out beautifully: pastry golden brown and fillings mouthwatering moreish; the vinegary Sauerkraut flavour mellowing with heat and, mixed with the ground beef and onion, creating a juicy, pleasingly chewy bite – although mine admittedly, as a freestyle gluten-free experiment, turned out rather more like a (very good) pie. We proudly carried them through to the café and ate them together, with Julia’s homemade dill and cucumber and warm Bavarian potato salads on the side, all extremely happy with our culinary accomplishments.
If you’re heading to Berlin and fancy a hugely enjoyable, rewarding and all-round delicious evening learning about traditional German cooking and preserving methods, I’d highly recommend booking yourself onto one of Julia’s workshops. She is a wonderful host and a very patient and knowledgeable cook and teacher, who was, in addition, extraordinarily accommodating of my gluten-free needs (and the other dietary requirements of my fellow guests). Her four hour German cooking workshop is currently available via withlocals.com for the introductory half price offer of 22,50€ per person and includes appetizers, ingredients, teaching and dinner – plus your own jar of self-made Sauerkraut to take home.
I travelled to Berlin and joined Julia’s workshop courtesy of withlocals.com, an online marketplace for connecting travellers and local people offering tours, workshops and home dining experiences around the globe, who launched in Germany in December 2015.
Julia’s café and community kitchen, Daheim Manufaktur, will open on Saturday 30 January 2016, offering dried fruit teas, filter coffee and Sauerkraut crisps as well as cinnamon rolls, dried fruit and vegetable breads and a selection of Strudel – all but the coffee homemade! – with selected German and English artisanal products such as preserves, jams and chocolates also available to buy.