The German baking books I own are traditional in approach, content and design; the international ones I’ve seen filled with gaudy, 1970’s dinner party style photographs involving unhealthy quantities of glazed cherries and tinned mandarins. Which, if you’ve had the fortune to visit Germany and any single one of its very many Konditoreien (pâtisserie shops) or cafés, you will know could not be farther from the truth. From chocolate-dipped almond crescents to simple bread rolls, the baked goods of Germany are plentiful and adored, coffee and cake the fourth meal of the day, and a visit to Omi’s nothing without a platter of seasonal biscuits or a homemade cake. It’s high time there was a German baking book that presented German baking in a contemporary, elegant way, and this is why I was delighted when I first heard that food blogger and author Luisa Weiss was embracing the challenge with her Classic German Baking.
I’ve enjoyed Luisa’s blog, The Wednesday Chef, for a long while and read her memoir, My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) just last year, but I began following her social media channels most keenly the day she announced she was embarking on recipe testing for her #germanbakingbook. As a fellow lover of Germany and its deep-rooted culinary traditions, I was excited to see how someone with both an insider and an outsider’s perspective on German baking – Luisa was born in Berlin to an Italian mother and American father – would present what is arguably one of the world’s greatest baking cultures, within one of what is surely one of the world’s most underrated cuisines, and of course which recipes she would pick to represent it.
Classic German Baking: The Book
Well, the answer to the first of those questions is, with her whole heart, and with great patience and determination, too (neither of which will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed her Instagram account over the last 18 months). Classic German Baking is primarily, to answer the second question, a collection of traditional baking recipes from all over Germany. It includes well known, much-loved classics such as Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateau), Brezeln (Soft Pretzels) and Käsekuchen (Quark Cheesecake) and some of Germany’s best kept secrets, too, from Bienenstich (Honey-Almond Caramel Cake) to Kartoffel-Käse Dinnede (Potato-Cheese Flatbread). The chapters run through breads and biscuits to cakes, tortes and strudels and much more, both savoury and sweet, nodding to the seasons along the way.
The book is also, however, and whether consciously done or not, a love letter to Germany’s capital and a charming reflection on her own relationship with its baked goods. Luisa’s short chapter introductions are engaging and evocative, offering windows into her own personal life as well as Germany’s baking traditions. Her recipes are accompanied by beautiful, modern photographs of both her bakes and her beloved Berlin, the city in which she was born, grew up, fell in love and eventually settled down (with stints in Paris, Boston and New York in between).
Classic German Baking: The Recipes
Ten days before I myself exchanged my German life for a year in Washington, DC, I picked out three recipes to try: for its simplicity, and my mother-in-law’s birthday, the Friesentorte (Plum Cream Torte), which additionally involved making a Pflaumenmus (Spiced Plum Butter); and for natural gluten-free-ness and our leaving do, the Mohntorte (Poppy Seed Torte).
It turned out, somewhat predictably, that the week before a transatlantic move is not the best time to embark on baking projects. I managed a batch of Pflaumenmus before we left, the smell of slowly stewing, cinnamon-spiced plums the most comforting possible accompaniment to packing up our flat; I only fear that I should not have halved the recipe, as the end result was considerably thicker and stodgier than it should have been. But I found no time to sandwich it between layers of puff pastry and whipped cream: I left my mother-in-law instead, rather embarrassingly, with my homemade plum butter, a roll of raw pastry and two pots of cream, to put the Friesentorte together herself; plus the ingredients – including two vast bags of poppy seeds – for the unembarked-upon Mohntorte. How I wish I’d packed those poppy seeds now: so easy to obtain in Germany, I’ve as yet failed to get my hands on anything more than a 35g pot in the US.
So, I’ve been sadly foiled at every attempt at successful classic German baking, but there is plenty of time for it in my future, and I am thoroughly excited about getting stuck in.
EDIT: I’ve made Luisa’s dark chocolate cherry cake!
Classic German Baking has been written for an international audience. Both metric and imperial measurements are used throughout and Luisa has included, amongst other useful things, a useful storecupboard list at the start of the book and a small collection of basic recipes and a German pronunciation guide at the back, though ironically, as a Brit, my additional requirements instead fell to translating a handful of unfamiliar American baking terms.
Classic German Baking: The Verdict
Those who are long time readers of The Wednesday Chef and/or who have read Luisa’s memoir will love this book as an extension of both, a further insight into her Berlin life – and kitchen – and her love of baked German goods, both savoury and sweet. For those unfamiliar with Luisa’s existing work as a blogger and author, you’ll discover in this beautiful book an engaging voice, a bold and hugely tempting collection of recipes and an insight into a fascinating baking culture.
I was sent a copy of Classic German Baking: The Very Best Recipes for Traditional Favorites, from Pfeffernüsse to Streuselkuchen by Penguin Random House. Published by Ten Speed Press, the book will be available to buy internationally from October 18, 2016. Update: the book is now available on Amazon. (Please note that is an affiliate link, you will not be charged extra for buying the book through that link if you choose to do so, however I will earn a tiny commission as a thanks for promoting it.)