Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss

By Sophia Jones

Berlin-based author Luisa Weiss has compiled and translated Germany’s timeless, quintessential recipes for the contemporary American home baker with her new cookbook Classic German Baking.

Flip through the pages of Luisa Weiss’s Classic German Baking, and the origins of some of America’s most familiar baked goods—doughnuts, Danish, bagels, pretzels, and coffee cake to name a few—become apparent. Deeply rooted within a centuries-old food culture, the recipes and techniques from Germany and its neighbors have become a cornerstone for baking across the world.

“With the enormous immigration of Germans into the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, many German baking traditions were infused into American ones,” says Luisa, who’s gained a mass following from her food blog, The Wednesday Chef, and her monthly food column in Harper’s Bazaar Germany. “That’s why so many American baked goods are direct descendants of traditional German desserts.”

KRANZKUCHEN Braided Almond-Cream Wreath

In Classic German Baking, Luisa, who was born in Berlin and has lived in France and Italy, shares more than 100 time-honored German, Swiss, and Austrian recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Most Germans Luisa knows bake either from memory or old, tattered cookbooks with batter-stained, onionskin pages printed in antiquated Fraktur lettering.

With page after page of crumbly cookies, savory strudels, towering tortes, fruit-filled yeast cakes, and doughy sweet breads, Classic German Baking gives Americans insight into the treats that have populated Germany’s neighborhood bakeries, kitchen counters, and dining room tables for decades.

“I always noticed that aside from a couple of branded cookbooks from a German baking company, there wasn’t much about German baking on the American book market,” says Luisa, who grew up commuting between her mother’s home in Berlin and her father’s home in Boston after her parents divorced when she was 2 years old. “It bothered me because I had grown up with all these amazing baked goods, and I felt like it was a part of German culture and heritage that always got overlooked.”

Made with high-fat European-style butter (always the best for baking!), German baked goods are generally less sweet than American ones. “Germans don’t eat cake for dessert,” Luisa says. “Baked goods are eaten in the afternoon as a separate meal, not after the meal as a treat. So, the cakes have to be a little more wholesome.”

GEDECKTER APFELKUCHEN Glazed Apple Cake

One of the most widely practiced traditions is the afternoon coffee and cake break called Kaffeezeit. This tradition dates back to Germany’s agricultural times when laborers were hungry by the afternoon and in need of a snack to sustain them until dinnertime. “My father-in-law eats cake every afternoon,” says Luisa, whose husband’s family is from Saxony, a region in eastern Germany that’s well known for the fruit-and nut-filled yeast bread Stollen.

“Every day around 3 or 4 p.m., he and his team at the auto shop will put down their tools, wash their hands, and troop across the street to the local bakery to get a cup of coffee and a slice of cake before they go back to work. It’s part of the time-honored German tradition.”      

MOHNHÖRNCHEN Poppy-Seed Crescent Rolls

For Classic German Baking, Luisa strategically pulled recipes that were not only integral parts of her own life, but that are also emblematic of German culture and tradition. The book offers recipes for every baking level, and with the steady encouragement and endless knowledge of a doting grandmother, Luisa holds readers’ hands all the way through. With separate chapters dedicated to everything from cookies and cakes to tortes and strudels, readers get a balanced mix of dishes from all across the country.

Try the Swabian Träubelestorte, a fresh red currant-topped almond meringue torte with a cakey crust from the southwestern region of Germany that borders France, or the pearl-sugar coated shortbread cookie Heidesand from northern Germany’s Lüneburg Heath. The cookie’s texture is meant to be reminiscent of the area’s sandy, uncultivated land. For every recipe in the book, Luisa provides the history of the dish, the traditions associated with it, and how it fits into German culture today.

By paying tribute to and exploring Germany’s baking heritage, Luisa hopes Classic German Baking will help remind readers of the positive contributions Germany has made in the world. “Germany is the genesis of so many good things: music, literature, and food,” she says. “I love the strong emphasis German culture puts on togetherness and spending time with the people you care about. It would be the highest personal honor if this book managed to convey that about Germany, even if it’s just through a cake or cookie recipe.”

Recipes and images excerpted from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss, copyright © 2016. Published by ten speed press, an imprint of Penguin Random House llc.

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