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Classic German baking recipes revealed in new cookbook

From breads to pastries, traditional baking recipes are finally put on paper in Luisa Weiss's new cookbook, "Classic German Baking." She tells DW what's unique about German baking and shares her soft pretzel recipe.

Known by her blog's alias as "The Wednesday Chef," Luisa Weiss' new work, "Classic German Baking," is a cookbook that arrives at a time when there is little if any collection of German recipes in the US. It marks a departure from her earlier "My Berlin Kitchen," which was a personal recollection of her life in Berlin and recipes she recalled.

Prior to her Berlin blog, Weiss lived in New York City, where she worked as a cookbook editor. It was during this time that she noticed a dearth of German cookbooks. For America's largest immigrant population to not have a cookbook seemed odd to her, which is why Weiss now finds herself in the role cookbook writer.

Born in Berlin to an American father and an Italian mother, Weiss' cross-culinary upbringing is evident in her writing. Her husband is German and she speaks the language fluently, but as she explained, she has no sentimental attachment to the recipes. This allows her to approach the subject like a culinary anthropologist, while making the complicated German recipes accessible to amateur bakers.  

Poppy seed crescents, from Luisa Weiss' book Classic German Baking Aubrie Pic )

Traditional poppy seed crescent rolls are among Weiss' recipes

DW's Molly Hannon spoke with Luisa Weiss at Soho House's Store Kitchen in Berlin.Weiss shares her German soft pretzels recipe in this link.

DW: How did "Classical German Baking" come about?

Luisa Weiss: I'd long noticed that there was a big hole in the American cookbook market where a German baking book belonged, one that was classic, traditional, not branded by a big food company, and reliable. When I was still working as a cookbook editor myself, I hoped to find someone to write this book for my list. After I moved back to Berlin and started writing about food full-time, my publisher approached me about writing this very book. Kismet!

Does writing a cookbook about German baking as a non-German give you the advantage of being less sentimental?

I don't think sentimentality gets in the way of good food writing. If anything, it can sometimes be a great catalyst. But what I was hoping to do with the book was "translate" the German traditions for the American cookbook reader, to provide not just great recipes, but historical and cultural context as well. I know Germany very well, and I'm an American writer and longtime cookbook reader, so ultimately, I think I was well-situated to stay true to the culture as well as write about it from an outsider's perspective.

How did your previous experience as a cookbook editor turned food writer and blogger inform your process writing a cookbook?

After years of following recipes, writing about recipes online, and then editing recipes in books, I've become really painstaking about accuracy and writing recipes that truly work as written. Of course, it's impossible to avoid little errors here and there - despite having countless proofreaders and editors. But on the whole, I know the recipes really deliver good results. And I think that the years of blogging also taught me how to write around food, so not just about the actual flavor, texture and taste, but how the recipe fits into someone's daily life or greater picture.

Which audience do you have in mind?

The audience I have in mind is American home bakers who either have German roots or are curious about this legendary culinary tradition.

How did you select each recipe? Were there set criteria for what you included and didn't include in the book?

The recipes I included had to deliver absolutely delicious results, be relatively simple or approachable, and traditional - nothing new-fangled. I wanted a well-balanced selection of regional specialties, baked goods that Germans feel passionate about, and ones that Americans could recognize in some form or another.

What would you say distinguishes German baking from other baking cultures?

Braided almost cream wreath from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss (Aubrie Pic )

Coffee anyone? This braided almost cream wreath would be a delicious accompaniment

It's really a part of everyday life in a way that other baking cultures aren't. People here in Germany put an enormous amount of importance on bread and cake and cookies. It's part of German socialization and culture to a very deep degree. 

What were the most surprising things you learned? Did you come away with a newfound appreciation for German baking?

I learned so much! I loved learning how to make so many wonderful different rolls (Brötchen, Mohnhörnchen, Rosinenbrötchen, etc.) that we eat all the time. I was thrilled to find easy ways to make German baking staples like Quark and almond paste. But I'm most proud of having mastered strudel, which is Austrian, but beloved in Germany, too. My appreciation for German (and Austrian) baking was pretty profound to begin with; if anything, it deepened.

How do you think the book will be received in the US, namely by German-Americans?

So far, the feedback I've gotten from German-Americans has been wonderful; people are so happy to finally have all the most important and familiar German baking recipes gathered in one book. And a lot have written to say that the book reminds them of their German grandmother or mother, which is just so lovely. Several German readers, or American readers married to German spouses, have commented on how authentic and accurate everything is, which is music to my ears.

Here is Luisa Weiss' recipe for German soft pretzels. Click through the gallery below for 11 things you're sure to find in a German bakery.

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