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Zingerman's Laugenbrezeln (Soft Pretzels)


Choosing recipes for My Berlin Kitchen wasn't always an easy process. Some things I was sure had to be in the book, like a sour cherry soufflé I once ate for lunch on a day trip to East Germany when I was nine or the stewed artichoke dish that my mother, not an enthusiastic cook, shall we say, learned from her equally bored-in-the-kitchen mother, but that is, nonetheless, a total delight. But I went back and forth on a lot of the other recipes for a long time, unsure whether it made sense to include them or not. In the end, the recipes that did make it into the manuscript are a motley jumble, sort of like me: Some Italian, some German, with a dose of American can-do spirit thrown in for good measure.

Sadly, not every recipe I loved made the cut, like Bienenstich, for example, or potato dumplings. As you can probably imagine, a book-in-process has a mind of its own and some of my favorite recipes, try as I might, just did not fit the way I wanted them to. Since My Berlin Kitchen is a narrative, a food memoir, I had to stick with the food that really inspired the stories.

One of the cast-offs were these pretzels: Yeasty, chewy, salty wonders that look far more complicated to make than they actually are. I loved finding that out. Here in Germany, good pretzels are everywhere (of course, the best ones are in the south of Germany - Berlin is not a pretzel region), but there is something so deeply satisfying about making these yourself. And fresh out of the oven, they are unbeatably delicious. (They do not, however, keep well. Eat them within a few hours of making them or don't bother at all - freezing doesn't help things either.) Besides, the recipe, which comes from Zingerman's Bakehouse, is so easy you will not believe it. You won't! But really, so easy.

The key is having instant yeast, one of my very favorite things in the kitchen (also known as bread-machine yeast and, importantly, not the same thing as active dry. With instant yeast, you just add it directly to the flour without proofing it in warm water first). Once you've got your instant yeast, you make a quick yeast dough that has a little sugar and a little butter in it and then, before it's even risen or anything, you divide and shape it - either into pretzel shapes or into little round balls for pretzel rolls (delicious when split, buttered and filled with smoked salmon, in case you're wondering). Only after the pretzels and rolls are shaped do you let the dough proof, at first on the counter and then in the fridge. I made this recipe several times and I found the pretzels tasted best after a refrigeration of just one hour.


The only other thing you have to do is hunt down some food-grade lye. Here in Germany, this means trekking to your closest Apotheke (pharmacy) and asking for Natriumhydroxid in pellet form. You'll get a little container with enough pellets (that you have to dissolve in water) for several batches of pretzels. But in the US, your best bet is to mail-order it on Do not, I repeat, do not bother with the baking soda bath replacement for lye. It isn't the same thing, not even close. Your pretzels will not have the same inimitable tang or color that the lye-dipped ones have and that make a pretzel intrinsically a pretzel.

Once your pretzels have spent the requisite time in the fridge and you've prepared your lye bath (carefully, with gloves on, and - for security's sake - with any small children at a safe distance), you just heat your oven, line a baking sheet with ungreased parchment paper, dip each pretzel into the lye bath, plop it on the sheet, sprinkle it with salt, and then stick the sheet in the oven until the house fills with the smell of real pretzels after about 15 minutes. It's amazing.

I love tearing into the pretzels when they're hot and pliable. If you've got a couple of mouths around, you'll find the pretzels disappear surprisingly quickly. The crumb is astoundingly white against the deep brown exterior and it has this wonderfully salty, complex flavor. In Bavaria, Laugenbrezeln are often served with a pungent mixture of softened Camembert, butter, raw onions, paprika and other spices called Obatzda - you tear off pieces of your pretzel and dip them into the cheese mixture - but all over the country you also often see Laugenbrezeln split horizontally and thickly buttered, then glued back together again. You know, just a light afternoon snack.

Either way, they are delicious and - in my very biased opinion - light years better than a New York City street cart pretzel festooned with mustard. Not even in the same league, actually. So go forth and buy yourself some lye and get cracking! These are the most fun things (yes, I did just use that as a adverb, forgive me) to come out of my kitchen in a long while.

Zingerman's Laugenbrezeln (Soft Pretzels)
Original recipe here
Makes 12 pretzels

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
2 tablespoons instant yeast
6 cups (about 30 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Food-grade lye, for dipping (
Coarse sea salt or pretzel salt, for sprinkling (do not substitute kosher salt)

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together sugar, butter, yeast, 2 cups warm water and half the flour. Add kosher salt and remaining flour and stir just until mixture comes together in a shaggy mass.

2. Turn out onto counter and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and supple. Cut into 12 pieces and let rest 5 minutes.

3. Roll out each piece into a rope about 22 inches long. (For the traditional shape, the ends should be thin and the center fat.) Lift both ends, twist them around each other once, then bring ends back and press them on either side of fat “belly,” at about 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock. Then gently spread out “shoulders” of pretzel. Transfer shaped pretzels to an ungreased baking sheet. (Alternatively, form each piece into a round or oval to make Laugenbrötchen, or pretzel rolls.)

4. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate at least one hour or up to overnight (not recommended).

5. Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a deep bowl, wearing rubber or latex gloves, make a solution of 1/2 cup lye and 10 cups water (or 1 part lye to 20 parts water); pour lye carefully into water to avoid splashing. Dip each pretzel in solution, turning it over for 10 to 15 seconds, and place back on baking sheet.

6. Sprinkle pretzels with salt. Bake about 15 minutes or until deep brown. Remove to a rack and serve warm.

Nancy Silverton's Graham Crackers


Last Thursday, at 23:37 Central European Time, I sent my editor my final manuscript, 852 days after the proposal was preempted all the way back in October 2009. Forgive me if this all sounds rather dramatic, but, oh my goodness: 852 days, a hundred sleepless nights, countless destroyed cuticles and a few gallons of tears are just a few of the metrics I can't help but list when I think about how on earth I got from there to here. When I was sure - convinced! - for so long that I couldn't do it.

But I did do it. You guys, I did!

[Insert "Rocky" theme song or the sound of an Olympic crowd cheering here. Or both!]

How on earth did I do it? That is not a rhetorical question: I have been asking it of myself a lot this week. (In my head and sotto voce, just to add to the slightly loony appearance my mother said I had towards the end of things last week, when I wasn't really showering or eating or doing much of anything besides staring at a computer screen and perfecting stuff.) I still don't really know. Bird by bird, yes. But with a lot of blood, sweat and tears, too, and a freaking village of people telling me I could do it (though I was convinced for about 838 of the past 852 days that they had absolutely no idea what they were talking about). It was the hardest work of my life.

Things aren't entirely finished just yet. The manuscript is currently in the hands of the copy editor, the person responsible for catching every last little typo that I didn't already, who makes sure all the punctuation is correct and who also is invaluable as a fresh set of eyes to look over everything and ask me the hard questions, namely to clarify stuff that my editor and I may have overseen. In the meantime, I am finishing up the testing of a few straggler recipes and periodically pinching myself black and blue, because I still cannot believe that I wrote a book. Me. A BOOK. A book with words and pages and a copyright page and a very pretty jacket (more on that as soon as I can share - wheee!).

Honestly, at times it is more than my feeble mind can process.

When the copy editor is done, the manuscript will come back to me for one final go-through. At some point after that, it will be released to the printer. The day that happens, I will most likely be prone and screaming silently in despair as I am sure I will suddenly have a million reasons why I am not yet ready to let go. Sadly, I will not be able to preemptively sedate myself with copious amounts of sparkling wine. My husband keeps saying something about perspective and a baby and yoga class, but I am not really sure what he is talking about.

So that is where we are at the moment. The book, called My Berlin Kitchen, will be published in September. Which is also when we will be going on book tour to eight cities (they are still being finalized, I'll have a final list in a month or so). Uh, yes, you read that right: We. We as in me, Max and the little dude in my belly, who should be about three months old by then. I'm coming to see all of you with mah baby!!

And, people, I cannot WAIT to see you. I am pretty sure that might be the very best thing about this whole thing anyway.


So in addition to, you know, finishing my book, I made graham crackers a few weeks ago and lo, they were good. I made them because a very nice young man named Darryl was coming over to interview me for his blog, Stil in Berlin. And also because I wanted to eat them. The recipe is Nancy Silverton's and just in case you were wondering, there is no graham flour in these graham crackers, just plain old white flour. Brown sugar, honey, butter and vanilla give the crackers their flavor and snappy texture.

Despite being delicious, they were a bit complicated to make. The dough, as seen above, is very soft and must not only be refrigerated for hours, but then also rolled out with copious amounts of flour, see below, and then the flour must be brushed off before the crackers are topped, decorated and baked and honestly, it is not that complicated, but clearly I had a lot of my plate around the time when I was making these and I kept thinking that if I lived in a country where graham crackers were readily available in any grocery store, I would never make homemade ones again.


Still, this did not exactly stop me from eating and enjoying them (dipped in milk, especially). Also, my mental state was delicate at the time, which is probably why a cookie recipe made me feel slightly, shall we say, pushed over the edge. You may feel differently.

And that is where things are at right now. Me, graham cracker stuck in my mouth at a jaunty angle, covered in pinch marks, feeling - slowly more and more so - like I have just climbed the biggest mountain in the world. It feels so good.

Nancy Silverton's Graham Crackers
Makes approximately 24 crackers

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

2.In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

4. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

5. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

6. Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

7. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

8. If you'd like to make the cookies look like "real" graham crackers: Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

9- Bake for 15 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

Nigel Slater's Chicken Curry


My sweets, I have a confession to make. My name is Luisa and last weekend, I used commercial curry powder.

Yes. I know. I know that that stuff is to be shunned, that really we should all be making our own masala spice mixtures, that the whole concept of chicken curry is colonialistic and ignorant of a huge country's varied cuisines. I know. But.

Have you ever made Nigel Slater's "Chicken with Spices and Cream" from Real Fast Food? (Sneaky guy, see how he evades the whole concept of "chicken curry" entirely with that recipe title?)

Because I sort of semi-guarantee that if you do make it, you will find yourself looking at your abominable jar of curry powder with entirely different eyes. One of my dinner guests, a lady who is newly pregnant with twins and also an expert on Things That Taste Good, threatened to return to my house the next day to eat the remaining sauce (the recipe makes a lot of sauce, for which you will be very grateful).

(I didn't tell her that I would barricade the doors if she dared to do so, because I had a hot date with the leftover sauce myself that would and could not be missed.)

(I blame my greed entirely on the baby. Entirely.)

Perhaps you see where this is going: Authenticity be damned. (The horror!)


Now that we've gotten beyond the whole curry powder thing, let me tell you about this recipe. It's brilliant. First of all, it takes no time to make. And second of all, it is so good. (Are these two sentences the two most over-used sentences on this entire blog-thingy? My apologies. But at least my priorities are clear, yes?) Third of all, or second-of-all's addendum: Despite the curry powder and the recipe's simplicity, this chicken with spices and cream really does taste like Indian food which, for those of us stranded in this wonderful city that has so much to offer but is entirely bereft of good Indian food (ENTIRELY BEREFT AND I AM NOT EXAGGERATING, BEHOLD THE ALL CAPS), is a bleeding godsend.

I love making this recipe on weeknights, but also for dinner parties, because you can make it an hour or two in advance and then simply reheat the pan when your guests arrive, and also because it's the kind of thing that you can make almost with your eyes closed, which is my Dinner Party Modus Operandi.

You can tailor the recipe to your taste by adding a good shake or two of cayenne, for example, if you like things spicier (though the curry powder will probably have a bit of heat, too), dumping a few cupfuls of frozen peas into the mix shortly before the end of the cooking time or sprinkling chopped cilantro on top for a bit more authenticity.

As I said earlier, the recipe makes an enormous amount of sauce, but it is mind-bendingly delicious, all flecked with shreds of tomato and meltingly soft onions and it's silky with cream, but not heavy, if that's what you're wondering. Pregnant or not, it makes a rather wonderful lunch heated up and poured over leftover rice the next day.

Lest any of you get the wrong idea, let me just say that I own several Indian cookbooks, have a freezer stocked with curry leaves and ground cumin, that my father regularly offers to bring over dried mango powder and asafoetida when he comes to visit and that I normally would be the last person to recommend a recipe that to me, at least, seems like the Indian equivalent of using jarred tomato sauce in an Italian lasagne.

But this just tastes so good. Okay? It's my only defense.

Nigel Slater's Chicken Curry
Serves 4

4 chicken pieces, breast halves or thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder, from a recently opened jar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped (I used canned tomatoes, seeds and all)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Rub salt and pepper into chicken. Heat butter and oil in a shallow pan, add the chicken and cook until the skin is golden. Turn and add the onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until soft, about 7 to 8 minutes. Stir every once in a while.

2. Stir in the curry powder and cinnamon. Cook for 4 minutes, until the spices are cooked. Add tomatoes and stock, then simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked right through, about 15 minutes.

3. Stir in the cream and taste the sauce, adjusting salt and pepper, if needed. Add the lemon juice. Simmer for 1 minute, then serve hot with basmati rice.