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Classic German Baking Q&A, Round One


Maja has a way with a piping bag! These cocoa-flavored meringue cookies are called Russisch Brot and are really crisp and not too sweet. Great for little children, and snackers of all ages.

Thank you so much for all of your amazing questions about writing Classic German Baking, both here and on Instagram! I'm going to answer a whole bunch in this post and then I'm going to go into more detail on other questions in subsequent posts. This is a pretty long one, as is, so get yourself a hot drink and get settled.

Actually, before I get started, because there seems to be some confusion about this in some corners: Classic German Baking is being published by Ten Speed Press, which is an American publisher. The book is in English. If we are lucky, foreign publishers may buy the foreign rights, in which case it will get translated into other languages.

Okay, let's start with the easy questions:

Bethia asked:
"Is there a release date planned yet? Hoping we'll have the book in time to make the lebkuchen dough."

The book will be published on October 18, 2016! So you'll definitely have cookies in time for Christmas.

Dani asked:
Will the book use cups, ounces or grams?"

The book is being published with both metric and Imperial measurements.

Carla asks:
"What are you suggesting as an American substitute for Quark?"

I don't suggest a substitute, but I do provide a very simple recipe in case you can't find Quark near where you live. The Quark I've seen in the US is much looser and creamier than German Quark, so it requires some straining before use in baking. If you make your own, you can control the level of moisture in the Quark very easily. I've heard that using nonfat Greek yogurt in place of Quark can work in some recipes, but we can't get that here and anyway, I prefer to use the real thing, especially since making your own Quark is so easy and fun. However, if there are any volunteers out there who want to attempt one of my Käsekuchen (cheesecake) recipes with nonfat Greek yogurt instead of Quark for me sometime in the next week, let me know in the comments!

Jenny asks:
"I am wondering if you will also have recipes for breads to make in bread machines? We got a fantastic bread machine which we use 3 times a week. Also, will your book have recipes w/alternatives to wheat flours, such as rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, teff, chickpea etc."
I don't have a bread machine and I'm not familiar with them at all. However, almost all of my yeasted recipes use instant yeast, which is also known as bread-machine yeast, so I think that with some tweaking, you'll probably be in business. Since this is a book about traditional German baking, the most "exotic" flour you'll find in the book is buckwheat flour, which is used in a delicious whipped cream torte. There are a few regional recipes that require white spelt flour, and of course there are many recipes that use a mix of rye and wheat flours. It was very important to me that this book deliver a solid collection of classic recipes made exactly the way German bakers make them, and producing results that any German grandmother would be happy with.


The dark horse of the book, Sachertorte, which is, as I wrote in the headnote, something I always thought was sort of a dusty old thing that tourists go to Vienna to eat and secretly find slightly disappointing, but then I dove deep into Sachertorte development and discovered that it is actually the only cake I would like to eat on my birthday for the rest of my life. It is BEYOND. It was also one of two chocolate birthday cakes that I made when Hugo turned 3 last June, the lucky little boy, hence the hippo(?)-shaped candles above. The surface of the cake is not normally supposed to look that lumpy, but we didn't have puréed apricot preserves that day...tsk tsk!

Now let's get into the nitty-gritty.

Lindsay asked:
"Are most of the recipes things you have always loved to make or recipes you tried and developed specifically for the book? Did you have any total flops? Does the publisher also test the recipes? How much of a say do you get in things like the cover photo and overall look of the book?"

There are close to 120 recipes in the book. Some are ones that I have been making and/or eating since I was a small child and those recipes were passed on to me by close family friends and then tweaked until I was happy with them. Many more are classic German recipes that are largely very well-known here nationally or regionally and that I developed based on a ton of different sources and a good amount of my own taste. Because Maja and I sourced our recipes from all over the place - ancient cookbooks, contemporary ones, the Internet, friends and family and so on - there were plenty of flops during the testing phase. I remember with particular distaste a hideously over-egged lemon cake, a flat and greasy almond-quark cake, and a grainy and leaden chocolate Gugelhupf. Gah! And then there were many more recipes that weren't outright flops, but just not good enough to make it into the book. We, to put it lightly, ate a lot of cake (and cookies and bread) over the past 18 months.

The publisher does not officially test the recipes - as with most publishers, in the United States at least, the author has the responsibility to provide well-tested recipes. But my editor and some of her colleagues have baked several recipes from the book so far in their free time and have been very happy with the results. Yay!

As for the last question, I am part of the decision-making process for the look of the book, exterior and interior, but it is very much a group effort. Each department, so to speak, has a say: sales and marketing, design, obviously, editorial, and me. It's collaborative.

Joy asked:
"Sounds like you've thoroughly tested the recipes in Germany, but my understanding is that US butter, flour, etc taste and bake differently than European ingredients. What will be your process for testing these recipes with US ingredients?"

Over the many years that I've been baking here in Germany, I've used standard German 405 or 550 flour for American all-purpose flour and the results in my cookies and cakes baked from American recipes have always been just right. So when I started testing recipes for the book, I stuck to using those flours as much as I could and am pretty pleased with the reports I've been getting from my testers in the US and from the recipes I tested myself on recent trips to the States. German butter, like all European butters, is higher in fat than US butter so I note in the book that, if possible, you should use imported butter that has a higher butterfat content, especially in recipes where butter is a starring ingredient. But all of the recipes in the book will also work just fine with standard American butter.

German baking replies heavily on fresh yeast, which can be tough to find in the US (though I hope this book changes that!). It makes for exceptionally puffy and delicious yeasted goods. When I could justify not using fresh yeast in a recipe, I called for instant yeast, which is the same in Germany as it is in the US, where it is also known as bread machine yeast. (Active dry yeast does not exist here in Germany and does not work reliably, in my opinion. So I have many warnings throughout the book not to use it.) However, German baking powder works differently than American baking powder, so I have a large supply of American baking powder here in Berlin which I used to test the entire book (I also use it for any other baked goods I make). Same goes for vanilla extract - I buy it in the US and then keep a stash here which I use every time I bake. In other words, the book was written largely for the American baker and the recipes should all work as written. One caveat, of course, is that depending on your location and the temperature and humidity of your location, your doughs may require a tiny bit more moisture or flour. As you learn to work with yeasted doughs, you'll learn to recognize if they need a few drops more water or milk, or another sprinkling of flour.

Laura asked:
"As a fellow writer, I'd love to know what the process was like collecting and narrowing down particularly "German" recipes, and for particularly for you, someone who has had many 'homes,' including Germany, what that felt like."

Luckily, German baking, while a vast, vast subject, has its clear mega-hits, so I always knew that the book would have to include a lot of things, like Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte or Linzer Torte (which is Austrian, to be precise), for example, that I didn't grow up with personally, but that were sort of archetypal and essential to the book. Because German baking is such a thing, for lack of a better word, and in no place more strongly than right here in Germany, it wasn't particularly difficult to collect recipes. In fact, we could have easily made the book twice as long as it is. Narrowing down the recipes to include was something I did largely based on my own taste. For example, I'm not a huge fancy cake or torte person, so I edited the selection of those for the book quite carefully, while I absolutely adore yeasted cakes and could rarely keep myself from slipping one more recipe in. Several of the recipes I've grown up with, like Springerle, Basler Leckerli, and Pflaumenkuchen, were included not just because of nostalgic reasons, but also because they are just so good.

I relied a lot of Maja's input, of course, which was invaluable, but also on the taste of trusted friends and bakers, who insisted, for example, that Franzbrötchen, squashed cinnamon buns, a regional specialty from Hamburg, or Streuselschnecken, iced streusel-topped sweet buns, be included. Then I spent a lot of time thinking about what American readers would be interested in making, what would be challenging to them, or comforting, or a revelation. That led to me including a recipe for standard white breakfast Brötchen, because everyone who visits Germany raves about them, to an aged Lebkuchen dough, to illustrate how entrenched baking traditions are here, just to mention two. It's really important to me that this book educate, illuminate and explain certain aspects of German culture, as well as food traditions, because I think that providing cultural context is really crucial when it comes to food. And then there were the fun decisions, based solely on deliciousness and ease of preparation. The slam dunks, so to speak. Maja and I both fondly remember those many happy moments when we first dug into something freshly baked and it felt like the heavens were opening up as we ate. Those were the easiest things to include and the ones we're still making on a regular basis, like the best Marmorkuchen (marble cake, Maja's family's recipe) I've ever had and my beloved Gugelhupf.

It was important to me to include regional specialties too, so we did a lot of delving into regional cookbooks and websites for inspiration. I hope the book reflects an interesting cross-section of German baking for people who are totally new to the subject, but also to old pros.

Carmit asked:
"I'd love to hear about the editing process, particularly the developmental edit."

On the manuscript due date, I sent off the file via email to my editor. Then I stared in stupor at a wall for about an hour. No joke. It took me about four days to bring myself to open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate, I was just so drained. While I worked on celebrating my hard work (or lying sleeplessly in bed at night freaking out about some recipe that I should have included or some wording that suddenly seemed really wrong), my editor worked on the manuscript for several weeks, marking it up with questions and comments both big and small. (Like, "Why do you require a timer for this here but not there?" or "I hate raisins! :)" or "Let's move this long digression on the difference between East German poppy seed fillings and West German poppy seed fillings to page XYZ".) When her developmental edit was done, I got the manuscript back and had a few more weeks to work on answering her questions, accepting or rejecting her changes and adding last-minute recipes that either occurred to me or to her (pretzels!). I also feverishly tested several more recipes and incorporated those changes. When that was finished, the manuscript went back to my editor who looked over everything and then passed it on to the copy editor.

Right now, I'm waiting to get the manuscript back from the copy editor so that I can find out just how many times I wrote "poppyseed" instead of "poppy seed" and how many instances of the conversion of the weight of ground almonds from Imperial to metric are not entirely accurate. Welp! This is the nit-picky part of the editing process, where one lives in terror of a mistake slipping through or an inconsistency not being caught and one has fever dreams about hordes of angry Amazon reviewers tearing your carefully written book to shreds in less than a year's time. Good times, in other words! When I'm done working through the copy edit, the manuscript goes back to my editor who will then have someone input all the final changes before sending the file off to design, which will convert that final Word document into the design program and pair my words with the photographer's images. After that, the thrilling moment of seeing first pass pages awaits (in other words, seeing the book laid out in designed pages and no longer as an old, black-and-white Word document).


Round 1 of the Silesian poppy seed roll, getting brushed with butter. I think this may be one of the most-tested recipes in the book, even though it was pretty great right from the start. I just can't quit it, I guess. In fact, it's on the docket for next week again.

And finally, from Instagram:

From @awhofsy: "Do you give the recipes to other people to test?"

Yes! Many, many other people! Maja and I made most of the recipes in the book multiple times, both together and separately, but I had dozens of testers in the United States working on the recipes as well. Still do, in fact.

From @maitlowe: "What were the easiest, hardest and most rewarding parts of writing the cookbook?"

The easiest thing was having Maja in my kitchen. I'm pretty particular about who I share my kitchen space with, but Maja and I fit together right away. In fact, I got so used to having her around that now when I'm working in the kitchen alone, I feel an actual empty space where she's supposed to be. The hardest thing was getting started. The project seemed so huge and insurmountable at first that it took me quite a bit of time just to jump off the springboard. The most rewarding thing has been reading through the manuscript now that it's almost completely done and feeling deep in my belly that I'm so proud of how the text of the book has turned out. As I mentioned in the previous post, I actually want to own and bake from this book forever, even if it hadn't been written by me.

From @_emilywenzel: "Did you ever perfect your Stollen recipe?"

This is the only question to which I will give the following answer: You'll have to buy the book to find out! :)

Classic German Baking Comes to Life

A few of you have written to check if I'm doing okay. Thank you so much for your sweet notes. I'm doing just fine. December was a blur of working on the developmental edit of the German baking book, which is now officially titled Classic German Baking (ready your bookshelves!) and then the utter madness of the holidays. We stayed at home in Berlin, hoping for a quiet break, and ended up hosting countless breakfasts, lunches, and teas with friends and family from out of town. The dishwasher ran once a day and the days flew by. It was lovely and fun, but not what I'd call restorative. So January is turning out to be a slow one for me and I'm very grateful for it.

The work on the book is not yet over. I'm waiting to get the manuscript back from the copy editor because I have countless little fixes here and there to make, testing notes to incorporate and final cuts to make. To give you just the tiniest glimpse of what the past 18 months have been like in terms of recipe testing on the cookbook, here's just a small selection of the hundreds and hundreds of recipes we - my intrepid assistant Maja and I - tested. It's funny to look back at these photos now. It's like gazing at a beloved relative. They all seem so familiar and easy to me now that I've made them dozens of times. I can't wait for the book to be published for many reasons, but one of the main ones is that I'm really looking forward to baking from it myself. For the rest of my life!


Bite-sized Elisenlebkuchen, flourless and rich with nuts and marzipan.


Two-month-aged (yes!), old-fashioned Lebkuchen dough. These cookies, once baked and cooled, get enrobed in chocolate. They keep forever and get more and more delicious as they age. I'm obsessed. Worth mixing the batter in October, I swear.


Hessian potato cake studded with caraway and bacon. Can't remember the number of times this was made - we loved it immensely.


Zimtsterne, only the fussiest cookie known to man. So crisp-chewy and wonderful that they're worth the effort, though.


Yeasted dough, number 6,754. I can make this stuff in my sleep now.


Russischer Zupfkuchen, not Russian at all, but much loved all over Germany. Cocoa crust, sweet Quark filling, more cocoa crust on top. Yeah, it's pretty great.


Yeast dough number-who-even-cares-anymore. Still beautiful, each time I make one.


Ground poppy seed filling. Prepare yourselves, bakers: You are going to want a poppy seed grinder come this autumn. I have this one (it's a third of the price here in Germany).

I'd love to keep you posted and updated on the book as it goes forward. Do you have any questions about the process that you'd like me to write about? And soon: bonus recipes for you to try!

Happy new year to you all. xo