A Classic German Baking Giveaway, plus Classic German Baking Photos!

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How are you all feeling today? Any better? No? Me neither. But it's December 2nd and the first Advent has already come and gone and so I have a little distraction for all of us. Drumroll......

BAKING.

Surprise!

But actually, it really does kind of work, at least momentarily. It keeps you busy, and off the internet, not just while you're plannning which cookies to make, and writing ingredient lists, and going grocery shopping. But also while you mix and beat and chop and bake. Then you get to assemble your masses of cookies, in cellophone bags or aluminum tins or perhaps little cardboard boxes wrapped up with string. And we haven't even gotten to the part where you have to decide whom to give the cookies too! You're looking at at least a week's worth of distraction in total. At least! Pretty good, huh? I'll say.

So let's do another giveaway, shall we? Let's get our minds off the end of the world. Leave me a comment here listing what your favorite Christmas baking list looks like and I'll pick a winner on Sunday. The winner gets a signed (and personalized) copy of Classic German Baking, an assortment of German baking ingredients (candied citrus peels, poppy seeds, marzipan, various raising agents, and mixed Lebkuchen spice) plus a jar of my homemade Pflaumenmus, which will hopefully motivate the winner (and at least a few other of you?) to bake the Lebkuchen-Powidltatschkerln - little rye cookie pockets filled with plum jam - in the Christmas chapter. I love those little babies - we discovered them in a magazine while on a "research" trip to Austria last year. They're soft and tangy and spicy and delicious. Spread the word!

(If anyone is wondering, my baking list would include those plum jam rye cookies, nutty Spekulatius, Pfeffernüsse, Basler Brunsli and Springerle, which I'll be making with Joanie next week and - if all goes according to plan - filming! In some capacity. We'll see. It'll probably be terrible. But also hopefully a little useful? Oh! And I've committed to the most insane thing ever: providing enough homemade slabs of Lebkuchen to make gingerbread houses with Hugo and FOUR of his little friends. Yeah. I don't know what I was thinking either. Hold me?)

In other news, the Washington Post recently included Classic German Baking in their round-up of the year's best cookbooks, writing "This overdue guide is a happy marriage of European craft and American sensibilities." Which made me want to marry the Washington Post in a happy marriage of my own.

On Food52's gorgeously illustrated guide to global holiday sweets, I was thrilled to get to contribute a little piece on Elisenlebkuchen (with recipe).

On Tastebook, I was interviewed about Classic German Baking, plus asked to talk a little bit about the three cookbooks I'm currently cooking from.

Deutsche Welle interviewed me on some of the nitty-gritty aspects of writing the cookbook, including my recipe for Brezeln (soft pretzels).

The loveliest cookbook store in Seattle, Book Larder, asked me 11 questions about food memories, my food heroes and favorite cookbooks.

But the most important thing I wanted to write about today is actually about the biggest complaint I've gotten on the cookbook so far: the relatively low number of food photos. For a variety of reasons, it just wasn't feasible for every recipe, or even every other recipe, to get its own photo. I did my very best to write the recipes as tightly and carefully as I could, so that home bakers would get good results without a photo guiding them. But I understand the frustration of some. So I've put together a list of every recipe in the book with an accompanying photograph - where I could, this will get updated going forward - and have posted them on a separate page which is accessible by clicking on the "Classic German Baking Photos" link under the book image that you see over in the right sidebar. It's a little clunky, but I hope it satisfies the need for visuals in the book and can be a helpful resource for all of you. Feel free to let your friends who have the book know about this. Thank you!

UPDATE: Nora is the winner and has been notified. Thank you so much for participating! Happy baking to all - you are an inspiration!

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Classic German Baking in Berlin

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Berliners, this is just a quick note to let you know that I'm hosting a baking demo, a Q&A and book signing for Classic German Baking this Wednesday at The Store in Mitte.

The baking demo starts at 3:00 pm and costs €25. We'll be making Elisenlebkuchen and talking about all things baking - like which cookies you'll be making for Christmas! (Maybe the Weihnachtsplätzchen in the photo above?) To register, send an email to clare@fakepr.de.

The book talk is open to the public and starts at 6:00 pm; it'll be followed by an audience Q&A and signing. Copies of Classic German Baking will be for sale there, or you can bring your own. So looking forward to seeing you!

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Classic German Baking Goes to New York

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The Classic German Baking tour rolls on! After a wonderful kick-off event at the utterly charming East City Bookshop in DC (where the above photo was snapped), I baked up a storm for the crowd at  Boston's Goethe-Institut on Sunday. (If you weren't able to get in due to the full guest list, the Institut has several signed copies of the book for purchase - just stop by at 170 Beacon Street. Update: Sorry, all gone!)

And right now I'm on a train to New York, where I'll be launching Classic German Baking at Powerhouse Arena tomorrow at 7:00 pm together with David Lebovitz, who is in from Paris! We'll be chatting about German baking, blogging and everything else, and after a huge response, the guest list has been expanded, so if you'd like to come, please rsvp here. Can't wait to see you!


Classic German Baking, Out Now!

Giveaway

Today is the publication day of Classic German Baking! I woke up this morning feeling like a child on Christmas morning, all full of the jitters and happy adrenaline. What an incredible journey it's been, from signing the contract in the spring of 2014, through all the months of testing and writing and testing again and writing some more, getting through the cover design, up through today. I poured my heart and soul into the book and feel so honored to be bringing not just these recipes but all this information about the wonderful German baking culture and its inherent coziness and comfort to readers everywhere. Those of you who pre-ordered your book online should be receiving it today or at least this week. As of today, you can find the book in stores. On Goodreads, you can read the first reader reviews. And next week, I start my book tour in the US. Dearest readers, I hope you love the book!

In honor of today, I'm doing a giveaway on Instagram, so head on over there to enter (click!). The winner receives a copy of the book, an antique stoneware Gugelhupf pan, and a little starter kit of specialty ingredients for German baking, which I hope is especially useful with Christmas baking lurking just around the corner. The kit includes almond paste (a recipe for which is in the book), poppy seeds, candied citron and orange peel, Lebkuchen mixed spice (a recipe for which is in the book), baking wafers for Elisenlebkuchen, baker's ammonia (not pictured, because I still have to track it down!), and potash (also known as potassium bicarbonate or potassium carbonate). Sources for all of these ingredients and more are in the book, on page 270.

As I mention in the book's acknowledgments, I could not have written the book without the essential help I received from Maja Welker, a home baker extraordinaire who assisted me throughout all the entire recipe testing process. It's no exaggeration to say that finding Maja felt like some kind of cosmic fate. I quite literally could not have found a better person to work with on this particular book. Maja kept me company in the kitchen and as I researched, got as excited about leavener variations as I did (more even, maybe?), contributed some of her favorite recipes (her Marmorkuchen, marble cake, is the best version of marble cake I've ever had), never lost steam, even in the face of nearly 10 rounds of Pfeffernüsse testing, pinch-hit on our photo re-shoot day when I was actually delirious with the flu, and generally has been an amazing friend and inspiration throughout. Which is why, on this marvelous day, I'd like to publish a little interview I did with Maja, so you can read more about the person who practically overnight became such an integral part of the book.

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Maja and Aubrie Pick, the photographer, on the day we re-shot ten (!!) recipes for the book in my apartment.

1. So, Maja, where in Germany are you originally from?

I grew up in Uelzen, a small town south of Hamburg in the Lüneburger Heide, where Heidesand (Almond Sugar Cookies, page 15) and Heidjertorte (Lingonberry Buckwheat Cream Torte, page 119) originate from.

2. And how did you end up in Berlin?

My husband got a job here seven years ago and since I still worked as a freelance translator back then, I just packed up my desk and followed him.

3. What got you to answer my (desperate) call for help?

I had stumbled upon your blog relatively recently (on the day of the Cold Summer Borscht to be exact - where normal people have a visual or auditory memory, I have a culinary one), but was instantly hooked. Within a couple of weeks I had read your entire blog from end (= the most recent recipe) to beginning. When I saw your "Help Wanted" post it seemed as if you had tailored it just for me - but moreover, I felt we had a common style. The recipes on your blog came from real life, were meant for everyday cooking and baking and not just for show. It would have felt difficult to work in the kitchen with someone who wanted every dish and every cake to be perfect and a masterpiece. Since I had gotten tired of the solitary translator work and my other job at Pfefferkontor, a small mail-order spice shop, only kept me occupied three days a week, I decided to jump at it.

4. How old were you when you started baking?

I actually can't remember NOT baking. There is photographic evidence of me at 20 months standing next to my older sister, both of us on chairs to be able to reach the work top, rolling out dough and cutting out cookies. I actually still have some of these cookie cutters and use them every Christmas!

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5. Okay, so I guess that partially explains how you got to be so incredibly good at it!

It certainly helped that I like to eat! As you can see above, we were encouraged to help in the kitchen early on. I had barely learned to read when I fell in love with cookbooks (which I still read like novels, picture books and encyclopedias) and whenever I wasn't lying on the living room couch or my bed with an actual novel or a food magazine, I could be found in the kitchen baking. All in all, I spend quite some time there: braiding rich yeasted loaves for Easter breakfast, swirling Marmorkuchen for birthdays, building gingerbread houses during Christmas time - but it almost never feels like a chore. And when you find yourself with your apron on so often and loving it, you can't help but become good at it.

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Maja and Bertram's homemade Lebkuchen houses. I mean!!!

5. What role did baking play in your childhood?

My mother was a wonderful cook and baker and we always had home-baked cake or cookies for Nachmittagskaffee (yes, we had some kind of baked goods and tea or coffee every single afternoon!). My father loved cake so much that every time he went grocery shopping he returned with at least one additional package of yeast "just in case you ladies were in the mood for baking a yeasted plum cake or Swedish cinnamon buns". What a shame it would have been to be out of yeast then!

6. And so what role does baking play in your life today?

Somehow, baking is therapy for me: punching and pummeling a yeasted dough, the comforting reliability of a sponge cake, the fascination of Pfitzauf (a Swabian cousin to Yorkshire pudding) rising in the oven - it always works wonders! Plus I discovered that you can make other people really happy by baking for them. In recent years we have basically stopped buying "real" birthday or hostess gifts, and make cookies instead. I had never thought about it becoming an obvious routine until I heard our friends' 5-year-old son say to his parents, "I TOLD you Maja and Bertram would bring cookies." Luckily, Bertram loves to eat and bake as well (although I'd say he has more of a normal person's approach to baking as opposed to my obsession). There are a couple of recipes in our household that he is always responsible for, like Zupfkuchen (Chocolate Quark Cheesecake, page 54), Quarkstollen (Quark-Almond Sweet Bread, page 256) or Nusskuchen (Toasted Hazelnut Loaf Cake, page 42).

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A gift for a 4-year-old's birthday...

7. What was your favorite thing about working on Classic German Baking?

Working with someone who didn't take the German cake culture for granted but recognized it for something worth writing home about! And I loved that you are as excitable about small things as I am: the flaky crust of our very first Pflaumenstrudel (and the second! and the third!!), the soft, yielding texture of a well-kneaded yeast dough,... this list could go on for a while.

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Testing rhubarb cake with and without Streusel.

8. And, I have to ask...what was your least favorite thing (ack!)?

Having to drop some recipes! It wasn't so hard with a couple of them (a truly disappointing applesauce cake or some of the blander Linzer tortes) but the Rhubarb Meringue Cake? Apfelbrot? Weiße Lebkuchen? None of them made it into the final selection, but they were all delicious in their own right and I will definitely give them second (or third) chances! Oh, and sometimes it was difficult to remember to measure everything carefully. And things like, "How much longer did we bake this version of the cake until the filling finally set?" or "How much cinnamon did I add to this next batch, because the flavor of the last one was much too weak?" I guess I learned that testing recipes for a cookbook is quite different from impulsive home-baking...

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Testing Amerikaner with different raising agents.

9. Do you have a favorite recipe in the book?

No chance! I couldn't even pick one favorite from each chapter, so I won't try.

10. Which of the recipes in Classic German Baking have become favorites in your home now?

Some of them were favorites even before (like Marmorkuchen (Marble Cake, page 72), Zwiebelkuchen (Savory Onion Cake, page 152) or Schwarz-Weiss-Gebäck (Checkerboard Cookies, page 16). But I have definitely added Quarkbrötchen (Sweet Quark Rolls, page 188), Schwäbischer Prasselkuchen (Swabian Streusel-Jam Slices, page 34) and Salzekuchen (Hessian Potato Cake, page 156) to my monthly rota!

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Testing Mohnhörnchen on a weekend.

11. Okay, now the really important questions: First of all, when do you start baking for Christmas?

As we always get together with my sister on the first Advent weekend, I try to have at least 5 or 6 different homemade cookies for our Adventskaffeetrinken ready by then. To be able to achieve this, I usually start preparing different doughs sometime in early November and stash them in the freezer. Nussstangen (Hazelnut-Almond Batons, page 238) are always among these! Other cookies have to ripen anyway, so I start baking Lebkuchen in the middle of November.

12. And what are you planning on baking for Advent and Christmas this year?

The usual: some new recipes, some old ones (the old ones being traditional cookies from Bertram's family, or from my family, the better ones in the "new" category from recent years - it's an ever-growing list!). I never manage to bake all of the different cookies I write down on my "to-bake" list sometime in November, but we usually have between 14 and 18 different kinds. Plus I really want delve into Lebkuchen a bit more this year. And yes, Christmas in our home is mostly cookies - plus Linzer Torte (page 134) and maybe a Baumkuchen (page 259).

As usual, Maja, I'm in awe. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything!

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

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The Classic German Baking Book Tour

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Photo by Aubrie Pick.

My dear readers,

I'm here with an update on the book tour for Classic German Baking! I had originally planned a bi-coastal tour with stops in Chicago and Austin too, but my pregnancy put a little (heh) wrinkle in those plans. I'll be 7 months pregnant soon and I'm pretty uncomfortable already and it just felt like too much travel to do it all. So I'll only be doing events in Boston, New York, Washington, DC and Austin, Texas this time. It was a really hard decision and I'm so very sad to miss out on all of you in California, the Pacific Northwest and Chicago, but it feels like the most sensible thing right now. Oh, motherhood and your compromises! A melancholy sigh from over here.

For those of you in those cities I will be visiting, here are the details for your (and your friends' and families'!) date book:

  • On Thursday October 27th, at 6:30 pm, I'll be at the East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C. for a baking demo and signing.
    More here.

  • On Sunday October 30th, at 4:00 pm, I'll be at the Goethe Institut in Boston, MA for a baking demo and signing. Tickets cost $5, but there will be lots of cake!
    For more info and to buy tickets, click here.

  • On Tuesday, November 2nd at 7:00 pm, I'll be at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn, NY for an event with the absolutely marvelous David Lebovitz!
    An RSVP is appreciated, to do so and for more information, click here.

    And then I'll be flying to the Texas Book Festival in Austin! I've never been to Texas before, and I'm so honored to have been invited to the festival along with so many amazing authors. (Also, I cannot wait to finally try some real Texas barbecue...and tacos!)

  • On Saturday, November 5th at 2:30 pm, I'll be doing a baking demo at the festival's Cooking Tent.
  • On Sunday, November 6th at 12:15 pm, I'll be sharing the stage with the lovely Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner A Love Story for a chat about our work.
    For more info about the festival (and the incredible line-up), click here.

And now there's only one more week until publication; have you pre-ordered your copy yet? The book is number one in its category on Amazon now (aaaah! eeeeh! thank you!), so how about the pretzel recipe from the book to celebrate?

I can't wait to get going and see you all!

xo

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The Cover of Classic German Baking

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Without further ado, I present to you the cover of Classic German Baking! When you hold the book in your hands, you'll see and feel that the title is embossed and that the cute little cake pan is both embossed and in matte foil.

Getting to a final cover on any book can be a lengthy, dramatic process, but especially so with illustrated books like cookbooks. Still, I had a feeling that Ten Speed Press, my amazing publisher, wouldn't disappoint me and I was right. I knew pretty early on that I didn't want a photo on the cover of the book and I'm still so happy and grateful that the publisher, my editor and the designer were game to try some other options. To help the designer along, I sat down at my desk one morning and spent about seven hours doing Google Image searches for everything relating to German and Austrian baking, culinary history, historical lifestyle items and ingredient packaging. I collected the best and most beautiful - and relevant - image links into one very long email and sent it off (hoping that the designer wouldn't think I was the most annoying, meddlesome author ever). It was really important to me to call attention to the kind of visual information that Germans and Austrians take for granted but that feels so integral to the subject. For example, the fact that blue and white are emblematic of the German kitchen, the elegance of the script that adorns antique porcelain kitchen canisters, or the Bauhaus-ian colors and patterns on my beloved Bollhagen ceramics.

A few months later, a variation on the cover above appeared in my inbox. I felt that the illustrator had nailed the design almost on the first try. There were just a few small tweaks to be done before it was final, like getting everyone to agree on the right reddish orange color of the line elements, figuring out which illustration would be the best (the first go-around featured a slice of a fancy torte with a cup of tea, then it changed to a braided, sugar-spangled loaf that I was quite partial to, but we finally settled on the classic cake mold you see on the cover now), and ironing out the minutiae of the dots, whirls and lines. What I like best about the cover now is how well the design straddles the old-fashioned and the contemporary. It feels classic without being fusty and, my most fervent hope, will age well.

A final funny anecdote about the title and subtitle: Agreeing on the title was surprisingly painless. We played around with a few options, but both my editor and I separately - and simultaneously - came to the conclusion that for this book, the simplest, most declarative title would be best. We felt so accomplished! A title without any blood, sweat and tears - amazing. And then, dear reader, and then: the subtitle. I think that a minimum of 38 emails were exchanged in our attempts to nail the subtitle. Oh, the variations we tried! For example, just agreeing on "Pfeffernüsse to Streuselkuchen" - hoo! Which were the German recipe names that would resonate most with potential readers, which ones were most traditional and therefore wouldn't irritate or alienate a native speaker for whom the subtle regional differences could be quite glaring, and which ones, quite simply, were the easiest to pronounce? Then there was the construct of the sentence itself. It wasn't just me and my editor working on this one, no, the sales and marketing team had their brainstorming caps on, too, and so back and forth, back and forth it went until one day - not even so long ago! - we finally lit upon the formulation you see on the cover above.

It's always so funny, at the end of a long, involved project like this one, to look back and see which decisions ended up being the most difficult ones and which ones were surprisingly easy. I would have never guessed that the subtitle would be the source of so much angst. Still, all those back-and-forths were worth it to get a cover, title, and subtitle that all feel just right. What do you think? I so hope you like it.

You can pre-order the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or if you prefer supporting independent bookstores, at Powells or at Indiebound. And thank you so, so much for all your support and enthusiasm.


Checking In

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Dearest readers, forgive me for my long radio silence. I was working on the first and second pass of Classic German Baking and was felled by a hideous case of the flu (the real thing, against which I was not inoculated and which swiftly infected everyone else in my household, so once I got better, after TWO FULL WEEKS in bed because the flu, that no-good jerk, then morphed into bronchitis, for the love of Pete, I had to play nurse to first my son and then my husband, leaving precious time for anything else). But we are all better now and the book is almost finished, with just a little time left before it wings its way to the printer. And over here, I find myself staring into the entirely predictable and yet no less jarring void that accompanies the end of any all-consuming creative project. It's a welcome void, one I've longed for, no doubt, and yet it's still a little...unnerving. But no matter. Life calls, as does the gym, not to mention all the recipes I have to tell you about and I can't wait to get back into writing here.

In gratitude for your patience, please accept this photo of a weeks-old baby Hugo posing alongside an absolutely epic yeasted bread that my beloved Joanie made for us as a celebration of his birth almost four years ago and that I recently dug up because I mention it in the book and I needed to jog my memory. If you look closely, you see that the loaf is in the shape of a swaddled baby and is studded not only with raisins, almonds and walnuts, but also has little balls of marzipan tucked in here and there. Isn't it insane? It was as delicious as it looks, though part of me would have gladly embalmed it to save it for the rest of my life. Who needs cute onesies and baby books when you can have this kind of baby gift? Sigh.

See you back here very soon.


Classic German Baking Q&A, Round One

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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.

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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).

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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!

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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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


Making Springerle

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Last Friday night, I put Hugo to bed and tip-toed out of the bedroom as I usually do, hearing him settle into his crib for the night as I closed the door behind me. I walked carefully down the hallway and into the warm, golden-lit living room where my mother sat on the couch, surrounded by the last few weeks of New Yorker issues. I waited twenty minutes, mostly for my own benefit, since nary a peep was coming from the back room, then put on my shoes, took the car keys and walked out the front door. For the first time since Hugo's birth, I was going out on my own.

Over the past few months, I'd left Hugo a handful of times with my mother or mother-in-law during the day when I had to run an errand or meet a journalist to promote the book. But I was never gone longer than an hour or two and I'd never left him in the evening before. Dinners out or a movie night with Max were a distant, hazy memory. But earlier that week, my friend Joanie had called me to say that the annual Springerle evening, when she and our friend Ann get together to make the molded, anise-flavored cookies for Christmas, had been moved up by a few weeks because she needed to have hand surgery in December. Did I want to come? Around 7:00 pm on Friday? She'd already asked my mother if she wouldn't mind babysitting. (Max was in Kassel.) With only a tiny squiggle of adrenaline at the thought of leaving Hugo at bedtime, I said yes.

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When I got to Joanie's, things were already in full swing. In the kitchen, Joanie's mother-in-law's East Prussian gingerbread dough, so thick with honey and flour that Dietrich, her husband, had to use a drill to mix it, ripened on a chair wedged next to the fridge. It would get rolled out and cut the following week. The big batch of the Springerle dough, fluffy with beaten eggs and sugar, was in the living room on the dining table. Between Joan, Ann and my mother, their collection of wooden Springerle molds is practically museum-worthy. The wooden molds were spread out all over the table as Joanie and Ann worked, armed with little brushes, mounds of flour for dusting and sharp-pointed knives to clean out crevices if some errant dough got stuck.

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First, they selected a mold. A shell, perhaps, or a lamb carrying a flag, or a winged angel. Then they dusted a bit of flour into the clean mold. After that, they pinched off a lump of dough corresponding in size to the mold, rolled it into an egg-like shape and then dusted that liberally with flour, too. The lump of dough then was pushed firmly onto and into the mold and the edges were trimmed. All that was left was to very carefully peel the formed dough off the mold and lay it onto the anise-strewn cookie sheet. We did this over and over again until all the dough was gone and the cookie sheets were filled with tiny masterpieces.

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The unbaked cookies have to rest overnight before being baked. The key to Springerle is not letting them brown in the oven, though they do develop little "feet", like French macarons, as they bake. When they're done, Springerle look like they've been formed out of clay. This might lead you to think that they don't taste very good, but they are my favorite of all the Christmas cookies, delicate and sweet, with that haunting anise flavor. They store well and although they do get very hard with time, all you need to do is slip a slice of apple into their tin and they'll remain slightly cakey instead of rock-hard. (Though rock-hard is actually how I like them, the better for dunking into tea.)

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When we were finished, we cleaned off the table, putting all the molds into the empty bowl, sweeping up the leftover flour, scraping the molds clean and wiping down the table. Then Joanie heated up a pot of borscht while Dietrich and I set the table. We ate the hot soup, dotted with spoonfuls of sour yogurt, with slices of dark bread. It was warm and cozy. As always, at Joanie's house, I felt my most calm and comfortable. But the minutes were ticking by and I soon found myself getting antsy, checking my watch. I wanted to be home again, just down the hall from my sleeping baby. So I said my goodbyes, got back in the car and drove down the emptying highway towards Charlottenburg.

Back home, things were as I had left them: My mother on the couch, Hugo asleep in his little crib. But it felt like the world had just expanded somehow. A tiny glimmer of my old life was visible again. Or, no, I guess I'd just seen a tiny glimmer of my new life, the one where Hugo no longer needs me near him 24 hours a day, where I can once again leave the house at times without him, feeling both liberated and like I've left a piece of me behind. It was thrilling and a little bittersweet, too.

Want to make your own Springerle?

King Arthur Flour

Martha Stewart

Food52