Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss (book review)

german-bakinA solid four stars, maybe 4.5 stars

So, a little background. My mother was from Czechoslovakia (back when it was that country), from Prague. A lot of cooking, including baking, is similar with German cooking (and Austrian). My mother was a good baker and I am a fair one. I have (in a very, very, distant past) managed a restaurant and cooked at a few–until I decided it was too much work and I went back to school.

What I liked about the presentation in this cookbook:

The recipes give the ingredients in both American units and metric. For the metric, the weight for most ingredients is used, which is more accurate (flour volume, for instance, can vary a lot depending on type, sifting, etc.).

Some things are not American friendly. For instance “unsalted high-fat European-style butter” is not useful. Rather, she might have suggested clarifying the butter, which would make it almost pure fat.

Since this is a “traditional” baking book, one does not expect new recipes. So, to stand out it does need to bring something else to the table. One, of course, is collecting these all in one place. The other are the photos, narrative, and “how to” details. All of the latter are well done. The photos include scenery, not just photos of food. I really like this, but to be nitpicky, I would like to know what the photos are of (a key to photos, or right by the photo). The intro to each section and to each recipe is nice and well done. Of course I would have liked a modest discussion on how these recipes are similar in other countries, but that is the Czech in me.

Most of my mother’s favorites are here and all of them resemble the notes I have, so these feel authentic. I remind those who are not expert bakers that one of the things with baking is until you learn the tricks of the trade, you should follow the directions rather scrupulously. It is not like “chopped” where you can just substitute, or rush things–unless you really know your stuff. This is because baking is a bit more chemistry than other cooking. The order of mixing, or whether it is melted butter vs cool butter can matter (not always, but it can). Temperatures in the oven can also matter a lot. Thus, the careful steps she uses are good, without being overwhelmingly complex.

This is put out by Ten Speed Press, which I have liked for years. They focus on books just like this and always do a good job.

So, why didn’t I give this 5 stars? Doing “classic” recipes is very, very, hard to get 5 stars. It has to really bring something to the table (pardon the pun). Germany has been lately changing. What would have been interesting would have been a tiny section on “new classics” as Germany starts to melt its culture a bit. Additionally, despite being classics, I would have liked at least a minor discussion on how one can vary some of these classics given the access to different ingredients these days. These are minor, but with a classics cookbook, one looks for what really differentiates this. Still, I think for a book that you might want to pass on to your children this is a nice book and the hardcover will last. I am a technophile, but for cookbooks I still think paper is the way to go.

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