Featured Recipe from Luisa Weiss: Zuckerkuchen (Sugar Cake)
Makes one 10-inch cake
- Butter for the pan
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast (also known as bread machine yeast)
- 1/2 cup whole milk, lukewarm
- 6 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small dice
- Pinch of salt
Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round cake pan. Set aside.
Pour the flour and yeast into a mixing bowl. Add the milk in a thin stream, mixing with a wooden spoon as you pour. Add 6 tablespoons of sugar and the egg yolk to the bowl and mix - the dough will start to come together rather shaggily. Add the melted butter to the mixture and the pinch of salt. Mix until a rough ball starts to form. Dump this ball onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth. You may need to add a little flour to keep the dough from sticking, but don't add too much: you want the dough to still be soft and slightly floppy. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the buttered pan. Cover with a clean dish towel and put in a warm, draft-free place for an hour, or until the dough has doubled in bulk.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using your fingers, gently deflate the dough and push it out evenly to fit the pan. Do not push the edges up on the sides of the pan. Then dimple the dough all over with your fingers.
Drop the diced butter into the dimples of the dough. Then sprinkle the entire cake with the remaining sugar. Cover the pan with the dishtowel again and let sit for 20 minutes.
Put the pan in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Zuckerkuchen is best served warm, the day it is made.
A Conversation with Luisa Weiss
Q. Do you feel there is one key to successful home cooking? Some people seem innately more talented as cooks as others, but do you feel it is something anyone can do?
A. I do think some people are better cooks than others in the way that some people are better at math than others and some are better at languages than others. That having been said, it seems to me that the simple act of cooking often is the best way to become a good cook. If you make a point of cooking every night or most nights of the week, it's hard to imagine that you won't, one day, become a good cook. Only by doing can you figure out what you like, what you're good at, what makes your culinary heart soar, what makes it sink. So the key to successful home cooking, in my opinion, is to cook. A lot!
Q. When returning to visit family in the United States, Germany or Italy, what is one dish you look most forward to eating in each of these countries?
A. In the US: Chinese food. In Germany: Pflaumenkuchen (yeasted plum cake). In Italy: Pizza al taglio (pizza sold by weight)
Q. What is one thing most people would be surprised to learn about German cuisine?
A. That it's a pretty seasonally driven cuisine. I'm not talking about restaurant fare, which seems to not have much variation, but what people cook at home. Plum cakes in plum season, asparagus only in the six weeks it's available in the markets, chanterelles only when you can buy them from people who picked them in their backyards that morning. It's true that the Germans do love themselves some sausages and potatoes, but that's not all there is to German cuisine.
Q. Why did you feel it was important to tell your story with My Berlin Kitchen?
A. I've always felt pretty alone in the world with my weird situation, my parents so far apart, my life so split between such faraway places. I used to think I was the only person in the world who felt such loneliness--in my peer group, there was no one who had grown up like I did. Processing my life was a pretty solitary act. But when I wrote about little bits of it online, my readers responded to it with such compassion, sympathy and understanding that I realized that there were a lot of universal truths in my experience. Then, when I found myself at such a big crossroads, career-wise and in my personal life, and I felt brave enough to make all the big jumps that I did, I wanted to share what I'd learned. That despite terror and insecurity, living your life honestly is the best way to find happiness. Also, if I manage to make only one international mutt like me feel a little more understood and a little less alone in the world, writing the book will have been worth it.
“Luisa Weiss writes with grace and ease about her search for a sense of belonging in My Berlin Kitchen. That she also cooks appealing dishes and writes beautifully about food only adds dimension to her wonderful memoir. You will read with intense delight, cheering her on through heartbreak and triumphs.”
“My Berlin Kitchen is a truly remarkable memoir, told with sensitivity and honesty. Filled with the emotions—and flavors—of a life that spans three cultures and cuisines, this is a book you won't want to put down, except to make its enticing recipes.”
“Part culinary journal, part love story, My Berlin Kitchen chronicles a young woman’s (often) difficult task of finding her way in the world. With the charm and honesty that is characteristic of her wonderful blog, Luisa Weiss has crafted a book that leaves a deep impression.”