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My Berlin Kitchen: Adventures in Love and Life Paperback – August 27, 2013
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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’s piquant memoir has charm, heartbreak, family history, and recipes galore.”
“The new Julie & Julia! It’s part cookbook and part memoir; you’ll finish a chapter and find yourself in the kitchen following the recipe Weiss includes . . . A transcontinental romance about taking risks in life and in the kitchen.”
“For anyone who's ever moved away from home, only to find that nowhere in the world is quite as special, My Berlin Kitchen is a lovely (and delicious-recipe-filled) read.”
“There are love stories, and then there are love stories. Luisa Weiss’s falls into the latter category, an honest-to-god tale of love lost, found, and happily ended. And, as a bonus, there’s food. Indeed, every page is more delightful and delicious than the one before. Brimming with forty recipes borrowed from Weiss’s friends and family and from famous chefs like Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver, then stripped down and perfected by Weiss herself, the book is a mix of travelogue, memoir, cookbook, and a touch of fairytale.”
—East Bay Express
“A mouthwatering tribute to Berlin and a love letter to food, romance and following your heart. . . . Weiss vividly evokes the flavors of German, Italian, and American cuisine. . . . The characters around each table come to life as vibrantly as the food, and Weiss adds helpful hints to the recipes that crown each chapter.”
“A heartwarming (and often mouth-watering) memoir, German-born chef and writer Weiss recounts how . . . through hardship and heartbreak, she found solace among saucepans and stews. . . . Foodies and nonfoodies alike will enjoy chapters brimming with colorful cooking tales and savory recipes.”
—Allison Block, Booklist (starred review)
“A thoughtful, earnestly winning memoir.”
“This charming food memoir will prove enjoyable to anyone who loves Laurie Colwin or M.L.K. Fisher.”
“I hope you’re prepared to clear a day or two of your schedule once you open this book, because you’re not going to want to put it down to do anything—well, anything but make a beeline for the kitchen to make a rolled omelet or fake baked beans. Luisa has a way of telling her story that’s nothing short of entrancing.”
—Deb Perelman, creator of Smitten Kitchen
“A beautiful and inspiring story about how we sometimes have to take a leap of faith to follow our life’s passion. I was so charmed by Luisa Weiss’s honesty, vulnerabilities, and beautiful writing—all while craving braised endives. A lovely, remarkable, and delicious tale of the romance of a lifetime.”
—Kathleen Flinn, author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry
“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.”
—David Lebovitz, bestselling author of The Sweet Life in Paris
“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.”
—Amanda Hesser, cofounder of Food52 and author of The Essential New York Times Cookbook and Cooking for Mr. Latte
“Luisa’s heartfelt and engrossing memoir will resonate deeply with anyone who’s ever sensed the profound connection between the food we eat and our sense of home.”
—Clotilde Dusoulier, creator of Chocolate & Zucchini and author of Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris
“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.”—Heidi Swanson, creator of 101 Cookbooks and bestselling author of Super Natural Cooking
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If you are a follower of the blog, as I am, you are already a fan of her cooking, but I think even for those who aren't cooks will find lots to enjoy in this memoir.
Luisa has lived quite a lot in her years, and takes you on a journey from Berlin, to Boston, New York and Paris and back again, with some extended stays in Italy along the way. Many can relate to her story of being homesick, being unsure of yourself, falling in love and ultimately finding who you are. Along the way she has a nice selection of recipes, which correspond to each time in her life. Her reflections and the enclosed recipes are a vacation in itself, especially with her takes on authentic Italian and German fare.
Interestingly, she does not go very in-depth on her "Love Story", as mentioned in the subtitle. Even though it is a memoir, you only get small glimpses of her personal life and relationship. You learn the object of her affections has an angular face and kind eyes, but that is about it. The true object of affections referenced in the "love story" of the title is Berlin itself, as this is much more a story about finding yourself, less of finding someone. I would have loved more development of the characters, but you get the feel that Luisa is a very private person.
I have not tried the recipes yet, but as she is a cookery writer, I would have liked the recipes to have taken center stage, not tacked on at the end of each chapter as an afterthought. Maybe they should have come at the beginning so that they felt more integral.
A minor point-- I also would have liked some substitutes for Quark in the recipe for Kasekuchen. As someone who has lived in Germany and is familiar with the dish, I know it is difficult to find quark here (as she alludes to and helpfully provides some stockists). What would have really set this apart is to have found an appropriate/passable substitute with ingredients that are readily available for her American readers. Maybe she can try that in the next version.
All in all it is an enjoyable way to pass a Saturday, and the recipes will give you a reason to pick it up again.
The recipes all look great, and I was startled how much I learned about German cuisine (who knew they were such seasonal eaters in Berlin!). Thanks Luisa for such a thoughtful and clear-voiced look at young adulthood and its challenges, adventures, joys and sorrows. (Also, for what it's worth - I read this in one night!)
The story is a little thin and definitely "chick lit," hence the lack of a star. But although not very compelling at first, as I neared the end I did look forward to delving back into it each time, and being rewarded with a new recipe connected with the story. I liked the seeming randomness of her choices (all over the map) but also how each one tied the chapter in a neat little package. I am so excited to try some of those scrumptious-looking German desserts! I also appreciated Luisa's take on finding your true life. That part could have been a hokey cliché, but I think she steered clear of that with honesty and insight. All in all, a worthwhile, enjoyable keeper!