Having been there twice, I can say without reservation that I love Germany. Maybe it’s because it’s my ancestral homeland or maybe it’s just because it’s a wonderful country, full of historical landmarks, natural beauty, and good food. You know me, I couldn’t neglect to mention the food part, could I? When my husband and I told people we were visiting Germany, one of the common responses was, “Good luck trying to find something to eat there!” While it’s true that German cuisine is heavy on meat, I have fond memories of eating vegetable strudel at a traditional German restaurant in a small town nestled in the Bavarian Alps and grabbing giant pretzels baked with cheese for a quick lunch to go while sightseeing. German food may be meat-centric, but there are gems to be found for those who prefer to stick to a vegetarian diet.
The Berlin Cookbook by Rose Marie Donhauser certainly reflects this take on German cuisine–yes, most of the recipes involve meat, but there are many that do not and they are worth trying. And beyond the recipes, I enjoyed this cookbook because of the stories and brief histories that accompany many of the dishes. While I may not make the Berlin Döner Kebabs, I found the background information about them to be fascinating–you really cannot go anywhere in a major German city without seeing a Döner Kebab stand and I figured that they came along with the recent influx of Turkish immigrants, but Döner Kebabs are actually a Berlin invention! Almost every traditional dish in any cuisine has a story behind it that’s just as interesting as the food itself–cooking dishes like those in The Berlin Cookbook makes you feel connected to the past, to other cultures, and to other regions of the world. While making these recipes, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Did my relatives make this cake? Did they make their potato pancakes this way?”
And speaking of potato pancakes! That’s the first recipe I made from this cookbook. The German name for Potato Pancakes is Kartoffelpuffer. The book notes that Berliners eat them with applesauce or sugar. While I’ve tried applesauce (I am German, after all!), I always like a generous dollop of ketchup with my potato pancakes–I suppose that’s the American in me coming out. This recipe was quite easy, but different from others that I’ve made in that it called for clarified butter. Perhaps there’s something to this, because I found that this recipe produced much crispier, flavorful pancakes than my usual whatever-oil-I-have-on-hand method. Unfortunately, my pancakes weren’t as pretty as the one pictured in the book. I would love to know the secret of getting the sides to be so rounded!
2 pounds of potatoes
1-2 tablespoons flour
clarified butter for frying
1. Wash the potatoes and cook in lightly salted water until tender. Peel the potatoes and grate. Peel the onion and grate and combine with the potatoes.
2. Mix the potato mixture with the egg and flour, and knead briefly.
3. Heat clarified butter in a pan. Place the potato mixture in the pan, one lump at a time, and flatten with a spoon.
4. Fry the potato pancakes on both sides until golden brown and cripsy.
Next I moved onto the dessert section of The Berlin Cookbook. Living in Wisconsin, I am no stranger to German baked goods. One of my favorite German bakeries in the area sells Bee Stings and they are absolutely ethereal–Rose Marie Donhauser’s version is definitely on my short list of desserts to make soon. But since I had all of the ingredients for the Apple Crumb Cake in our pantry (well, everything except the apples!), I decided to make that first. Believe it or not, I’ve never made it before, so I was a little bit nervous–now that I blog, I feel like I’m cooking and baking for an audience. The recipe looked easy enough, but it seems that some of the ingredient amounts were lost in translation–specifically, the recipe called for over 2 sticks of butter (5.5 oz. for the streusel and 5.5 oz. for the batter). This didn’t seem right to me, but I followed the instructions and the cake didn’t turn out right. After looking at other recipes for Apple Crumb Cake online, I suspect that 5.5 tablespoons rather than ounces would yield better results.
Despite this, I still enjoyed reading through The Berlin Cookbook and I was pleased with the results of the potato pancake recipe. This would make a wonderful gift for fans of German food who’d like to know more about the origins of their favorite dishes.
Disclosure: I received a copy of The Berlin Cookbook from Berlinica for the purpose of this review.