Usually, this is a blog about food that is prepared for you instead of by you. But I’m about to make an exception for a very good reason: Luisa Weiss aka The Wednesday Chef has published a new book called “Classic German Baking” and it’s a true beauty inside and out – an extensive collection of traditional German baking recipes, tried and tested, and adapted to the non-German reader. I visited her in her home to test one recipe with her, that’s very important to me. It’s a German christmas cookie staple, super delicious, and surprisingly easy to make: Spekulatius.
Luisa Weiss, born in Berlin to American and Italian parents, has a dear connection to the tradition of baking in Germany and all its peculiarities, since she was raised in Berlin and married into a family of talented and dedicated bakers from Saxony. In many German households, cakes and other sweet treats are a hugely important part of daily life – the tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen, a piece of cake that is had with a cup of coffee in the afternoon, is still a vital part of the routine of many (myself included, though – sadly – not daily), as is the baking of one or even several cakes as a weekend afternoon snack. Yet many of the recipes for German cookies, cakes, tortes, and breads, passed down through generations, have never before been collected and perfected for non-German home bakers.
Luisa’s new book is aiming to close this gap, sharing recipes for known and beloved treats like Butterkekse, Russisch Brot, Streuselkuchen, Bienenstich, Apfelstrudel, Brötchen, and Vanillekipferl, as well as rather odd specialities I never even heard of like Knerken, Hannchen-Jensen-Torte, Heidjertorte, Peterlingskuchen, or Biberle. Furthermore, the book contains descriptions of all ingredients needed, how to replace them when not in Germany, and loads of insights into German baking traditions.
I visited Luisa in her Wilmersdorf home to make one of the recipes close to my heart, one that I’ve never made at home because I thought it’d be too complicated, and – surprise! – it’s not complicated at all: Spekulatius. It’s also one of the Christmas sweets often sold out way before Christmas, so me having practiced this recipe with the creator itself also means I will never have to complain about the Spekulatius-shortage ever again!
You can get Luisa’s book in Berlin at Kochtail, who also have signed copies for you, as well as the possibility to include a personal, hand-written note – amazing Christmas gift is all I’m saying.
Recipe: Spekulatius Cookies
Makes about 48 cookies
2 1/4 cups, scooped and leveled / 280g all-purpose-flour, plus more for kneading
3/4 cup / 150g granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon / 30g ground almonds
1/4 cup / 25g ground hazelnuts
grated peel of 1/2 organic lemon
grated peel of 1/2 organic orange
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground aniseed
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons / 70g unsalted high-fat (European-style) butter
1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon / 105ml heavy cream
2 teaspoons whole milk
1 egg white, beaten
3/4 cup / 60g blanched sliced almonds
#1 Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
#2 In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, ground almonds and hazelnuts, grated lemon and orange peels, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, aniseed, ginger, salt, and baking soda.
#3 Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream and milk. The mixture should be lukewarm. Stir into the flour mixture and knead until well combined.
#4 Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface to a 16-inch/40cm square that is 1/8 inch/3mm thick, trimming the edges if desired. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough crosswise into 8 equal strips and then lengthwise into 6 equal strips, yielding 48 cookies. Brush the cookies thinly with the egg white. Either sprinkle them evenly with the sliced almonds and transfer to the prepared baking sheets, or scatter half of the almonds evenly over each baking sheet and place the cookies on top of the almonds. In either case, leave 1/2 inch/12mm between the cookies. Bake the first batch for 10 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown and firm.
#5 Remove from the oven and let the baking sheet cool on a rack, where the cookies will crisp up as they cool. Repeat with the second baking sheet. Fully cooled, the cookies can be stored in an airtight container for at least 10 days and up to 1 month.