I hope you’ve already heard of Luisa Weiss, author of the blog The Wednesday Chef and the lovely memoir My Berlin Kitchen—and now the new, crucial text on German baking, aptly titled Classic German Baking. In fact, her recipe for an apple galette is what I most recently posted here, not realizing that her new book was on its way into the world! And now it’s here, and I simply must tell you about it, so let this be the autumn of Luisa.
I am a full 50% German, if my last name hasn’t given that away, and yet there aren’t many German recipes in my repertoire. So I was thrilled when I heard that Luisa was writing this book—if there is any way I would like to enter into a cultural exploration, it is by way of baked goods. And Luisa is the perfect guide. She has an American father and an Italian mother but grew up in Germany and the US, then eventually married a German and settled in Berlin—you can read the story of how that came to be in her memoir. With her new book, she gives us an incredibly thorough picture of German baking, sourcing recipes from friends, neighbors, strangers, the backs of packages and more. She really did the digging for us.
I had the happy opportunity to test recipes for the book. At that time, and then again when I received a finished copy, I learned that there’s a lot I don’t know about my people’s baking traditions, including the fact that my love of simple cakes is apparently in my blood. Classic German Baking has a chapter on cakes and a second chapter on yeasted cakes. There are a full four apple cake recipes between them, so you best pick this book up right away and get started on those (I’ve made two of four so far). There’s a yeasted squash bread on my counter right now that is, as Luisa promised, the color of saffron, and last weekend, I made a potato and cheese flatbread that hails from Swabia and is ridiculously good. Plus, the German have the Christmas spirit down pat, another enthusiasm I have inherited, and this book offers a whole host of holiday treats that soften even the blow of a bitterly cold German winter.
Today, I want to share something very simple and entirely perfect. It’s a pretty reliable rule, if you ask me, that the perfection of the basics will be replicated in more complex projects. Here, the classic breakfast roll. Apparently, this is a German bakery staple, playing a crucial role in weekend breakfasts alongside cheese and sliced meats or jam and honey. I can attest that they make a very pleasant centerpiece for an easy breakfast feast. Plus, you can prepare them the night before and pop them in the oven in the morning, with freshly baked rolls ready by the time everyone has been roused from bed and the coffee has finished brewing, which is a pretty lovely way to start a day, indeed.
Cheers to you, Luisa! This book is such a gem.
Brötchen (Classic Breakfast Rolls)
From Luisa Weiss’ Classic German Baking
Makes 8 rolls
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150ml) whole milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150ml) warm tap water
1/3 ounce (10g) fresh yeast, or 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups (500g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 handfuls of ice cubes, for baking
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the milk (reserving 1 tablespoon for brushing) with the water.
If using fresh yeast, crumble the yeast into a large mixing bowl and stir in the milk mixture. Continue stirring until the yeast has fully dissolved. Add the flour and salt to the bowl and stir until a shaggy ball just comes together.
If using instant yeast, mix the milk and water mixture with the yeast, flour, and salt at once, and stir until a shaggy ball forms.
Dump the mixture onto a floured work surface and knead until the dough is very smooth and no longer sticky. It will be quite firm.
Place the ball back in the bowl, cover with a warm kitchen towel, and let rise for 1 hour in a very warm, draft-free spot. Then, gently punch down the dough. Divide it into 8 equal pieces (if you have a kitchen scale, use it to weigh them out). Roll the pieces of dough into ovals that are about 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) long and 2 inches (5 cm) wide. Place them on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 3 inches (8 cm) between them. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator. Place a metal cake or roasting pan on the bottom of the oven, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
When the rolls have sat at room temperature for 20 minutes, brush them evenly with the reserved 1 tablespoon of milk and slash them lengthwise with a sharp knife, making a cut about 3/4 inch (2 cm) deep. Then, working quickly, dump the ice cubes into the pan at the bottom of the oven and slide the baking sheet with the rolls on it into the oven.
Bake the rolls for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are crusty and golden and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack before serving.
The rolls are best eaten on the day they are made but can be crisped up in a 350 degree oven a day after baking. They also freeze well, again warming nicely in the oven.