Embracing Butter

Food

The best pizza in Hamburg

Inside Zweipunktnull in Altona / Ottensen

Inside Zweipunktnull in Altona / Ottensen

It’s no secret that my family and I love to eat. Let me clarify - I love to eat. and not sure by nature or nurture, but somehow I’ve succeeded in passing down my love of all things culinary to my kids. Which makes may heart very happy. My youngest son learned to make authentic Wiener Schnitzel by age 6 or 7 (no joke – they are the real deal – benefits of being with an Austrian!). My middle kid can fry up – thanks to YouTube – a tasty, juicy, burger that rivals restaurants. And my daughter has been baking and decorating beautiful cake creations for quite some time now.

So yes – we enjoy cooking, baking, and mostly eating. I used to joke that food is my love language, but in the meantime, it’s no longer a joke. Food is in fact a way I show and receive love. But let’s talk more about that another day. For now, I want to tell you about the best pizza you can eat in Hamburg. And maybe even the best in Germany. Honestly.

I’m not a professionally trained chef. I never studied the culinary arts in an official capacity. I have, however, been eating my whole life (which is now four solid decades of experience!). I also started baking cakes, biscuits, and pizza for my very large immediate family at age 10. I have run my own food business though, and I’ve traveled the world and if practical eating experience means anything, then yes – my loads of experience stuffing my face all over the planet means I know good food when I see – and taste it.

The first pizza recipe I wowed people with was from the PBS show Reading Rainbow. It was by no means Italian quality, but it was a tasty homemade pie that everyone enjoyed. That was the only pizza I baked myself for ages, because at some point interest in cake took over, and if it wasn’t sweet, I had no interest in baking it.

Fast forward to last year, when we left Berlin for Hamburg and my Austrian fiancé developed an obsession with all things dough, including pizza. He bought a book called Flour Water Salt Yeast and we discovered that you could make amazing, authentic-as-in-Italy pizza at home.

Around the same time as we were discovering the delicious simplicity of homemade dough, we were also out exploring Hamburg and it’s culinary offerings. He had been here longer than I and kept talking about a pizza place he’d been to with really good pizza called Zweipunktnull (which means two point zero in English). I was curious but slightly dismissive, because how good could pizza be at a place with that kind of name? Yes, I can be superficial like that.

The tastiest pizza

The tastiest pizza

Then one summer evening he took me to Zweipunktnull and my pizza life changed forever. Not even kidding. I couldn’t believe how delicious this pizza was/is. You get an entire plate of perfectly fluffy, chewy dough, charred in places from the hot stone oven it’s baked in, and with a depth in flavor that is simply unbeatable. The toppings are fresh and of the highest quality – I promise you. It’s as though they caught the red eye to Italy to purchase mozzarella and salami and flew right back to the restaurant with it – it is all that tasty and authentically Italian. And how could it not be?  Their pizza chef is in fact from Italy.

The restaurant itself is also lovely, as you can see in the photo above. In the summer they have outdoor seating, which of course fills up fast, so if you want to be sure you’ll get a place, take a couple minutes and reserve a table. It can also take a bit of time to get your food, so this is not the kind of restaurant you go to if you’re in a hurry. That said, it’s worth the wait. Believe me – if you’re a pizza lover, as I and my family are, do yourself a favor and make your next meal out be at Zweipunktnull. Then please come back and tell me about it!

 

Birthdays in Germany: BYOC (Bring your own cake!)

Birthday cake

If you’re an American – celebrating your birthday in Germany will be different from what you are used to. Depending on your level of openness and flexibility, some fare better than others in the birthday department. I still prefer the American it’s-my-birthday-so-spoil-me-and-don’t-make-me-pay-for-anything way of celebrating, but hey – to each his own.

Here are the things that stand out to me as being different to how we ‘Muricans celebrate our special day and some advice to help you avoid birthday blunders here in Deutschland:

Birthday Greetings

Whether it’s your birthday or someone else’s, in Germany one is only wished Happy Birthday on the exact day of the birthday or thereafter. “Happy belated birthday” is fine, but “Happy early birthday!” is not allowed and is believed to bring bad luck.

If you have a friend or colleague with an upcoming birthday and you want to get a jump start or (like myself) not forget their birthday by wishing them a happy early birthday – you shouldn’t. Make a note to congratulate them after the fact, and not before. You’ll get a stern lecture on how it’s bad luck (Pech in German) to wish a happy birthday before the fact.

This is taken very seriously here, so if you remember one birthday bit of advice let this one be it.

Birthday Cake

In Germany, if you’re the birthday girl or boy, you bring your own cake. Every time. At schools, offices, or friend gatherings, if it’s your special day the cake will not be provided for you. This isn’t so strange for me when it comes to my kids, as where we hail it’s customary that treats to share are brought to school on your birthday.

But in Germany, you better bring a cake to work to share. You’ll very likely be gifted with flowers, candy, booze or some other nice gift from colleagues or your company, but showing up without a cake to share with the office is a major faux pas. Major.

The cake doesn’t have to be a masterpiece – Germans are modest when it comes to sweets so really anything works. I’ve seen the saddest cakes of my life in this country that doesn’t appreciate pretty. You can bring cupcakes, brownies, cheesecake, plain bundt cake, anything. As long as it’s baked and you call it a cake, then you’re good. Just don’t make it too sweet – German sweet is nowhere near American sweet, so unless you want to hear people wince in sugar-induced pain, I’d say be careful with any super sugary frostings or fillings.

And as with birthday greetings, timing is everything. If your birthday falls on a weekend, don’t you dare bring the cake on a Friday to celebrate before your birthday. You’ll get shocked gasps and horrified expressions, and worst of all – not a single gift, because organized Germans will have planned to celebrate your day after the weekend.

Birthday Drinks or Dinner 

In Germany, the birthday girl or boy does the treating. It’s just how it is. So if you choose to celebrate with dinner or drinks out instead of hosting a party at your place, be ready to foot the bill for everyone. This may not be strange for everyone, but for me it was odd because I’m used to a birthday ‘system’ that isn’t so rigid. Where I come from in the South, you might end up paying for your friends if you gather at the local watering hole for birthday drinks, but it’s possible that your guests won’t let pay and will treat you instead.

Remember that Germans love rules and processes and will follow cultural protocol, so if you invite your peeps out for your birthday, make you sure have cash to cover the whole crew. So if funds are tight, my advice is to have a soirée at home or opt for drinks only instead of dinner out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;)

All that said, Germans do love birthdays – and even though you’ll have to do some work on your birthday – be it baking your own cake or paying for your celebratory bash, you will be given love and sincere attention by those you know.

Enjoy it – but don’t forget to bring your own cake! 

Fun food outing: Eat-the-World tour Neukölln

bakery sign edited

It’s no secret that I love food. And I love exploring new places almost as much as I love food. So when the folks at Eat-the-World invited me to bring a friend to join one of their tours through the Neukölln district of Berlin, of course I said yes. Eat-the-World gives food tours throughout Germany, and here in Berlin they have tours through seven of the city’s districts.

I’ll be honest with you - Neukölln has never been my favorite part of town. In fact, I like it about as much as I like Kreuzberg, which is not at all. However, my sister just moved to that part of town, and I can’t say no to a food offer, so I dragged her along with me.  I was so excited about the tour invitation that I even told my local café owner all about it while stopping by for my morning Cappuccino. He wasn’t as excited about it was I was, but regardless. The chance to eat my way through a part of Berlin had me pretty thrilled.

And I was not disappointed. The day ended up being a long and lovely afternoon of walking (lots of it!), history (you will know all about Neukölln after this tour), and food (we stopped at 7 different places, sampling food at each stop!). I can’t tell you each and every stop we made, but I will tell you about a few of my favorites.

Zuckerbaby

Zuckerbaby is a cozy, cute café owned and operated by two American/German sisters, who focus on the combining tasty treats – both savory and sweet – from Germany and the US. We got to sample their Lemon Gugelhupf cake, which was a miniature version of the traditional German bundt cake. It was light, lemony, and moist, which we loved (German cakes can be dry so this one may have been more of an American recipe baked in the German shape).  According to Jill and Tanya, the owners, weekends are the best time to visit their place, as they have a larger cake assortment. So will we be checking that out? We most certainly will be.

Kønigliche Backstube

The second stop on the tour was a bakery I’d heard of but had never visited before. The Koenigliche Backstube is an artisan bakery with a limited but delicious menu of organice breads and pastries. Everything here is baked the Old World style – meaning with a sour dough starter instead of yeast. The place smelled amazing, and we sampled their baguette and a walnut bread. Both were delicious, and had we not had such a long trip back home and more stops to make, I’d have bought and taken home some of the baguette and the orange cookies they had for sale too.

Prachtwerk

This was my abolutely most favorite place on the tour. Prachtwerk is another well-known Berlin establishment that I’d been curious about for some time. And with good reason. While there are some famous Berlin places that you visit and end up disappointed by (seriously – some places are just dives and you wonder why they are popular), this is not one of them. Prachtwerk has it all: a bar, delicious baked treats, style, a stage for open-mic nights, great atmosphere, and friendly service. We tried the Carrot Cake and the Cheesecake, and I can’t wait to go back and sample their cookies and their Coffee Martini. An added bonus is that the café is located next to the Statdbad Neukölln, so can swim in a stately, turn-of-the-century pool and refresh afterwards with coffee and dessert. So yes, we’ll be going back there too!

In all, the Eat-the-World a tour I would go on again. It’s something you can do that is off the very beaten Berlin track, you learn a lot about the city by a local (our tour guide is an opera singer originally from Berlin who seems to know the city like the back of her hand), and you walk so much that you burn off a good deal of what you eat on the tour. Which I think is a very good thing. So highly recommended if you’re new to Berlin, visiting Berlin, or you’re like me and have lived here for a while and need a breath of fresh air and to visit a new part of town.

My sis, our tour guide, and me

My sis, our tour guide, and me

The only thing we didn’t love was that we weren’t stuffed by the time the tour was over. Mind you, we certainly weren’t starving, and everyone else on the tour seemed to be full. But in my somewhat gluttonous world, by the end of a food tour you should be rolling, not walking away. ;)

p.s. If you’re a food lover like we are and would like to try out Berlin on foot with lots of munchies, go sign up for one of the Eat-the-World tours.

 

Cake of the week: Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake

Sundays are almost always cake baking days in my world. Except during Lent, which has – thankfully – ended with today’s Easter celebration. Which wasn’t much of a celebration this year, as I woke up with a stiff neck and a UTI (too much information, I know … but as I said before, I like to keep it real here), so instead of taking my kids happily to church to celebrate the Resurrection, I ended up in the emergency room to get antiobotics and subsequently spend the day catching up on movies I’d missed over the last decade.

But back to the cake! This week’s Easter cake was a cheesecake – or cheesecake cupcakes, to be exact. I found the recipe on Pinterest weeks ago. Since I’d given up cake for Lent, I could not wait to make – or eat – these tasty treats. Which means I sort of cheated by baking them the night before and eating the first one the same night as well. I’m pretty sure it was midnight by the time I got around to taste-testing these, which means that technically it was Easter Sunday and I was in the green zone.

Regardless of whether I was “allowed” to eat cake again or not, these little lemony cakes were delicious. Lemon curd is part of the recipe, and as I’m cheap and love any excuse to make fresh lemon curd, I made it myself earlier in the day, using another recipe found on Pinterest. The lemon curd turned out pretty delicious and was worth the extra time it takes to make it. I listened to their advice to use a hand blender to puree the curd rather than straining it. This resulted in a sort of fluffy curd, which was very tasty and easier than straining. What I didn’t love so much was that the mixing lightened the color, so that lovely yellow curd color ended up a very pale yellow. But the taste and texture tasted divine.

The cheesecakes themselves were delicious as well and worth making if you like lemon. I’m not sure that ricotta cheese was necessary, either in the recipe or the title, as I couldn’t really taste a difference between regular cheesecake made from cream cheese, and this one with cream cheese and ricotta. In any case, they turned out yummy. The cheesecake had a nice, light lemon vanilla flavor, the crust was sweet, and the curd on top added a great tangy pop of lemon too. (As a side note, you can’t easily find graham crackers here, so I use the German “Butterkeks” instead, and that works fine for crusts).

I’m embarrased to admit how many of these little sweets I have eaten since making them last night, but I’m certain it was more than cheesecake than anyone should eat in a 24-hour period. But hey, I went about 40 days without cake, so I think a big cheesecake splurge was in order. ;)

This week’s cake creation: Rustic Chocolate Cake

Rustic Chocolate Cake

(This photo is not mine – it’s from the blog where this recipe is originally found, Eat Drink Binge

One of my secret talents is being able to look at a cake recipe and know before baking whether it’s going to be a good one. Only rarely am I wrong, and I can generally tell by the ingredients and how they are listed. Call it sixth sense, call it random, but I like that I can tell if a cake will be good – because really, who has time to bake a bad cake? I certainly don’t.

This cake was no exception. It turned out perfectly – the layers didn’t fall apart. The Whipped Chocolate Ganache frosting actually did, to my surprise – turn out to be a thick, mousse-like frosting that held the layers together perfectly. And the remaining darker ganache draped across the top of the cake lusciously.

It looked like a masterpiece and tasted the same. It was a perfect chocolatey that was sweet but not so sweet that it will kill you. And pretty, but in a slightly messy, naked-cake kind of way. My kind of pretty, that is. I veered away from the recipe only a bit, by making fat chocolate curls to put on top of the cake instead of shards the recipe calls for. I also refrigerated the Whipped Ganache Frosting a bit longer than the thirty minutes recommend in the recipe. It just wasn’t ready sooner. Remember that recipes can be tweaked – good bakers know when to flex a bit to make sure the result is just right.

So if you’re looking for a yummy chocolate cake that’s a crowd-pleaser and fairly fool-proof, this is a good one. It will cure and chocolate craving and give you the satisfaction creating something beautiful with just a couple hours of work. And while I generally like to focus solely on baking when I bake, this one got baked while I was Face-timing with family back in the US, managing my three kids, and chatting with friends online.

You can find the recipe here, so go for it!