The other day, I spent too many hours at the office. It was dark when I left work, and by the time I got home, all thoughts of roasted eggplant tartines went out the window. I wanted something I could dig into with a spoon, that would be warm and soft and comforting. Strangely, I wanted something with sour cherries.
It was dark in the kitchen. I couldn’t find my individual gratins. I’d misplaced my whisk, too. Not one to let minor issues deter me from cooking, I tucked a strip of foil 2/3 of the way into my smallest baking dish. I flexed my muscles and whisked egg whites by hand. I squinted my way through the recipe. Lo and behold, what emerged from the oven 45 minutes later was as fluffy and light as I’d hoped it would be, never mind all of my adjustments. It’s called Quarkauflauf, and it lives up to its name.
Quarkauflauf is from a new cookbook by Luisa Weiss. As I made my first Quarkauflauf, I pictured Luisa standing by my side, laughing at my makeshift gratin and my sore forearms, cheering me on. We’ve never met, Luisa and I, but I read her blog. I cook her food. In the kitchen, she’s a friend.
Luisa’s been blogging forever at The Wednesday Chef, which by god you must read. She shares recipes from newspaper dining sections, but the good ones, the ones you read about and immediately dog-ear. She also writes wonderfully. And now that she’s got her very own book, there’s even more writing, even more of her captivating story, all in one place. When Luisa sent me her a copy of My Berlin Kitchen, I picked it up and promptly stopped everything else I was doing for 48 hours. This is one good story.
What’s the story? It’s a love story. (Of course.) Am I going to tell you any more? No. (Of course not.) But people, there are recipes. So many recipes. And if, like me, you were under the misguided impression that German recipes just weren’t your thing, dare I say this is the book for you? It is.
You will make Quarkauflauf, for starters. You don’t even know what it is yet, but the name alone…you want to make it. And then, after you’ve tucked a spoon into the tart, fluffy, fresh-from-the-oven auflauf (and again the next morning, when its cold and custardy), you will make cloud-like gooseberry cream cake (what, you want the true name? Hannchen Jansen.) You’ll make braised endives. And poppyseed whirligig buns. See why you need this book? Now?
Reading Luisa’s blog, I always knew we’d be friends in the kitchen. Now that I’ve read her book, I’m even more sure. We both like vinegary, pickled things; we both despise mayo. I beheld a friend’s roasted goose, three days in the making, with the same awe Luisa experienced when she roasted one herself. And no matter how spicy I take my food, I get inexplicably paranoid when cooking hot stuff for others. (See: Luisa’s meatballs in chipotle-tomato sauce.) Even if you don’t read The Wednesday Chef (but you should…), you will befriend Luisa through My Berlin Kitchen. And you’ll start to forgive yourself the little things, like the slumping, dribbling cake you woefully underbaked, or the cream you whipped by hand that lacks any semblance of a soft peak. This is cooking: trial, error, lesson. This is life, too. If risks and mistakes always taste as good as my sour cherry Quarkauflauf, count me in.
Sour Cherry Quarkauflauf
Adapted ever so slightly from My Berlin Kitchen
I originally wanted to make this in individual gratins, but I couldn’t find them. That said, I think this would be lovely in individual portions. Also, now that it’s fall and sour cherries are a distant memory, I bet you could swap cranberries that have been tossed with a healthy portion of sugar. They’d go great with the cinnamon, too. That said, I haven’t tested it that way, so if you do, let us know in the comments.
Also, a note about quark: it’s fantastic, but not easy to find. One farmer at the Dupont market sells it, and I think Vermont Butter Co. does too. If you can’t find it, super-fresh chevre would work well.
Last note: 8×11 baking dishes are hard to find in the US. The closest analogue would be a 10-inch round dish, whose area is slightly less. This means the Auflauf will be slightly taller, but since when is a towering souffle-custard a bad thing? That’s what I’ve recommended here.
Butter for the baking dish
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar, plus a few tablespoons for the cranberries, if using
1 pound Quark
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup farina (semolina will work in a pinch, but it has more gluten than farina and will thus be less creamy; don’t use instant Cream of Wheat)
2 cups pitted sour cherries (fresh or preserved/drained) or cranberries,
Heat the oven to 375 degrees and butter an 8×11 baking dish or a 10-inch round pan. The pan should be at least 2 1/2 inches deep.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and frothy. Beat in the quark, zest, baking powder, cinnamon, and farina until smooth and creamy. Fold in the sour cherries.
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt in a clean bowl until the whites form medium-stiff peaks. Use a spatula to fold half the whites into the quark mixture to lighten it; then fold in the remaining whites just until no white streaks remain; do not overmix.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, until the Auflauf has just set (Luisa says it should be starting to brown, but mine was still quite pale.) Don’t fret the cracks, for there will be some. Just remove it from the oven, and serve to hungry people.
As Luisa says, the Auflauf will be a whole different kind of delicious right out of the fridge tomorrow morning. Do save a bite for that.