Is there anything more inviting than the aroma of freshly-baked bread right out of the oven in the morning? I adore bread and had the good fortune of grandmothers and mothers who baked it daily at home. It’s the best way to start the morning, especially paired with a hot cup of strong coffee. However, the recipes weren’t always written down, which meant that once I came of age in the United States, I could not follow in those breadmaking matrilineal footsteps.
For years, I’ve wanted to resurrect the traditional bread recipes of my Dad’s family. A big part of this blog consists of recipes that connect me to my heritage in some way. Some recipes are flavors of the country I grew up in, and some recipes are adapted American classics to the local flavors of Minnesota and the Midwest, but I have to confess many of my all-time favorite things to make in the kitchen are those old-world recipes that have stood the test of time and that have been in the family for generations, long before any of us stepped into the Americas. While I got a lot of recipes from my Mom’s side of the family, the recipes on my Dad’s side of the family were largely unrecorded, and alas, all of those mouth-watering, delicious recipes for German bread have been lost to me. On my Dad’s side, both of his parents had German heritage. They came from the Hamburg and Black Forest regions and brought their traditions with them to the Americas more than 125 years ago. Many of the recipes were passed on from one generation to the next verbally, as women taught each other in the kitchen preparing daily meals or dishes for special events. I didn’t get those recipes because my Dad was not a baker, so they skipped a generation.
What to do when this week I wanted a traditional recipe for German bread? Many times, I can re-create something and come very close to the original, but this time I opted for a gem out of Luisa Weiss’s cookbook Classic German Baking. She has a delicious recipe for quarkbrötchen, a beautiful bread dough made in an unusual way, starting with a roux of milk and flour, and then incorporating it to the rest of the ingredients, among which is quark cheese. The only things I changed were the baking temperature and time: she calls for baking for 20-25 minutes at 400°F. Quark cheese is similar to cream cheese: it’s rich, it’s buttery, and it’s tangy. The resulting bread is slightly sweet, moist, and pillowy soft. It’s truly like eating a cloud made of flour! Dan and I ate the rolls as soon as they were fresh out of the oven. They were amazingly good! They gave us a wonderful start to our morning. They go well with coffee, split with jam, and hold up for a few days if stored in an airtight container. Do not worry too much if you can’t find quark cheese in your local grocery store. You can substitute cream cheese instead and still achieve a pretty similar result. For my readers in Minnesota, I did find that Lunds & Byerlys had small containers of quark cheese next to the apples, which is where I bought mine. I hope you will try this recipe. I joyfully bit into every roll feeling the satisfaction not just of a delicious bread but of reclaiming a small part of my heritage as well. Thank you, Luisa Weiss!
Prep time: 20 mins
Rising time: 2 hours (divided)
Cook Time: 20 mins
- ½ cup plus 2 tbsp whole milk
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
- ¾ cup plus 1 tbsp quark or cream cheese
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- 3 ½ tbsp butter (high-fat, European-style) at room temperature
- 1 tbsp milk or cream
- Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Make the roux. In a small pot, combine the milk and ¼ cup flour. Whish together over medium heat until no clumps remain. Cook until the roux thickens to about the consistency of pudding, about 3 minutes. Let cool.
- Place the cooled roux, the remaining 2 cups flour, quark, yeast, salt, sugar, and butter in a bowl and stir until shaggy. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky. Avoid adding flour if possible. You want the dough to remain as soft as possible. Form the dough into a ball and place it back in the bowl. Cover with a clean dishcloth and set in a warm, draft-free spot to rise, at least 1 hour.
- Once the dough has risen, gently tug out the dough onto the work surface. Divide into 8 equal parts. Form each piece of dough into a ball and place on the parchment-covered baking sheet, evenly spaced. Cover the balls on the baking sheet with a clean dishcloth and let rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Gently brush the rolls all over with the milk or cream. Use sharp scissors or shears to cut each roll into a clover shape by snipping into the rolls 3 times from the sides. The cuts should almost meet in the middle.
- Place the rolls in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the tops turn golden brown They will still be soft to the touch.
- Remove from the oven and let cool until they are cool enough to handle. Serve warm or at room temperature. The rolls are best the same day they are made, but will keep for up to 2 days in an airtight container.