Baking at the 20th Century Cafe

Iconic European Desserts from Linzer Torte to Honey Cake

Formats and Prices





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Named a Best Cookbook of the Year/Best Cookbook to Gift by Saveur, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Charleston Post & Courier, Thrillist, and moreLong-Listed for The Art of Eating Prize for Best Food Book of 2021″Dazzling. . . . [Polzine] brings a fresh approach and singular panache. . . . Her clear voice and precise, idiosyncratic instructions will allow home bakers to make exquisite fruit tarts with strawberries and plums, elegant cookies and layer cakes.” –Emily Weinstein, New York Times, The 14 Best Cookbooks of Fall 2020″This book . . . just keeps on giving. An absolute joy for bakers.” –Diana Henry, The Telegraph (U.K.), The 20 Best Cookbooks to Buy This AutumnAdmit it. You’re here for the famous honey cake. A glorious confection of ten airy layers, flavored with burnt honey and topped with a light dulce de leche cream frost­ing. It’s an impressive cake, but there’s so much more. Wait until you try the Dobos Torta or Plum Kuchen or Vanilla Cheesecake. Throughout her baking career, Michelle Polzine of San Francisco’s celebrated 20th Cen­tury Cafe has been obsessed with the tortes, strudels, Kipferl, rugelach, pierogi, blini, and other famous delicacies you might find in a grand cafe of Vienna or Prague. Now she shares her passion in a book that doubles as a master class, with over 75 no-fail recipes, dozens of innovative techniques that bakers of every skill level will find indispensable (no more cold but­ter for a perfect tart shell), and a revelation of in­gredients, from lemon verbena to peach leaves. Many recipes are lightened for contem­porary tastes, and are presented through a California lens–think Nectarine Strudel or Date-Pistachio Torte. A surprising num­ber are gluten-free. And all are written with the author’s enthusiastic and singular voice, describing a cake as so good it “will knock your socks off, and wash and fold them too.” Who wouldn’t want a slice of that? With Schlag, of course.



Rhubarb Tart with Sour Cherry Lekvar

Crunch Dough

Sour Cherry Lekvar

Strawberry Tart

Almond Cream

Apricot-Cherry Cobbler

Streuselkuchen (Viennese Coffee Cake with Raspberries)

Ginger-Plum Upside-Down Cake

Plum Kuchen

Huckleberry-Pecan Upside-Down Cake

Hot Date Turnovers

Cranberry-Ginger Upside-Down Cakes

Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake

Tangerine and Coffee Granita


Plum Lekvar

Apricot Jam

Damson Plum Preserves

Raspberry Jam

Sour Orange Marmalade

Faux Red Currant Jam (aka Cranberry-Pomegranate Jam)

Candied Meyer Lemons

Kumquat Marmalade

Candied Kumquats

Fruit is the best ingredient in all dessert land. You may protest, “But I’m a chocolate person!” Well, chocolate person, chocolate is a fruit too! And while we’re at it, so is coffee.

My first true awakening as a pastry chef happened because of a fruit dessert. A proper fruit dessert showcases the skill not only of the cook but of the grower too, and it is most likely to evoke memories of home in all of us. The pride of the foods grown in our homelands, ancestral or adopted, is something we all share. Folks from the southern United States brag about their peaches, those from England about their apples, and people from Hungary about their cherries, and I’ve been privy to some heated arguments refuting such supremacy! I recently had a few pedigree-free apricots come to me from the backyard of a friend: Were they the best apricots I’ve ever tasted? Yes! Can this opinion be trusted as objective? No!

It’s true that if you want to make the best fruit desserts, you have to start with the best fruit. I know you’ve heard this a million times, but you must stay true to the course. We’ve all been guilty of seeing a fruit recipe we want to make, then shopping for it and just going with the best we can find, buying the fruit out of season, maybe, or knowing it might not be quite ripe enough.

I urge you to start thinking about it the other way around. If you want to make a fruit dessert tonight, go shopping first, and then choose what to make based on what you find. If you see some gorgeous apricots or nectarines that need another day or two on the counter, buy them anyway, and plan what you’ll make when they’re ready. Believe me, you’re much better off holding ripe fruit in your refrigerator for a couple of days than you are expecting your oven to magically transform underripe specimens into loving spoonfuls of ambrosia!

One more piece of tactical advice: If you’re looking for top-shelf produce, it helps to shop at the farmers’ market. There you are liable to find more interesting varieties of truly ripe fruit. And if you become a loyal customer, the farmers may tip you off to something special, like their last flat of sour cherries, perfect pints of jewel-like red currants, or maybe some fruit that’s too ugly to display but tastes like heaven. While we’re trained to judge by appearance, keep in mind that sometimes the most flavorful fruit is not the best looking.

You will find recipes in this chapter for all kinds of fruit desserts, along with little tips for winging it if you have a different fruit from what a recipe calls for. Honestly, any of the tarts, upside-down cakes, and cobblers can be tweaked to accommodate different fruits. It’s a little like jazz; first we learn the standards, and then, if we keep at it, one day we’ll be flying like Bird.

Skills and Equipment

In this chapter, you will make long crusts (puff pastry–like turnover dough) and short crusts (shortbread-like dough), doughs marbled with butter (the Crunch Dough), and delicious old-fashioned cakes using the same creaming method your grandmother used to get that batter as fluffy as a cloud. For these doughs, you won’t need much more than a rolling pin and a scale. For the cakes, a stand mixer is a big help. If you have just a handheld one with the double rotary blades, use that for creaming the butter and incorporating the eggs, but then fold in the flour and liquids by hand. One pan called for here that you may not have is a 9-by-3-inch (23-by-8-centimeter) round cake pan; some of the single-layer cakes can get pretty exuberant, and using this deeper pan is an extra precaution against possible spillover in the oven. I have a particular love for quarter sheet pans; their smaller size means they will fit in even the tiniest oven, and it’s easy to spread batters evenly in them. And because they are so small, they tend to bake cakes and tarts more evenly than a half sheet pan would.

If you want to make jam, think about buying a copper pot. Copper is a great conductor of heat and helps the pectin gel, and it’s so pretty that it will make these projects much more fun.

A nice sharp paring knife is essential for cutting ripe fruit into perfect wedges, and I have both a sweet and a savory cutting board at home. If you have only one, keep one side strictly for fruit, mark it with a Sharpie, and be prepared to police the other members of your household; I’ve found that threatening to withhold the sweets you are making is pretty effective.

Rhubarb Tart with Sour Cherry Lekvar

Makes one 12-inch (30.5-centimeter) tart; serves 8

1 recipe Crunch Dough (recipe follows)

For the Filling

2 tablespoons fine dry cookie, cake, or bread crumbs (see Crumbs)

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (17.5 grams) all-purpose flour

1 cup (260 grams) Sour Cherry Lekvar (recipe follows)

¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons (87 grams) sugar, plus more for sprinkling

Pinch of kosher salt

1 pound (454 grams) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 2- to 3-inch (5- to 8-centimeter) pieces

1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter, melted

Spring is my favorite season for vegetables, but for a pastry chef, the season can be pretty disheartening. In restaurants where I have worked, I’d look on jealously as the savory cooks would taunt me with their fresh spring peas, artichokes, and fava beans while I’d be trying to coax the magic out of faded citrus and dried fruit. Rhubarb to the rescue! Some chefs think they’re too good to use hothouse rhubarb and will wait for the field-grown, but not me. Gimme that hot-pink rhubarb.

If you have a pizza stone, by all means use it here, and in that case, make sure you preheat your oven for a good hour to ensure that your tart will develop a crisp, golden bottom that can stand up to all the juicy fruit. If you haven’t got one, though, don’t despair! You can bake your tart either directly on the floor of the oven or on the bottom rack. You can also try baking it on the oven floor for the first 15 minutes, until the bottom of the crust is well browned, and then moving it to the lowest shelf for the last 25 minutes. It will take making this tart or the Strawberry Tart once or twice to find the sweet spot in your oven, so please make any notations directly on these pages. This will make baking future tarts easier and stress-free.

Adding some kind of moisture barrier (such as dry cookie, cake, or plain bread crumbs) between the fruit and the dough also helps prevent a soggy crust. I’ve tried to sidestep this and had some pretty mediocre results, so don’t skip this part; the barrier is critical (see Crumbs).

Making this dough employs a crazy technique adapted from one I learned at Chez Panisse. By crazy, I mean you have to suspend disbelief to make the dough, but the method I use yields a dough that is marbled, instead of spotted with butter, so the fat doesn’t melt out during baking, leaving holes that would release juices and cause the crust to become soggy. The finished crust is crispy, flaky, and delicate but somehow sturdy enough to support all that rhubarb.

1. On a lightly floured work surface, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to a 12-inch (30.5-centimeter) circle, then extend the outer ¾ inch (2 centimeters) of the circle, rolling it a little thinner, until the dough is 13 inches (33 centimeters) in diameter. Transfer to a parchment-lined round pizza pan or baking sheet big enough to hold the tart and refrigerate until very firm, about 45 minutes.

2. Arrange an oven rack in the bottom third of the oven, place a pizza stone on it, if using, and preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

3. Make the filling: In a small bowl, combine the crumbs and 1 teaspoon of the flour. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, slide the dough, still on the parchment, back to the counter, and, with an offset spatula, spread the cherry lekvar all over the dough, leaving a ½-inch (1.5-centimeter) border. Sprinkle the crumb-flour mixture over evenly and pat gently so the crumbs stick to the lekvar. Slide the dough, still on the parchment, back onto the pan, and return the dough to the refrigerator.

4. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 2 tablespoons (15 grams) flour, ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (75 grams) of the sugar, and the salt; set aside. Cut each piece of rhubarb lengthwise into thin batons, ⅛ to ¼ inch (0.3 to 0.5 centimeter) thick (like sticks of gum!) and transfer to a large bowl. Remove the dough from the fridge.

5. Dump the sugar mixture into the bowl with the rhubarb and toss very quickly to coat. Working as quickly as possible, layer the rhubarb evenly all over the tart, making pretty crisscrosses, up to the edges of your crumb barrier; I find it helps to make a rhubarb corral at the edges of the circle to contain my placement, and that’s where I put the least pink pieces, since they will be covered by dough. Fold the edges of the tart over, twisting the dough loosely under itself (the cherry lekvar will create a filling for this part, much like as in a stuffed-crust pizza!) and forming a rope-shaped edge. Brush the finished edge with the melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.

6. Transfer the tart to the bottom rack (on top of the pizza stone, if using) or the floor of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut a parchment circle 11 inches (28 centimeters) in diameter and, with scissors or the tip of a sharp knife, cut some slits into the circle (kind of like making a paper snowflake). Set aside.

7. After the tart has baked for 15 minutes, set the parchment round directly on top of it, covering the fruit but not the crust; this will keep the fruit from drying out in the hot oven. Bake until the rhubarb is all bubbly and the crust is a dark golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Check on the tart occasionally to make sure the bottom isn’t getting too dark (although this is unlikely). If it is, move the tart off the pizza stone, if using, or off the floor of the oven and onto a higher rack. Remove the tart from the oven and let cool for a moment, then grab the edges of the parchment and, in one swift motion, slide the tart off the pan onto a wire rack to cool. This is scary, but don’t be scared: You can do it! Or, if your pan has edges, cool the tart on the pan and then use the flat bottom of a removable-bottomed tart pan, sliding it under the tart, to transfer it to a serving plate or cutting board. (You can also just cut it on the pan, but don’t use your best knife.)

8. Cut the tart into wedges and serve plain, with Whipped Cream, or with Cardamom Ice Cream and Rose Geranium Syrup. This tart is best eaten the day it’s made.


A number of recipes in this book call for crumbs, which act as a moisture barrier, preventing juicy fillings from making your pastry soggy. What you use for these crumbs depends on what you have around—you really can use almost anything, including cookies, cake scraps, stale bread, even leftover unfilled cream puffs. Simply dry out your whatever-you-have-on-hand in a low oven, then blitz in a food processor or crush with a rolling pin. Store-bought graham crackers, amaretti, or shortbread cookies can also be used. If crumbs are called for in a savory recipe (such as Potato Knishes, or Moldovan Cheese and Nettle Pie, use dry bread or cracker crumbs.

Although weights are given for the crumbs in these recipes, note that exact weights are not possible. Size, composition, and humidity are all factors here! So I will ask you to use your own judgment. And if your fruit is very juicy, or your filling seems wet, use an extra scattering of crumbs. Leftover crumbs can be stored in the freezer.

Crunch Dough

Makes enough for one 12-inch (30.5-centimeter) tart

8 tablespoons (113 grams) cold unsalted butter

1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ cup (59 milliliters) ice-cold water

By the time I started working at Chez Panisse, I had baked a goodly number of pies and tarts, but I had never seen a dough like this. Demonstrated to the Chez cooks many generations before my time by chef Jacques Pépin, it was the dough we used every single day in our tarts for the cafe. As a budding baker, I’d had it drilled into me since day one that a flaky dough can only be achieved by using cold fat. Au contraire, ma soeur! For this dough, you use soft butter; not as soft as when making cookies, but soft enough so that when you squeeze the cubes of butter gently, they feel elastic and don’t crack when you pinch their sides. If making this dough on a hot day, you might have to take your butter in and out of the fridge a few times to get that perfect moment when the butter is slightly yielding but not overly complacent. You’ll know your butter has missed the mark if it starts to look a little oily. Pop the cubes back into the fridge for a minute or two, and you’ll be back in business. This dough is light, flaky, crispy, and, well, crunchy!

1. Cut the butter into 16 equal cubes, set aside on parchment or waxed paper, and let come to cool room temperature. In a medium deep bowl (such as the bowl of a stand mixer), combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

2. When a cube of butter feels somewhat plasticky but doesn’t crack when you squeeze it, throw all the pieces into the bowl with the dry ingredients and toss them in the flour to coat. Using your hands, toss the butter and flour around to knock the corners off the butter cubes (this step coats the flour with a little bit of butter, just enough to keep the dough tender). Next, push all the chunks to one side of the bowl and, working methodically but quickly, flatten each piece between your fingertips into a “tongue” and toss it to the other side of the bowl. Toss again to distribute the butter throughout the flour.

3. Splay the fingers of your dominant hand out, fingers pointed down over the bowl, and pour the ice water down the back of your hand, creating a little fountain. (Yes, it’s really cold.) Then bend your fingers until your hand resembles a claw and rake the dough, moving back and forth very quickly to distribute the water throughout the dough and work the butter in.

4. Once the dough is shaggy but with no dry spots, continue raking to pull it together into a ball (if the dough still seems dry, sprinkle over additional ice water, up to 1 tablespoon, until it’s a shaggy mass), then transfer to a sheet of plastic wrap. Pull two opposite sides of the plastic wrap over the dough and use the plastic to push the sides of the dough in toward the center, then rotate the dough 180 degrees and repeat six more times, to get that wonderful marbled texture. Pull the plastic wrap tightly around the dough and flatten it into a disk ¾ to 1 inch (2 to 2.5 centimeters) thick. Chill for at least an hour before rolling, or wrap well and freeze for up to 2 months; thaw overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature until defrosted but still cool before using.

Sour Cherry Lekvar

Makes 1 cup (260 grams)

Scant 1 cup (140 grams) dried sour cherries

½ cup (118 milliliters) water, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons (24 grams) sugar

The best cherries I’ve found for this lekvar, which is a thick jam-like filling, are dried Montmorency sour cherries from Michigan. If you want to make a big batch, puree it in a food processor rather than chopping it by hand, and store it in an airtight container in the fridge, with parchment or waxed paper pressed directly against the surface of the lekvar. It will keep this way for at least a month.

1. Combine the cherries, water, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Then turn off the heat, cover, and let stand for about an hour, until the cherries are soft.

2. Return the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat and simmer until most of the liquid has reduced. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a cutting board and finely chop, or puree in a food processor. Transfer to a jar or other container and let cool completely before using.

Strawberry Tart

Makes one 12-inch (30.5-centimeter) tart; serves 8

1 recipe Crunch Dough

For the Filling

¼ cup (28 grams) dry cookie or cake crumbs (see Crumbs)

2 tablespoons (15 grams) all-purpose flour

¾ cup (170 grams) Almond Cream (recipe follows), at room temperature

1½ pounds (680 grams) small strawberries, halved (see Note)

1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

¼ cup (50 grams) sugar

Cooked strawberries can be mushy, but in this tart, the long exposure to the oven heat pulls out the moisture and concentrates the juices, making the berries instead slightly chewy and intense. There is a good deal of knife work and arranging involved for this tart, so give yourself plenty of time to make it (the almond cream can be made well in advance and refrigerated or frozen until you’re ready to bake the tart). If you’ve got the space, put your tart shell in the freezer while you prep the berries so the dough doesn’t get droopy while you fuss over your berry slices.

For this tart, use very small strawberries, halved. If yours are larger, quarter or slice them. You may need to carefully deflate the tart shell as it bakes; if you see a puff beginning, first attempt to deflate it by carefully lifting up the crust, near the offending bubble, with your offset spatula, and then, if that doesn’t have any effect, even more carefully poke a hole with your paring knife, just deep enough into the dough to release the air, being sure not to go all the way through to the bottom of the crust. You may need to hover over your tart for a few minutes, lifting or stabbing, but once the crust sets, you can ignore it and leave it to bake in peace.

1. On a lightly floured work surface, with a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the tart dough to a 12-inch (30.5-centimeter) circle, then roll the outer ¾ inch (2 centimeters) of the circle a little thinner, until the dough is 13 inches (33 centimeters) in diameter. Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet or round pizza pan big enough to hold the tart and refrigerate until very firm, about 45 minutes.

2. Arrange an oven rack in the bottom third of the oven, place a pizza stone on it, if using, and preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

3. Make the filling: In a small bowl, combine the crumbs and flour. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and, with an offset spatula, spread the almond cream all over the dough, leaving a ½-inch (1.5-centimeter) border. Sprinkle the crumb-flour mixture over evenly and pat gently so it sticks to the almond cream. Fold the border of the tart over, twisting it loosely under itself to form a rope-shaped edge. Return the dough to the refrigerator while you prepare the berries.

4. To keep the natural heart shape of the strawberries, hull them by first removing the stem from each one and then, with the tiniest paring knife (I have a stack of these; they cost $1.99 and are among the most valuable tools in my arsenal), cutting straight down into the berry and around the stem, removing the core but leaving the berry’s nice shoulders. Halve the hulled berries, or quarter them if yours are large.

5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and, working as quickly as possible, arrange the halved strawberries on it in concentric circles, beginning at the outer edge of the dough and orienting the strawberry halves, cut sides up, with the berry tips pointing out. Brush the edges of the crust with the melted butter and drizzle any remaining butter over the strawberries. Sprinkle the berries and crust with the sugar.

6. Transfer the pan to the bottom oven rack (or to the floor of the oven), reduce the temperature to 400°F (205°C), and bake for about 10 minutes. Then take a peek: If large bubbles are forming in the crust, this is the time to deflate them (see headnote). Continue baking, checking every 10 minutes or so to ensure that the crust isn’t getting too dark (if it is, move it off the pizza stone, if using, and onto a higher rack), until the strawberries are jammy and the crust is a dark golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven and let cool for a moment, then grab the edges of the parchment and, in one swift motion, slide the whole thing off the pan onto a wire rack to cool. This is scary, but you can do it! Let cool completely.

7. Cut the tart into wedges and serve with Whipped Cream, Rose Geranium Cream, Meyer Lemon Cream, Coconut Cream, Cardamom Ice Cream, or Poppy Seed Ice Cream. This tart is best eaten the same day it’s made.

Note: If you can’t find small strawberries, larger ones will also work for this; don’t pass up perfect berries just because they aren’t the size specified in the recipe.

Almond Cream

Makes 2¾ cups (550 grams)

1⅓ cups (125 grams) almond meal

½ cup (99 grams) sugar

Pinch of salt

4 ounces (115 grams) almond paste

10 tablespoons (143 grams) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature

2 large eggs

Not really a cream at all, this is similar to almond frangipane. It’s used as a base for tarts like the Strawberry Tart on the preceding pages and the Rhubarb Tart, and as a moisture barrier for the Rhubarb Strudel; it’s also mixed with meringue as a component of the Plum Kuchen. To avoid chunks of almond paste in your finished almond cream, be sure you’ve beaten the paste until smooth before adding the second half of the butter. If you still end up with chunks of almond paste you don’t wish to contend with, pass the cream through a tamis or fine-mesh sieve before using it.

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, using a handheld mixer), beat the almond meal, sugar, salt, and almond paste on medium speed until the mixture has the texture of fine sand. Increase the speed slightly and add the butter in 2 additions, beating until smooth after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing until combined.

2. Use right away, or transfer to a lidded container and refrigerate until ready to use. The almond cream will keep for a week in the refrigerator or can be frozen for up to 2 months. Let come to room temperature before using.

Apricot-Cherry Cobbler

Serves 6

For the Biscuits

1½ cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

¾ cup (90 grams) cake or pastry flour

3 tablespoons (36 grams) granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons (85 grams) cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus more for greasing the baking dish

1 cup (237 milliliters) heavy cream

1½ tablespoons (21 grams) unsalted butter, melted

1½ tablespoons Demerara sugar, for sprinkling

For the Fruit

2½ pounds (1.36 kilograms) apricots, halved, pitted, and cut into ½-inch (1.5-centimeter) wedges

2 cups (340 grams) cherries, stemmed, pitted, and halved

½ to ¾ cup (99 to 150 grams) granulated sugar (please taste!)

3 to 4 teaspoons tapioca flour

Cold (unwhipped) compound cream (see pages 330–337) for serving (optional)

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Oct 20, 2020
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352 pages