What’s the USP? Oh, brace yourself for this, because it’s been a while. We’re always talking about cookbooks’ USPs around here, but really, how often does a book strike you as truly stand out? Truly unique? So you’ve written a book about vegan Chinese food? How quaint. What’s that? Your book looks at meals that can all be cooked in a single pan? WELL I NEVER.
Not today, my friend. Advent is a cookbook that offers twenty-four chapters (see what they did there?) that are all dedicated specifically to the world of German Christmas baking. Now that – that is a USP.
Who wrote it? Anja Dunk, who is perhaps best known for her 2018 book Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings, which dove head first into contemporary German cooking (and had one of the more satisfying titles to say aloud that year).
Germany goes hard on Christmas, from the famous markets that coax pensioners out by the coach-load in non-pandemic times to their over-the-top advent calendars that make even my Lego one seem a little uninspired (though today I got to build a very festive vaccination centre, so it’s not exactly like Lego are pulling their creative weight here either). Baking is a facet of German Christmases that we are perhaps under familiar with here in the UK. Sure, we all know our lebkuchen and stollen, but how many of us can really claim to know what differentiates a spritzgebäck from a gewürzplätzchen? Here comes Dunk, with a seasonal barrage of goodwill (and a wealth of biscuit options).
Is it good bedtime reading? Dunk opens her book with a festive introduction filled with personal anecdotes and cultural insights, painting a vivid picture of a Christmas that runs in close parallel to our own British traditions. Recipe introductions vary, and though many tend towards the short and sweet, others take a moment to expand on unfamiliar ideas or offer a peek into German homes. It’s all very cosy, and whilst it may not keep you occupied for long, Advent begs to be read whilst tucked in under a duvet, plotting the treats that will see you through to the new year.
How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Books about baking need a lot of specificity, and Dunk doubles down on this, offering measurements for both European and US readers. She also makes sure to give tactile advice that will reassure infrequent bakers that they aren’t totally off-track (“the dough is pretty tacky and so won’t look all that neat,” she kindly informs us of her Chocolate and Ginger Biscotti, confirming that it will all even out in the oven).
Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? No big asks here – in fact, the nature of cosy festive baking means that should you struggle to source ingredients from the shops, you can likely find some knocking about at the back of your Nan’s kitchen cupboard.
How often will I cook from the book? It’s about Christmas baking, so in all honesty you’re unlikely to get much use out of Advent from January through mid-November. Nevertheless, there are a few recipes that will be welcome year-round, from ‘German pizza’ Flammkuchen to the aforementioned biscotti coverage. Those with a particular fondness for home baked biscuits may consider this a vital purchase, though.
What will I love? The sheer coverage of the relatively niche corner of German cooking that Dunk has dedicated her book to. Beautifully presented and smartly organised, this is a title that does everything it claims to, and does so with elegance that few other cookbooks offer. There’s also a pair of exceptionally thoughtful contents pages at the back, listing all the vegan and gluten-free recipes respectively.
What won’t I love? Because the book clings so tightly to the Germanic Christmas tradition, with only a few recipes drawing on immediate neighbours, it can feel a little bit repetitive. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to have replaced one of the marzipan chapters with other European festive bakes.
Killer recipes: Jam-filled Lebkuchen Hearts, Cherry and Almond Florentines, Dried Pear Fruit Loaf, Spiced Chocolate and Prune Fudge Pake, Linzer Biscuits, ‘Fire Tongs’ Punch
Should I buy it? A lovely addition to the bookshelf for fans of baking and Christmas treats, this is an excellent book that you will only use for one month a year. But what a month it’ll be.
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book
Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas
£25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas