My obsession with baking took a weird turn during shelter-in-place. Finding the intersection of history and baked goods took over my life (I even started a blog), and I totally fell in love with Michelle Polzine’s passion for Middle and Eastern European Old World recipes. Her cookbook is funny, insightful, and full of surprises. Making the now-famous Honey Cake is definitely an exacting trial, but there are recipes for bakers of every level. I’ll be referencing this one a lot for the wow factor alone!
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 more
“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 Autumn
Admit 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.
About the Author
Michelle Polzine is the chef/owner of 20th Century Café, and one of San Francisco’s best pastry chefs. She began cooking in North Carolina in 1992 and got her big break in 1995 at Chapel Hill’s Pyewacket restaurant. Polzine made the restaurant’s famous dinner rolls, and a pastry career was born. She has since worked at some of San Francisco’s best restaurants, from Delfina and Chez Panisse to the Range. She has been covered in Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and the New York Times, among other publications, and has been nominated as Outstanding Pastry Chef by the James Beard Foundation. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and cats. Follow her on Instagram @20thcenturycafesf.
“A party waiting to happen. . . . [B]aked goods from across the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, rendered in Northern California flavors. . . . Recipes in Baking at the 20th Century Cafe range from Ashkenazi Jewish cookies to Californian puddings, preserves, savory and sweet tarts and enough varieties of whipped cream to wear out a whisk. The instructions are descriptive and exact, heavy on butter and cornball jokes.” —Wall Street Journal
“Richly gratifying desserts . . . make the book worth owning. So does the indomitable life force of its author, whose mischievous spirit shines as brightly in her sentences as it does at her restaurant.” —Los Angeles Times
“Polzine’s knowledgeable explanations, humorous anecdotes and Hungarian and Austrian tales make this a book that’s also exceptionally fun to read, even if all the baking you’ll ever do is warming up a frozen English muffin. —San Francisco Chronicle
“Dazzling. . . . [Polzine] brings a fresh approach and singular panache to some fairly staid classics of Central European baking. While most of these recipes aren’t for beginners, 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, and, with practice, sweet and savory strudels rolled with gossamer dough.” —New York Times
“Satisfying and splendid. . . . For the baker who wants a challenge with great results, this is your book.” —NPR’s “Here and Now”
“I love [this] book.” —David Lebovitz via Instagram
“Michelle Polzine is one of the most gifted pastry chefs in America. . . . This book, as you flick through it, just keeps on giving. An absolute joy for bakers and pudding lovers.” —The Telegraph (U.K.)
“For passionate bakers, this book offers a path to one of the world’s greatest dessert regions without leaving your home kitchen.” —Heated
“It’s an advanced baking book, from a professional pastry chef, assiduously detailing methods for assembling ten-layer tortes and stretching strudel. But for cake diehards, it’s a rare treat, digging into the details of sachertorte, dobos torta, and of course, honey cake. . . . [F]or the more ambitious home baker, they’re a serious treat.” —Eater SF
“To taste Michelle Polzine’s desserts is to travel deliciously, stylishly, back in time. I count my lucky stars that through learning and cooking from this book, we can all access the wonder of her uncompromising vision.” —Samin Nosrat, New York Times bestselling author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
“Michelle Polzine is a master of dessert flavor and technique. Her recipes are the real deal. As a historian, she respectfully pays homage to a period of sweet cuisine mostly overshadowed by other parts of the world. Her deep creativity adds her own twists and adaptations.” —Emily Luchetti, pastry chef
“One might say that Michelle’s gorgeous book is worth having simply for the honey cake recipe, or just to see her outfits and aprons, or for the quietly spectacular photos. But passionate pastry people will want it for the flavors, details, and ideas—beloved pastries from the Austro-Hungarian Empire are honored and perfected, to be sure, but they are also made new and fresh by a gifted chef with an inspired palate. Recipes are carefully crafted with enough detail (and humor) to make it happen in your kitchen.” —Alice Medrich, pastry chef and author of Flavor Flours
“Every recipe in Baking at the 20th Century Cafe is a treasure to be uncovered. Michelle’s lifelong practice and discovery of pastry technique is demystified here for everyone. She gifts us with in-depth process photography, taking the guesswork out of how she creates her beautiful desserts.” —Nicole Krasinski, pastry chef and co-owner, State Bird Provisions and The Progress
“The luscious desserts in this book are very much like their fashionable creator—beautifully styled, with attention to detail and an innate sense of the final impression on the beholder. Michelle is inspired by Middle European sweets and gives each one her unique touch. In this, her first book, you get sure-to-impress recipes from not just San Francisco’s beloved 20th Century Cafe but also some of the best bakeries in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, as seen through Michelle’s informed lens.” —Rick Rodgers, author of Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague