Saturday, August 01, 2020

Weekend Cooking: Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees

Welcome to today's stop on the blog tour for Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees and to this week's Weekend Cooking post.

It's 1946 and the war is over. It's time for everyone to go home and start to heal. And yet, as much as it was the end of the war, it was also the beginning of the Cold War. Germany has been divided into sectors amongst the Allies and the tensions that shaped the world for decades were building. The rebuilding of cities and countries across Europe has to start, rehousing of displaced persons needs to begin, and the search is on for the Nazi's who disappeared into the general population at the end of the war, with the assistance of some of the population who still were believers.

For teacher Edith Graham this is also the chance for a new beginning. She has spent the war at home looking after her mother. Now, she's been recruited by the British Control Commission to go Germany. Her job while she is there is to set up schooling in the ruins that is the city of Lubeck. The city is full of people living in the amongst the rubble, with barely enough food or clothes, scrounging the ruins for an existence with little time for schooling.

But Edith is not only there for the recovery effort. She has also been recruited to provide information to the British government. They are keen to located her former lover Kurt von Stavenow who was a doctor that they believe was involved in the medical "research" during the War. Edith and Kurt were close in the years before the war and she can't believe that the Kurt that she knew could possibly be the same man. After all, she had spent time with him and his aristocratic wife, Elisabeth, in Prussia before the war, and now Edith is tasked with finding either of them.

Von Stavenow is the kind of man that has caught the attention of lots of interested parties. The US and the Russians are both interested in what they can learn from him in the name of science. And even in the British government there are those are that are interested in the same thing. And then there are the parties that want to see people like him face justice for what they did during the war.

With all of these different agendas at play, it's hard for Edith to know who to trust. Everyone wants the information that Edith has collected, not least of all her friend Dori who is still in London. In order to pass information back Edith and Dori come up with a code that is centred around sharing recipes. And then there is Edith's American friend Adeline who pops up with alarming regularity. How is she involved?

In addition to Edith's female friends who all bring interesting voices, there are other characters like her driver Jack, the young refugee Luka who appoints himself as Edith's protector, and her occasional romantic interest Harry. Even within those closest to her, Edith has to question if they have their own agendas.

This book is very unusual. There are plenty of historical novels out there which talk about the female spy experience during war time, but I don't think I have ever read one in this kind of post war setting. The book also had a Cold War thriller feeling where it was hard for Edith to know who in her life she can trust, where there was danger and betrayal at every turn. And the ending. Oh my goodness I did not see that coming.

Celia Rees has written a lot of young adult historical fiction novels, but this is her first for adults. Based on this book I will definitely be looking forward to reading more from her in the future.

Using the idea of recipe as code was a very clever touch. There were plenty of examples of delicious sounding recipes mentioned, but this was also in the immediate aftermath of the war. There were shortages everywhere, and so there were also several recipes that I would be happy to never have to eat.

When I was reading the book I was trying to come up with how I was going to include a recipe for this post. There were a couple of recipes in the book that I have made before and shared on the blog including Lebkuchen (recipe here) and Apfelkuchen (recipe here) but the one that I decided to post is Bienenstich or Beesting Cake. I made it a while ago using this recipe from the Queen website. It's an unusual cake as it is made from brioche dough rather than cake but the combination with the custard was delicious.

Beesting Cake

2 cups (500ml) full cream milk
4 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
6 large egg yolks (approx. 110g)
½ cup (110g) caster sugar
1/3 cup (50g) corn flour
45g butter, room temperature

½ cup (125ml) lukewarm milk
¼ cup (55g) caster sugar
1 ½ tsp dried yeast
2 cups (300g) plain flour
50g unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg

70g unsalted butter
¼ cup (55g) caster sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp thickened cream
1 cup (120g) flaked almonds

For the Custard

1. Place milk, and Vanilla Bean Paste in a large saucepan over a low heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Combine egg yolks, sugar and corn flour in a large bowl and whisk to form a thick paste. Add a few tablespoons of warm milk mixture to thin out the mixture if necessary.

3. Slowly add half a cup of milk at a time to the egg mixture while whisking. Continue until all the milk has been added. Pour mixture back into saucepan over a low heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Once mixture starts to boil, keep mixing for 1 minute and then remove from the heat and pour into a clean bowl.

4. Place a piece of cling wrap directly over the pastry cream and allow to cool for 30 minutes before whisking through butter. Allow to cool completely, before refrigerating until chilled.

For the Brioche
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook attachment, combine milk, sugar and yeast and allow to sit until foamy. Add remaining ingredients and mix on low for 1 minute, before increasing the speed and mixing for a further 5 minutes. Place cling over mixer bowl and allow dough to rise for 1 hour or until almost doubled.

2. Grease and line the base and sides of a deep 20cm round cake tin. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured bench and knead for 4 minutes, adding more flour if needed. Press into the base of prepared tin, ensuring dough covers the base of the tin. Allow to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Method - Topping

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (fan forced). Prepare topping at the start of the second rise. Place all ingredients excluding flaked almonds in a medium saucepan over a low to medium heat until butter melts and mixture starts to simmer, cook for 1 minute until slightly thickened, do not brown. Remove from the heat and add flaked almonds, stirring well to combine. Set aside to cool.
2. Spoon almond topping over risen dough, do not worry about spreading the almond mixture as it will flatten out during baking. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in tin, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
3. Slice cake in half and spread custard over the base of the cake. Place top half on top of custard.

    Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Thanks to Random Thing Blog Tours for the invitation to participate for the blog tour and the review copy of this very interesting book, and for a review copy. Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour!


  1. Your cake looks great. I have heard of Bee Sting Cake but never eaten it.

    be well... mae at

    1. It's really delicious with the honey, custard and brioche Mae.

  2. Well, it does sound very interesting indeed, the only thing is, anyone intercepting her letters would figure out very quickly that they must have been coded messages. In Germany in the immediate aftermath of the war there was widespread hunger because the food supply was destroyed, and in England, trying to feed Germany and itself, there was rationing and postwar austerity.(To give you can idea, when my sister was born in 1949, i.e. four years after the end of the war, rationing meant that their family of three got *one* egg each week which was always given to my sister.) So recipes like that were unimaginable luxuries!
    But leaving that to one side, the book sounds great!

    1. The kind of people who were getting to eat this food were the officers of the occupying forces and people with access to the black market, who were often the same people! Thanks for stopping by Lisa.

    2. This is true For the German population BUT the Occupying Authorities, both British and American had plenty of food For their own personnel. The ration was very generous, far more so than the ration in Britain and visiting left wing politicians (like Fenner Brockway) went out of their way to comment on the menus in the messes and the hotels used by the Control Commission and the Military. This contrast between the food available to the German population and that available to their Occupiers was one of the things I wanted to write about.

  3. Thanks so much for the blog tour supportx

  4. Marg, I've been seeing ths book come up and would love to read it. How clever to use recipes as code. Have you read The Alice Network? That's a good one too.

    Love your cake, you are dynamic with baked goods and I would love to try a slice of that cake. I never heard of a Beesting Cake before.

    1. I have read The Alice Network! It was a good read.

  5. Hi Marg, Thank you for this wonderful review and for your ace Bienenstich Kuchen! It looks fabulous and utterly delicious. So wonderful to see someone trying out the recipes! I loved it! I collected the recipe from a friend whose mother is German. I tried to maKe the recipes as authentic as possible.
    Ke the recipes as authentic as possible.

    1. Thanks Celia. I enjoyed looking at the recipes. It surprised me how many German recipes I had made.

  6. I think the book and the cake sound wonderful.. Thank you for that great review- I'm going to add it to my reading list. And I've never heard of beesting cake but I think I would LOVE it ..

  7. I've added this book to my library TBR list.

    I just can't get into reading like I use to either. It's funny that we are limiting our outings and yet have less time to read.

    1. I am certainly reading less than I would necessarily have thought I would be Jackie

  8. The book sounds right up my alley and the cake looks amazing! I put the Beesting Cake topping on rice pudding once for a book review (not much of a baker!) and loved the flavors. ;-)

  9. Sounds like a great premise for a novel! I thought the name Celia Rees was familiar but it must be from her YA books. Your cake looks fantastic! You’re a really talented baker! Is there any hidden message encoded in your recipe? 😉

    1. There is a hidden message Laurie! When you cut it in half it says "eat me!"

  10. This book sounds really good. I have read a lot of WWII novels but not so much the aftermath and the setting. And, OMG, I love that cake. We travel to Germany almost every year to see my husband's family and I always have that cake. So delicious. My husband made this from a recipe from a book on classic German baking recipes and it was good. I'll have to share this with him so he can compare them. I am willing to be a taste tester :)

  11. The book sounds interesting and the cake sounds delicious.

  12. I love this review and the included recipe does look delicious. Do you still do book reviews with recipes included or was this a once off post?

    Please let me know how it works! I will definitely try to incorporate it!

    And I am going to see if I can get a copy of Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook.

    1. I sometimes do them. Depends if a recipe comes to mind. There is a group called Cook the Books who do exactly this though.

      Their link is