German cookies and cakes are known all over the world, not only for their quality but also because of their uniqueness. The selection of premium ingredients combined with recipes which have been perfected in family-owned businesses for generations guarantee the extraordinary flavor of the baked goods. Compared to American cookies and cakes you will find that products from Germany are usually less sweet.
The cookie assortment in Germany ranges from crisp wafer creations to rich butter cookies layered or glazed with delicious chocolate. The cookies come in various shapes, some of which are unique to the respective companies (a popular example would be the Bahlsen butter cookie with its 52 “teeth”). The variety of German cakes is truly remarkable and ranges from simple pound cakes all the way to elaborate cakes (Torten) which are either made with whipped cream or buttercream.
German Christmas specialties enjoy great popularity all around the globe. The most well-known seasonal baked goods are the ubiquitous Stollen (yeast sweetbread with dried fruits and nuts) and highest quality gingerbread (Lebkuchen).
Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich)
This is a sheet cake made with a Hefeteig (sweet yeast dough) filled with vanilla custard, glazed with a honey mixture and sprinkled with almonds. The cake gets its name from the honey glaze and the thinly sliced almonds on the top. Recipe for Bee Sting Cake.
Black Forest Cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte)
Black Forest Cake is perhaps Germany’s most well-known and most-loved cake. It consists of a chocolate cake with a filling of fresh cream and cherries soaked in Kirschwasser—a clear cherry schnapps—and decorated with cream, chocolate shavings, and cherries. Despite being named for the Black Forest region, it was a pastry chef from Bad Godesberg, near Bonn, who claimed to have invented it in 1915. He was originally from Lake Constance, which is in the Black Forest, so perhaps that’s where the name came from. However, there are a number of other theories: the chocolate shavings on the top of the cake resemble a black forest; or that the cake contains Kirschwasser, which is a specialty of the Black Forest. There’s also a theory that the name came from the traditional dress of the women in the Black Forest—a black dress, white blouse, and a hat with a white base and red balls on top resembling the cherries. Recipe for Black Forest Cake.
Butter Cake/ Sugar Cake (Butterkuchen/ Zuckerkuchen)
Butterkuchen (Butter Cake) or Zuckerkuchen (Sugar Cake) is a simple sheet cake made with a Hefeteig (sweet yeast dough). Small holes are pressed into the dough with the fingers and butter is spread over the top. It then gets sprinkled with sugar and almonds. It’s a popular cake at both weddings and funerals and is sometimes referred to either as Freud- und Leidkuchen (Joy and Sympathy Cake) or as Beerdigungskuchen (Funeral Cake). It is especially popular in Northern Germany and in Westphalia. Recipe for Bremer Butterkuchen.
Cheese Cake (Käsekuchen)
Genuine German cheesecake is made with Quark cheese. It’s sometimes also called Quarkkuchen or Quarktorte in Switzerland. In Austria it’s known as Topfenkuchen. For variety, berries such as raspberries or blueberries can be added, as can cherries and raisins. Recipe for German Cheesecake.
Donut (Krapfen / Berliner)
Known as Pfannkuchen in Berlin and large parts of Eastern Germany, Kreppel in Hessen, Krapfen in Southern Germany and Berliner in much of Western Germany, the jelly-filled donut is a pastry which enjoys great popularity. Especially during the carnival season, which is known as Fasching, Karneval or Fastnacht (again depending on the region), you’ll find bakeries on every street corner offering piles of various types of donuts, most filled with jam but also with vanilla cream and chocolate. Recipe for Berliner Pfannkuchen.
The “Berliner” jelly donut has become the involuntary subject of a popular urban legend surrounding President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech in West Berlin. Kennedy famously declared “Ich bin ein Berliner,” thus expressing his solidarity with the people of West Berlin during the Cold War in an emotionally very effective way. While it is true that the word Berliner is used in some parts of Germany (ironically enough not in Berlin) to denote the popular jam-filled pastry, his German sentence was both grammatically correct and perfectly idiomatic. The urban legend which promotes the version that the President’s statement was really translated and understood as “I am a jelly donut” by the people of West Berlin, is prevalent only in English-speaking countries and remains largely unknown in Germany, where JFK’s speech is considered a landmark in the country’s postwar history.
You can find the text, audio and video footage of JFK’s speech here.
Frankfurt Wreath (Frankfurter Kranz)
Frankfurter Kranz or Frankfurt Wreath is a wreath-shaped cake from Frankfurt. It consists of a butter cake which gets split into 2-to-4 layers after baking. The individual layers are spread with buttercream and red jam. It’s then decorated with more buttercream and Krokant which is a mixture of nuts that have been browned in butter with a little sugar. Recipe for Frankfurter Kranz.
Germany’s world-famous Lebkuchen is a richly-spiced, flat gingerbread made with honey, flour, sugar, eggs, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, candied orange and lemon peel, marzipan, and spices such as cinnamon, ginger, aniseed, cloves, coriander, and cardamom.
Although gingerbread has been baked in Europe for centuries, of all the European countries, Germany is the one with the longest and strongest gingerbread tradition, especially in regards to Lebkuchen, which was first baked in the city of Nuremberg in 1395. In 1643, Nuremberg created a Lebkuchen Baker’s Guild, which began with 14 master gingerbread bakers who were required to make the gingerbread following strict guidelines.
Up until 1867, Lebkuchen was made by hand. Today most of it is made by machine, however, many of Nuremburg’s bakeries still produce some of their Lebkuchen specialties by hand. Today around 2,000 Lebkuchen per minute are produced in Nuremberg by approximately 4,000 employees. Some are made by major companies and some by family-run bakeries, but all use traditional recipes passed down from generation to generation. The oldest gingerbread recipe from the 16th century is housed in the Germanic National Museum.
In 1996, Nuremberg gingerbread was declared a PGI or “protected geographical indication.” Since then only Lebkuchen from the city of Nuremberg can be called “Nuremberger Lebkuchen.”
Lebkuchen comes in many shapes and sizes. Classical Gingerbread can be distinguished between the so called “braune Lebkuchen” (without wafer) and Elisen Lebkuchen (with wafer). Gingerbread spice is also used when it comes to the production of many other Christmas specialties: Pfeffernüsse (sugar-glazed gingerbread cookies), Dominosteine (chocolate-coated spiced Lebkuchen cubes with a jelly and marzipan filling) and small gingerbread creations in the form of hears, stars and Christmas trees. Recipe for Lebkuchen.
A Gugelhupf is a southern German, Austrian, and Swiss term for a type of cake known in the US as a bundt cake. German Gugelhupf consists of a soft yeast dough with raisins and almonds baked in a special fluted pan.
Springerle are white, anise-flavored cookies They are originally from Baden-Württemberg, Germany, and are traditionally eaten at Christmas time particularly in southern Germany and Austria. Recipe for Springerle.
German’s answer to fruitcake, Stollen is a rich, sweet yeast bread that is full of dried fruit, nuts, and often marzipan, and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. It is traditionally eaten at Christmastime, and has been made in Germany since 1329. The most famous kind of Stollen, which can be found at most local supermarkets, is called Dresdener Christstollen, which originated in Dresden, Germany. Its shape and the shell of confectioner’s sugar is said to represent the Baby Jesus wrapped in sheets. Recipe for Dresden Stollen.
Tree Cake (Baumkuchen)
The Baumkuchen, or Tree Cake is a popular special occasion and wedding cake. It looks like a tower of irregular rings with a coating of white or dark chocolate icing. It comes from the German town of Salzwedel and was created in 1820. Baumkuchen is built up with layers of batter which are consecutively spread and baked. When the cake is cut into wedges, it resembles the rings of a tree trunk. Recipe for Baumkuchen.
Vanillekipferl are small, crescent-shaped cookies flavored with vanilla and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. While they originated in Austria, they have become traditional German Christmas cookies. Recipe for Vanillekipferl.