Germany is home to stunning natural scenery and fascinating modern metropolises alike, as well as delicious foods and German desserts! A key aspect of any culture is its culinary traditions. Germany is famous for its beer, schnitzel, and sauerkraut. Many German dishes and beverages have garnered worldwide acclaim. Beer festivals like Oktoberfest began in Munich and now have doppelgangers in the US. A huge part of German cuisine centers around bread, wheat beers, Bavarian pretzels, pumpernickel, and some 600 other baked goods. Savory bread and beer aren’t the only treasured culinary traditions Germany has to offer; many of the bread varieties are desserts. After sampling the most popular German desserts during my trip to the country’s renowned Christmas markets, I’m stunned that they haven’t become as sensational as its beer.
I realize that many of Germany’s most popular cakes and desserts are equally popular in the states under a different and more easily pronounced name.
A point in case is Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, which is German for Black Forest Cake/Gateau.
Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte gets its name from a key ingredient sourced from the Black Forest Mountains of southern Germany called Schwarzwälder Kirsch, a cherry liqueur.
The cake consists of chocolate sponge cake infused with cherry liqueur layered with whipped cream and maraschino cherries.
Black Forest cake is one of my all-time favorite cakes. It’s a cherry cordial in cake form. The rich cherry flavor is unmistakable, melding perfectly with both chocolate and cream.
Aside from being one of my favorite cakes, this is also one of my favorite chocolate baked goods in general!
A seasonal dessert served at Christmas in households and Christmas markets, Lebkuchen is a honey cake that originated in 13th century Germany.
Monks in the late 13th and early 14th centuries invented the cake, which garnered popularity outside the church in Nuremberg.
Nuremberg continues to be the primary producer of Lebkuchen. Lebkuchen come in different varieties, distinguished by the types of nuts baked in, but they all have the same foundational ingredients:
- Candied fruit
If a honey-soaked cake full of spices and candied fruit sounds familiar, you might think that Lebkuchen is a predecessor to the odious fruitcake.
However, Lebkuchen is more like a cookie bar and nowhere near as dense as a fruit cake.
I like the variety that contains walnuts and hazelnuts.
Meaning “Bee Sting Cake” in German, Bienenstich is a hybrid between sweet bread and layer cake with a fun lure behind its origins.
Bakers will recount the legend of 15th-century bakers’ apprentices who defeated attackers from a neighboring town by throwing bee nests at them.
In honor of their insect allies, the bakers used their honey to create Bienenstich, a sweet bread whose yeasty dough receives a topping of hot honey, cream, milk, and almonds before baking in the oven.
The candied almond-topped bread is cut in half lengthwise and stuffed with buttercream.
The creamy, nutty, honey flavor in this cake makes it my favorite order at a German café to enjoy with a shot of espresso.
Käsekuchen is a German cheesecake. Cheesecake is a beloved dessert in most cultures, with regional and national recipes galore.
In the U.S., we’re used to dense cheesecakes with graham cracker crusts and syrupy fruit toppings.
Käsekuchen is a much lighter, fluffier version of cheesecake with a shortbread crust and the following key ingredients:
- Quark German cheese
- Vanilla sugar
- Vanilla pudding powder
- Stiffened egg whites and yolks separated
- Vanilla extract
Quark is a creamy cheese similar in texture and flavor to ricotta. The stiffening of the egg whites and the vanilla pudding powder create a lighter batter.
I think the cheesecake tastes like the cheesecakes we know and love in the states, but the texture is different. I love the shortbread bottom!
Meaning “tree cake” in German Baumkuchen is a simple cake made with an unusual spit-baking method.
I usually associate spit roasting with meat, but Germans also use it for sweets. Baumkuchen batter consists of:
Bakers brush thin layers of batter on a hot spit, adding a new layer after the previous layer has spent a couple of rotations baking.
The finished product is a circular, donut-shaped cake with between 15 to 20 layers. I think the cake tastes like a vanilla sponge cake.
You’ll usually see it sold in squares, often covered in a chocolate shell.
Taking inspiration from the popular Italian noodles, Spaghettieis are spaghetti-shaped ice cream.
If you’ve never heard of this spoof on spaghetti, you’d think it was pasta at first glance.
An Italian transplant named Dario Fontanella invented the dish in the 60s to invoke his home country.
It’s still a favorite dish in German ice cream parlors today. You make it by pushing vanilla ice cream through a potato dumpling grater into a bowl.
You’ll get the option to make in a spaghetti marinara with the addition of strawberry sauce or carbonara with a sprinkle of shaved chocolate and almond “parmesan.” I think it’s a fun way to eat an ice cream sundae.
Meaning “cinnamon star” in German, Zimtsterne is a star-shaped cookie that dates to the 16th century.
Now it’s the most common Christmas cookie in Germany. The dough consists of:
- Ground almonds
- Whipped egg white
These cookies have a much higher percentage of almonds that flour with egg whites folded in and used as a merengue topping.
These wonderfully spiced cinnamon stars are the taste of Christmas in Germany. You’ll see them on every table and at every Christmas market.
I’m not sure that Germans leave cookies out for Santa, but if they did, these would be it.
Originating in Denmark and Northern Germany, Rote grütze is a gelatinous fruit compote.
The name comes from the Danish words for red porridge with cream.
It is a summer-season dish with red berries, fruits, sugar, and potato starch. Common fruits used in Rote grütze include:
- Red currants
- Black currants
The cooking method is the same as pudding and jello in which the juicy berries and sugar caramelize and reduce with the potato starch and then sit at room temperature or in the fridge to set.
I love to serve Rote grütze over vanilla ice cream or custard.
A famous Bavarian dish, Apfelkuchen is a German apple cake.
It’s a seasonal fall cake using the local bounty of apples harvested from Bavarian orchards.
Apple trees are ubiquitous in Bavaria, found in most front yards, to say nothing of the countless orchards. Germany has one of the most diverse selections of apple varieties in the world.
Therefore, Apfelkuchen uses whatever apples you have on hand. It consists of a simple cinnamon cake dough with:
- Baking powder
Upon pouring the batter into a circular pan, you press thin slices of apples atop the batter, then give the cake a hearty topping of cinnamon sugar before baking it. I like to add some chopped pecans for texture.
Dampfnudel or germknoedel
Dampfnudel is a steamed bun that’s a staple of both sweet and savory dishes around Germany.
The dough consists of:
I liken the dough to a typical dinner roll. You form small dough balls, let the dough rise overnight, then steam them in a pot with either water, cream, or both.
They look like bao buns, with white domes and a crispy browned bottom. Steaming them gives them a texture more like dumplings than rolls.
I like eating them with a hearty helping of Rote grütze.
Berliner or krapfen
The recipe originally lacked sugar because sugar cane had not yet surfaced in the New World.
However, the recipe and cooking method remains nearly the same in Germany and everywhere else for that matter.
Berliners consist of a yeasty dough consisting of:
Doughballs rise for a few hours before being fried in lard or oil. Once they’re fried, they receive an injection of fruit compote, jam, or custard, and then a dusting of powdered sugar.
Strawberry desserts are my favorite, so a strawberry jelly donut is always on my order when I make it to the bakery before 10 am.