Friday, November 5, 2010

On German and American baked goods

"Here is bread, which strengthens man’s heart, and therefore is called the staff of life."
~ Mathew Henry (1662–1714), Commentaries. Psalm civ.

While at DAAD orientation in Bonn back in October, we did a group activity in which each group of 20 of us American and Canadian undergraduate and graduate grantees was supposed to discuss and present a topic about German life.  I directed my group in “The Germany University, in 4 Scenes,” in which I also played the Kontobeamtin taking semester registration fees from the suave German student and our bumbling American protagonist.  I’m sure it will be starting off-off-off Broadway any month now.

Anyway, one of the other groups’ assignments was German food.   They talked, for instance, about being vegetarian but still wanting to sample the meat-heavy local cuisine.  Someone recounted a story from his German language school: a student from New Mexico was shocked and dismayed that not only don’t Germans eat pie, but there is no word in German for what we Americans mean by “pie.”  Moreover, although he resolved to bake one himself, there are no pie tins.  So on the last day of class, on which they also celebrated another student’s birthday, he brought in what tasted like pie, albeit one baked in a bread pan.   I wouldn’t have pegged New Mexico for a pie-loving place, but there you go.

Although DH makes really scrumptious strawberry, cherry, and raspberry pies, I have not missed that particular baked good, as there are so many other delectable German goodies to choose from. These are the ones I've tried and can remember their names: Berliner, Bretzel, Buchtal, Eierschnecke, Fettsemmel, Kaisersemmel, Kirschkuchen, Kranzkuchen, Kürbiskernbrot, Laugenbrötchen, Milchknoten, Mohnenbrillen, Pfannkuchen, Pflaumenstruhsel, Roggen(misch)brot, Rosini, Sandtaller, Schokomilchbrötchen, Vollkornbrot.

I've also had a yummy pecan pastry with an Italian name and Reformationsbrot.  In the two or three weeks leading up to Reformation Day (October 31), you could get Reformationsbrot and -brötchen in all the local bakeries.  It's a traditional Saxon yeast bread based on the Stollen recipe (more on that during Advent!) with raisins, almonds, and a strong taste of citrus.  Unfortunately, I ate all my Reformationsbrötchen before I could take any pictures, but you can see someone else's photo here.  Reformation Day is, of course, the day Protestants remember Martin Luther's 95 Theses from 1517 (properly titled the "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences"), usually by singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" ("Ein' feste Burg ist user Gott").  I asked the German pastor at my church about Reformation Day, and he said that while he finds it a reminder of the ability of individual Christians to have a personal relationship with God, most Germans nowadays just like getting the day off (it's a government holiday here in Saxony).

As it happens Reformation Day is also Halloween.  Germans have learned this holiday from the Americans.  Trick-or-treating is very rare, but if my roommate and her daughter hadn't been in Berlin, we would have gone to a public party for kids; there were two in my area, one in a mansion and another at the lookout atop one of the funicular railway.  All weekend I watched kids in superhero capes, witch hats, and face paint parade across the bridge to one of these, where there were orange and black cupcakes, scary stories, and a "creepy visit" by spiders and snakes from the zoo.  As it was, I co-opted another friend's kids to make pumpkin cookies from scratch.  Now there's a baked good you can't get here in Germany!  Canned pumpkin neither.  So I bought two little hokkaido pumpkins from the local farmer's market, gathered the ingredients (I brought my recipe from home), and took over their kitchen.  After you butcher the pumpkins and reserve the seeds for baking, you just steam the flesh for 20 minutes, at which point it can be scraped from the skin and mashed by hand.  We got exactly 4 cups (= 2 cans), which was good enough to double the recipe, just like I do at home (otherwise the results are just gone too soon).  The resulting dough was very aromatic and the cookies are delicious, so I don't think I'll go back to canned pumpkin again.  We played games on the kitchen floor while the cookies were baking and then had mini pizzas for dinner.  Definitely one of my all-time favorite Halloweens!

Besides fresh for canned pumpkin, I got sultanas for raisins, crystallized vanilla for extract, Hausnatron for baking soda, and Backpulver for baking powder.  Apparently the brown sugar here is not as moist as what we get back home, and that can make baking chocolate chip cookies difficult; but this recipe only calls for white sugar.
Yes, that is really the color of the cooking pumpkin, the image is not photo-shopped! 
Isn't it gorgeous?
"MMMmmm they smell good and done!"


  1. Kurbis!!! Hooray! :-)

  2. No pie? I would have never guessed. My mom makes the best apple pie in the world and I always thought her cooking style was from her German heritage. Go figure. My co-workers enjoyed your list of other goodies to enjoy in Germany, but we all agreed that none of them sounded very appetizing. We were also talking about Baltimore style cheesecake which is usually called something like "schmerecase" (although I don't know how it it spelled). It is very much like cheesecake but has more of a custard consistency. It ususally also has cinnamon sprinkled on the top. Is that a German dessert or do you think it is more Polish?

  3. I think it's spelled Schmierkäse, but I've always used that for the cheese I like to spread on my bread and not for a dessert. Baltimore used to have a very strong German community, so Charm City-style cheesecake is probably like what they call Kuchen ("cake") here, which does indeed have a consistency like our cheesecake. It's hard to find the cake we're used to in the bakeries here, although they have lots of other goodies to taste, as I tried to suggest. :-)


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