If you love freshly baked artisan breads, cakes, and pastries, a visit to a German bakery, known as Bäcker or Bäckerei, is a must. They not only sell their expertly crafted and delicious baked goods, aka Brot und Backwaren, but you’ll get an insight into Germany’s food culture. This article guides you through the whole offering of a traditional German bakery, whether you’re visiting one in Germany or are lucky enough to have one close by despite living overseas.
German bakery culture
Germany’s Bäckerhandwerk, which translates to baking craftsmanship, is a key part of German food culture with its strong emphasis on quality and tradition.
Bakeries, known as Bäckerei or Backstube, and confectionery which is called Konditorei, play a key role in German culinary heritage, offering a wide variety of bread, rolls, cakes, and pastries.
Germany’s diverse states have their unique bakery specialties. For example, in the south, you might find soft pretzels and black forest cake, while in the north, you may encounter hearty rye bread and butter cake. Each region has its distinctive recipes and techniques, adding to the overall richness of German bakery culture.
Born and raised in the north of Germany I got introduced to southern baked goods when I worked in a bakery café for four years during my studies. Living overseas now I even more appreciate the wide selection German bakeries offer and that’s why I’m sharing the most popular breads, rolls, cakes, and pastries with you in this comprehensive article.
Sonntagsfrühstück and Kaffezeit
Two significant traditions related to bakery products in Germany are “Sonntagsfrühstück” and “Kaffezeit.”
Sonntagsfrühstück translates to “Sunday breakfast” and typically involves a leisurely breakfast on Sundays, often featuring a variety of fresh bread rolls, boiled eggs, cheeses, cold cuts, and jams.
“Kaffezeit” translates to “coffee time,” which is a cherished daily tradition in Germany. During Kaffezeit, people enjoy a cup of coffee or tea accompanied by a slice of cake, pastry, or a sweet treat in the afternoon.
10 popular German types of bread
Did you know that German bread culture was classified by UNESCO in 2014 as intangible cultural heritage because it’s known the world over for its uniqueness and diversity?
With 3058 official bread varieties on offer according to the German bread institute, aka Deutsches Brotinstitut e.V., it’s challenging to select only 10 bread types for this article.
But if you’re stepping into a German bakery anywhere in Germany or overseas you’re most likely to find the following 10 German breads:
- Sauerteigbrot: Sourdough bread is a popular and important type of bread in Germany. It’s made using a sourdough starter, which gives it a distinctive tangy flavor and chewy texture. Sourdough bread is enjoyed in various regions of Germany and comes in different variations, including wheat, rye, or mixed flour sourdough bread
- Schwarzbrot: Also known as black bread, dense rye bread is similar to pumpernickel but can vary in texture and flavor depending on the region. Try my seeded rye sandwich bread for lighter rye loaf.
- Vollkornbrot: A whole-grain bread made with whole wheat or rye flour, it’s hearty and nutritious with a nutty flavor.
- Bauernbrot: A rustic, farmhouse-style bread often made with a mixture of rye and wheat flour, known for its chewy crust and robust flavor.
- Weissbrot: A white bread, typically made with wheat flour, known for its soft texture and mild flavor.
- Brezel or Brezn: German pretzels are twisted and salted bread products with a chewy crust and soft interior. They are a popular snack or side dish.
- Zwiebelbrot: Onion bread, which contains sautéed onions for added flavor and texture.
- Körnerbrot: A whole-grain bread which is also called Multibrot or Fitnessbrot is packed with seeds and grains, such as sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and oats.
- Kartoffelbrot: Potato bread, made with mashed potatoes, which adds moisture and a soft texture to the bread.
- Dinkelbrot: Spelt bread, made from spelt flour, is known for its nutty taste and nutritional value.
Although Pumpernickel is a very popular German bread, it is not commonly sold in bakeries but rather in supermarkets vacuum sealed.
10 popular German bread rolls and buns
German rolls are a key offering in traditional German bakeries. They’re offered plain or filled with ham, cheese, egg, lettuce, Fleischsalat (sausage salad), Leberkäse (meatloaf), schnitzel, or Frikadellen (meat patties).
Plain rolls or buns are particularly popular on the weekends for the Sonntagsfrühstück, a lengthy Sunday breakfast with family and/or friends that easily turns into lunch.
10 popular German rolls also known as Brötchen or Semmeln are:
- Kaisersemmel, Normale, Semmel, Schrippe, Weck: A staple in German bakeries, the plain roll comes by various names depending on the region. It’s a classic plain roll with a crisp crust that protects a soft and fluffy interior.
- Laugenbrötchen: Pretzel rolls are a delightful twist on the traditional pretzel shape. With a chewy pretzel crust and a soft, pillowy interior, Laugenbrötchen are typically sprinkled with coarse salt, and often sold as filled sandwiches with cheese and cold cuts of meat, known as belegte Brötchen.
- Mohnbrötchen: Poppy seed rolls are sweet rolls generously coated with poppy seeds, providing a unique nutty flavor and a delightful crunchy texture.
- Sesambrötchen: Sesame rolls are generously coated with sesame seeds for a delightful nutty flavor and crunchy texture.
- Rosinenbrötchen: Raisin rolls are soft and sweet yeasted rolls often enjoyed for breakfast or with a cup of coffee. They are studded with plump raisins, adding a burst of natural sweetness to every bite.
- Dinkelbrötchen: Made with spelt flour, these wholesome rolls offer a distinctive nutty flavor. Spelt is a popular ancient grain that’s widely used in German bakeries.
- Vollkornbrötchen: Whole grain rolls are crafted with a base of wholemeal flour, incorporating the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm.
- Mehrkornbrötchen: These hearty whole-grain rolls are packed with a medley of seeds and grains, offering a nutritious and flavorful option.
- Milchbrötchen: These soft and slightly sweet brioche buns are made with brioche dough, creating a rich and buttery flavor profile. You can find them plain or studded with chocolate drops for some extra sweetness.
- Quarkbrötchen: Quark rolls feature quark, a fresh dairy product similar to cottage cheese or curd. The inclusion of quark in the dough adds a remarkably soft and moist texture.
10 must-try German cakes
Each region in Germany boasts its cake specialties, often deeply rooted in tradition and made with high-quality seasonal ingredients.
These traditional German cakes are often sold by the piece, making them accessible for everyone to enjoy. The indulgent Torte varieties (layered cream cakes) are typically reserved for weekends and special occasions, while other fruit cakes are perfect for Kaffeezeit around 4 pm, adding sweetness to the hard-earned Feierabend which is the time after work finishes for the day.
Here are 10 popular German cakes that have captured the hearts and taste buds of dessert enthusiasts globally:
- Torten – Layered cream cakes are the epitome of Germany’s bakery culture. Among the most iconic is the Black Forest cake (Schwarzwälderkirschtorte), featuring layers of chocolate sponge, cherries, and whipped cream, a harmonious blend of flavors capturing the essence of the Black Forest region. Equally enticing are layered cream and buttercream cakes like Frankfurter Kranz, Sahnetorte, and Käse Sahne Torte, where intricate layers of sponge cake are enveloped in velvety creams.
- Obstkuchen – German simple fruit cakes celebrate seasonality. From fresh strawberries and rhubarb in spring, and cherries in summer, to juicy apples and plums in autumn, these simple cakes showcase the changing flavors of the year. Seasonal fruit is either mixed with a simple buttery cake batter or placed on top of a sweet shortcrust base.
- Streuselkuchen – German crumb cake comes in various of fruit flavors, with cherry, plum, and apple being the most popular choices. The cake base can either be yeasted, providing a light and airy texture, or made with a tender shortcrust pastry, offering a more buttery richness.
- Erdbeerkuchen – German strawberry cake is a quintessential summer delight. The popular cake comes in various forms, ranging from a plain strawberry topping with a dollop of whipped cream to custard and even jelly alongside the berries. Erdbeersahnetorte is a layered strawberry cream cake that’s a must-try as well for any strawberry lover. A strawberry-flavored jelly layer is often added to the top, similar to this strawberry Rosé cheesecake.
- Käsekuchen – Typically made with quark, a fresh dairy product, and/or schmand (sour cream), German cheesecake is less sweet than its American counterpart. Try my popular baked cheesecake recipe if you don’t have access to quark.
- Butterkuchen – Butter cake from northern Germany is a simple and affordable sugar-coated tea cake. Its broad appeal and low price makes it a common choice for communal gatherings including funerals.
- Stollen – This rich and dense fruitcake is characterized by its oval shape and powdered sugar coating. Packed with dried fruits, nuts, and sometimes filled with marzipan, this spiced bread is popular around Christmas time. It is traditionally baked in early December and left for the flavors to mingle over time, ready to be enjoyed during Weihnachten.
- Mohnkuchen – Poppy seed cake is prepared with a shortcrust base and a sweet poppy seed filling that is generously studded with seeds adding a seedy texture and earthy flavor. Mohnkuchen comes in various forms, including plain versions, with streusel for added texture, and as a cheesecake known as Mohnkäsekuchen.
- Donauwellen – The Danube wave cake is a delightful creation inspired by the gentle waves of the Danube River, this cake comprises layers of marble cake, tart cherries, creamy vanilla or custard pudding, and rich chocolate glaze.
- Baumkuchen – Known as the “tree cake,” Baumkuchen is a unique and labor-intensive German dessert. Prepared by layering thin coats of batter on a rotating spit, each layer is lightly baked until it resembles the rings of a tree.
Pastries in Germany
Pastries in Germany, which are known as “Teilchen” (little pieces) hold a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike, often enjoyed as a sweet snack or during Kaffezeit.
There are three common types of German pastries:
- Plunderteilchen / puff pastry: They are made with flaky puff pastry and are generously filled or delicately topped with a variety of delectable fillings, including custard and an array of fruits such as apricots, apples, and cherries.
- Hefeteilchen / yeast dough: Popular Hefeteilchen are Streuseltaler, adorned with a delightful crumble topping, brioche buns, and Nusszopf, a delicious nut braid. Berliner or Krapfen are jam-filled donuts that are typically enjoyed on New Year’s Day.
- Brandteig / choux pastry: Windbeutel are airy cream puffs filled with whipped cream or an assortment of pastry creams, often garnished with a tempting drizzle of chocolate or a dusting of powdered sugar.
Other popular German pastries include Nussecken, literally translating to “nut corners,” a delightful combination of pastry, caramel, and nuts. Mandelhörnchen, almond crescents that boast a perfect balance of crunch and tenderness, are equally loved. And then there are Amerikaner, cake-like frosted cookies that were traditionally made with “Hirschhornsalz” (ammonium bicarbonate derived from the antler of male reindeer).