How to bake in Germany – a guide for foreigners

It’s no secret that I like to bake. Scones, cakes, biscuits… I’ve tried them all. And 90% of the time, I use English recipes for my baking adventures, mostly from the BBC. Unsurprisingly, this can sometimes be a bit of a problem here in Germany… from problems actually finding ingredients to getting all excited about my scones only for them not to rise at all, I’ve had my fair share of baking disasters! But after seven years I’ve finally reached the stage where I can be fairly confident that any recipe I try will actually work out. I know I can’t be the only Brit who wants to bake cakes in Germany, so I decided to put together a list of tips for my fellow bakers. Some tips may work for American/Australian/whatever resipes as well, but I make no guarantees! British ingredients are what I know…

Carrot cake, made using German ingredients
Carrot cake, made using German ingredients
  1. Caster sugar does exist in Germany, but you won’t find it in Aldi! Look for “feinster Backzucker” at REWE, Edeka or REAL.
  2. German “Backpulver” is not the same as baking powder! It looks the same and is used for the same purpose, but it’s not as strong. It took me years to figure this out! If using a British recipe with German baking powder, use about 1.5 to 2 times the amount. Otherwise you too will end up with flat scones. *Sob*. As far as I’m aware, this applies to American baking powder as well. I’ve also found that RUF Backpulver works better than the Dr Oetker one. EDIT 2020: I’ve now actually found out the science behind this, so I thought I would share. Baking powder in the UK/Ireland (and I think also the US, Australia, New Zealand) is double acting, so it starts to react when you add the liquid then reacts again once heat is applied in the oven. German/Austrian/Swiss baking powder is single acting, so it only causes a reaction once you apply heat. Hence the mixture only rises once and therefore not as much. Baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of soda), on the other hand, is the same everywhere so if the recipe calls for that it should work out fine.
  3. Self-raising flour doesn’t exist in Germany! It really, truly doesn’t… Jan and I even asked a baker once, who looked at us as if we’d just grown extra heads. To make your own self-raising flour, add 2 teaspoons of baking powder for each 150g/6oz/1 cup of plain flour. Again, if using German baking powder, use extra. (Some people have been telling me in the comments that you can get self-raising flour in Germany, and yes that’s sort of true. Some Asian shops stock it and if you’re lucky enough to have a Karstadt food area with a British/American section there may be some there, but ordinary supermarkets don’t have it. And for those living in or near Basel, Switzerland Bider & Tanner bookshop stocks it in the English books section, but they don’t always have it in. It depends how recently they had a delivery. I think some Manor food sections also stock it, although the one at Claraplatz in Basel has got rid of its tiny British section.)
  4. Most butter in Germany is unsalted, so for any recipe that uses butter, you will also want to add a pinch or two of salt or look out for “gesalzen” on the packaging – it will most likely be the more expensive one. This applies for recipes from any country where the normal butter is salted. (On a side note, what’s the point in unsalted butter? It tastes of nothing but fat!)
  5. Dr Oetker food colouring is crap! Also, I personally find it has a weird after taste. The Crazy Colours type works better, and you get more colours in the packet.
  6. Do not substitute vanilla extract with those little bottles of “Vanillearoma“. It’s not even close to the same thing! If you can’t get hold of vanilla extract or don’t want to pay Scheck-In’s extortinate price, your best bet is to use Vanillezucker.
  7. The Karamell version of Grafschafter Goldsaft makes a good substitute for golden syrup. The ordinary one is much less sweet, but can also be used if you don’t mind that.

And finally, some basic baking ingredients vocabulary (German to British English). No order other than the one I thought of them in. (Updated 2020 as this post continues to be very popular.)

Sugar = Zucker
Raffinade or Kristallzucker is granulated sugar, feinster Backzucker is caster sugar and Puderzucker is icing sugar. Hagelzucker is sugar crystals, small round lumps of sugar that are used for decorating (the German literally translates as hailstone sugar, which is amazing!). Brauner Zucker is a light brown sugar. Rohzucker is unrefined or raw sugar and is brown in colour (this is basically the same as what we call Demerara sugar in the UK). There isn’t really an equivalent of the soft, dark brown American sugar. The places I mentioned above that sell self-raising flour may stock it though.

Flour = Mehl.
The 405 type is the equivalent of plain flour. You can also get special bread baking flours, like Roggenmehl, which is rye flour. Buchweizenmehl is buckwheat flour and Dinkelmehl is spelt flour.

Eggs = Eier
Salt = Salz
Baking powder = Backpulver
Baking soda/bicarbonate of soda = Natron or Backnatron
Yeast = Hefe
Cinnamon = Zimt
Ginger = Ingwer
Hazelnut = Haselnuss
Walnut = Walnuss (or Baumnuss in Switzerland)
Almond = Mandel
Coconut = Kokos or Kokosnuss
Cocoa powder = Kakaopulver
Cream = Sahne or Rahm (or Obers in Austria/Bavaria). Sauerrahm is sour cream. Doppelrahm is double cream, sometimes also labelled with its French name crème double.
Raisins = Rosinen
Sultanas = Sultaninen
Currants = Korinthen
Oats = Haferflocken
Chocolate chips/drops = Schokotropfen
Chocolate flakes = Schokoraspeln
Oil = Öl. There are obviously many, but the ones you’ll most likely need are Olivenöl (olive oil), Sonnenblumenöl (sunflower oil) and Rapsöl (rapeseed/canola oil).

Happy baking!

The cookies I made last Christmas...
The cookies I made last Christmas…