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…

Surviving winter in Germany

Here’s a photo that I took on the way to work this morning.

Cold!

For Americans (and anyone else who uses Fahrenheit… do any other countries use Fahrenheit? Genuine question…) that’s 24.8°F. Oh, and this was taken after my commute – it was actually -6°C  (21.2°F) when I left the house. Those of you who leave in really cold places are probably now thinking “What? That’s not cold!”. Well, I am British and being an island nation, we don’t do extremes of temperature. Wikipedia tells me the lowest temperature ever recorded in England was −26.1 °C (−15.0 °F) in Shropshire… and that was in 1982. I wasn’t even born til 1983! The lowest for Scotland – which has a reputation among those in southern England for being cold – is −27.2 °C (−17.0 °F), measured in Aberdeenshire in 1895 and 1982 then in Sutherland in 1995. Compare that with Germany’s low of −45.9 °C (−50.6 °F), measured in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria as recently as 2001 and you may begin to see my point. I do not do cold!! (I don’t do hot either, but that’s a story for another day.)

During my first winter in Germany I was woefully unprepared. I am lucky in that I ended up in one of the warmest areas of Germany, and the year I did my year abroad was unseasonably warm, so it was still fairly mild in November. But the winter did come eventually, and I was not expecting it at all! (Two years later I moved to Austria, where it was even colder! But at least I was expecting it there.) So in case you, like me, have come to Germany entirely unprepared for the cold, here are a few tips for surviving the winter…

    • First, buy a thick, warm and – most importantly – long scarf. Then take this scarf and wrap it around your neck twice (this is where the long part is essential!). The first loop needs to fit snuggly against your skin (but don’t pull it too tight – you want to be warm, not strangled!). Leave the second part slightly looser, but not too loose.
    • Invest in a nice warm coat. Preferably a waterproof one – snow is not just pretty, it is also wet. Plus, it rains a lot here in winter. Now, fasten your coat up, making sure it comes right up to you scarf. Leave no gaps for chilly winds to get in! The bottom loop of your scarf should be covered by your coat, the second loop can be slightly over it. This part can be used to cover your skin when it gets really cold.
    • Boots are essential! Ankle boots are ok, but longer ones are better. I have Gore-Tex boots, a bit like these ones except mine have a zip down the side and they are AMAZING! They cost me about €100 but it was so worth it. They’re waterproof, have grips on the bottom (very important for snow/ice) and a lambskin lining to keep me warm.
    • If (like me) you wear thin trousers for work, you really need to put something under them. And if you prefer skirts, sou will need to invest in some warm tights (which Leo tells me are called “pantyhose” in America. Really?! That sounds so… weird!). I recommend C&A thermal tights for this (I swear, I am not being sponsored to write this, they really are good!).
    • Tea is your friend. Drink it as much as possible. There are sooo many sorts of tea in Germany that there is bound to be at least one you like! (The fruit ones are technically infusions as they contain no actual tea whatsoever, but never mind.) Glühwein is also your friend, but not recommended for drinking at work. Save that one for the Chistmas market. Hot chocolate is also good for warming up. Drink it with whipped cream for that added bit of decadence.
    • Buy a hat, and make sure it covers your ears. I don’t care how stupid you think you look in hats – when it’s -11°C you won’t care what you look like as long as your ears are warm!
Penguin Santa Hat
Penguin Santa Hat (Photo: chiaralily)
  • Soup, soup and more soup! There’s nothing like it on a cold day, and the Germans do it so well. I had a delicous chesnut soup yesterday, but potato, creamed leek, pumpkin, lentil stew with or without little sausages in it and even Gulasch soup are popular. You can even get soup at most Christmas markets, at least in larger towns.
  • Close the door! Sorry if this seems obvious, but if you close the door to the room you’re in, the heating will warm it up much quicker – otherwise everything the radiator produces has to heat up all the other rooms it drifts into as well!
  • Bake! Not only is it fun, but all the heat from the oven will warm you up in no time. I haven’t had the radiator in the kitchen on once this year, because every time I’m in there I’m either baking or cooking, which produces enough heat to warm me up nicely.
  • And if all else fails, go to bed. Sometimes under the quilt is the best place to be. If you’re not sleepy, take a book with you. Reading in bed is one of my favourite pastimes!