This authentic German recipe features soft, fluffy Berliner (German style doughnuts) which are filled with delicious jam and Nutella and are dusted with a generous amount of powdered sugar.
Berliner donuts are popular pastry that you can find in every bakery all year around in Germany. The are enjoyed by people of all ages for breakfast, dessert and the famous German coffee hour. They are usually made from yeast dough and come filled with various types of jams, spreads and creams, and are coated with powdered sugar or other glazes.
These homemade German doughnuts are way easier to make as you might think. With this basic recipe you can make a lot of different variations of Berliner that you can enjoy with very little active work involved.
Yeast balls baked in lard are documented in northern Germany as early as the 16th. According to popular legend, Berliner doughnuts were invented in 1756 by a Berlin confectioner who wanted to serve as a gunner under Frederick the Great and proved unfit for military service, but was allowed to stay with the regiment as a field baker. As a "thank you", so to speak, he created the first "Berliner". He shaped the yeast dough pieces round like the shape of cannonballs. Since no oven was available, he fried them in a large pot full of oil on an open campfire.
The Famous "Berliner"
Did John F Kennedy claim to be a donut when he said "Ich bin ein Berliner"?
“I am a Berliner” is a speech by United States President John F. Kennedy given on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin. It is widely regarded as the best-known speech of the Cold War and the most famous anti-communist speech.
There is a widespread misconception (outside German-speaking countries) that the phrase was not used correctly and actually means “I am a doughnut”, referring to the Berliner doughnut. It has even been embellished into an urban legend, including equally incorrect claims about the audience laughing at this phrase. A Person born or living in Berlin is actually called a Berliner in everyday language German, so no German would have thought that President Kennedy referred accidentally to himself as a donut.
How is "Ich bin ein Berliner" pronounced?
You will understand how confusing this might be if you know that "Berliner" are actually called "Berliner Pfannkuchen" (Berlin pancakes) in Berlin and East Germany. But the German donuts are called "Berliner", "Kreppel" or "Krapfen" everywhere else in Germany.
What Does Berliner Mean In English? Does It Mean Donut?
The word Berliner hast two meanings: 1. Berliner refers to someone or something from or in Berlin. I.E. Berliner Theater (Berlin Theater) or "He is a Berliner", like you would say "He is a New Yorker". The 2. meaning refers to the Berliner Pfannkuchen (German jam filled donut), short called Berliner.
How Are German Donuts Called?
Depending on the region they are called "Berliner", Pfannkuchen", "Kreppel" or "Krapfen".
How To Make Step-by-Step
Step 1 - Prepare The Pre-Dough
Heat the milk to lukewarm and add the flour to a stand mixer bowl.
Then form a well and add the sugar, yeast, and the lukewarm milk to the well.
Gently mix the milk with the sugar and yeast while you are incorporating some flour from the rim of the well. Then cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and allow to sit for about 10 minutes.
Step 2 - Prepare The Dough
Add the zest of about half of a lemon, the milk, the whole egg and the egg yolks, butter, and salt to the bowl.
Step 3 - Knead The Dough
Knead on medium for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. During the first few minutes of kneading, you would add the rum, vinegar, and vanilla extract to the dough. If you prefer not to add alcohol to the dough, add milk instead.
The vinegar is the secret ingredient that gives the Berliner it´s fluffiness, don´t worry you will not taste it.
Step 4 - Windowpane Test
Check if your dough is ready to proof with the so called windowpane test. Then cover the bowl again with a clean kitchen towel and let the dough proof for about 1 ½ - 2 hours.
Step 5 - Divide Dough
After the proofing time, slightly dust the countertop with flour and divide the dough into 12-14 equal sized pieces. You can weigh this, but as you know I only eyeball it.
Step 6 - Shape Dough
Shape each piece to a ball and place it onto a with parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten each ball with the palm or the fingers of your hand. Alternatively you can use a large drinking glass to flatten the balls.
Cover the dough balls with a clean kitchen towel and allow to proof for about 1 hour. Then remove the kitchen towel and allow the dough balls to sit uncovered for about 30 minutes. They will form a little skin which is the trick to make perfect Berliner.
Step 7 - Frying
In the meantime, add oil to a large pot and heat the oil to about 330°F. If you don´t have a thermometer on hand you can use a wooden spoon or skewer to test the temperature of the oil. The oil is ready if you see little bubbles around the spoon.
While you are waiting for the oil to heat, line a cooling rack or baking sheet with two or three layers of paper towels. When your oil is up to temperature lower the dough balls carefully into the hot oil using a slotted spoon or strainer spoon. Allow enough space for them to float as they will rise during the frying process.
Fry the Berliner for about 1 ½ to 2 min. on one side before you turn them to the other side, where you fry them for another 1 ½ to 2 minutes
Step 8 - Sugar Coating
When they are golden brown and fully cooked, remove the Berliner from the oil and place them onto the with paper towel prepared cooling rack.
Allow them to cool slightly before you roll them in sugar. This step is optional but if you like it sweet, you might want to do this.
Step 9 - Filling
Then allow them to cool completely before you fill them with jam or Nutella using a filler tube nozzle tip.
Tip: Warming the jam before filling it into the piping bag will make it easier to pipe. It is best to use smooth preserves. Jam that contains fruit chunks will make it impossible to fill the donuts as the chunks will clock the piping tip. If you have jam with larger pieces of fruit just pass the jam through a fine mesh sieve.
Step 10 - Dusting With Powdered Sugar
Generously dust the Berliner with powdered sugar.
Recipe Video Tutorial
Berliner are traditionally filled with smooth, high-quality preserves. But you can find them also filled with hazelnut spread like Nutella or Eierlikör cream and other delicious fillings too.
Try other variations with a filling of chocolate pastry custard, coffee cream, lemon custard, Bavarian Cream or German vanilla pudding buttercream.
You can coat the tasty pastry with icing instead of powdered sugar. To do so, mix 1 cup of powdered sugar with 2-3 tablespoons of hot water, lemon or orange juice. Whisk the icing until smooth and pour over the doughnuts - done! Or add some sprinkles or other decorations while the icing is still wet. As a special taste highlight, the icing can be refined with delicious fruit powder that intensifies the flavor of the filling.
Easy Homemade Recipe
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 2 ¼ tsp. yeast one package
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- ½ cup sugar
- ⅔ cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 egg yolks
- 6 tbsp. butter soft, but not melted
- ½ tsp. fine salt
- 3 tbsp. rum
- 1 tbsp. vinegar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 quarts vegetable oil lard, or clarified butter
Filling & Decoration
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 1 small glass of your favorite jam or hazelnut spread i.e. Nutella
- ⅛ cup powdered sugar optional
- Heat milk to lukewarm.
- Add flour to a stand mixer bowl and form a well.
- Add sugar, yeast, and the lukewarm milk to the well. Gently mix the milk with the sugar and yeast while incorporating some flour.
- Cover and allow to sit for about 10 - 15 minutes.
- Add 1 tsp. lemon zest, sugar, milk, egg, egg yolks, and salt to the bowl and knead on medium-low for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Add rum, vinegar, and vanilla extract during the first few minutes of the kneading process to the dough. While continuing to knead the dough, gradually incorporate the soft butter. If you don´t want to use alcohol, add milk instead. Don´t worry, you will not taste the vinegar, but it is the secret ingredient that will turn your Berliner pillowy.
- Cover and set aside in a warm place for 1.5 - 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Slightly dust the countertop with flour and divide the dough into 12-14 equal sized pieces.
- Shape each piece to a ball and place it onto a with parchment lined baking sheet.
- Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand. Cover them with a clean kitchen towel and allow to proof for about 1 hour.
- Remove the kitchen towel and allow the balls to sit uncovered for about 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, add oil to a large pot and heat the oil to about 330°F. Line a cooling rack or baking sheet with two or three layers of paper towels.
- Lower the dough balls into the hot oil using a slotted spoon or strainer spoon. Allow enough space for them to float as they will rise during the frying process.
- Fry for about 1 ½ to 2 min. on one side before you turn them to the other side, frying for another 1 ½ to 2 minutes
- Remove the Berliner from the oil using the slotted spoon and place them onto the with paper towel prepared cooling rack.
- Allow to cool slightly and roll in sugar.
- To fill them, allow them to cool completely and fill them with jam or Nutella using a piping nozzle tip.
- Optional: generously dust Berliner with powdered sugar.
FAQ - Everything Else You Might Want to Know
They look a lot the same and have the same concept but Berliner contain usually less sugar than the jam filled American donuts and are fluffier. German recipes call for high-quality ingredients and usually don´t use corn syrup, palm oil products or other unhealthy ingredients.