Germany is known for its rich baking traditions and the plentiful variations of breads and cakes. Specialties such as Black Forest cake and Stollen, classics such as German cheesecake and apple cake as well as the enormous variety of breads enjoy an excellent reputation all over the world.
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For as long as I can remember, baking has always been an important tradition in our home. Mutti baked every weekend; my sister and I couldn’t wait for the delicious cakes to come out of the oven. The smell of freshly baked goods became a fond memory of my childhood.
The multitude of cakes, tortes, pastries, and cookies that the German cuisine has to offer can hardly be listed. Some baked goods are regional or seasonal. These delicacies are mainly enjoyed in certain places or at a certain time of the year, such as the Christmas stollen, Munich Oktoberfest hearts, New Year’s pretzels or Rhenish carnival donuts.
Traditional pastries are also part of the Easter festival. The Easter lamb, or sweet yeast bread nests with colored eggs and plenty of regional specialties. Often three generations gather to celebrate the Easter baking traditions of the delicious treats.
The Advent season and Christmas represent the annual highlight of the family bakery. Numerous customs and traditions sweeten the dark winter time in Germany. Advent with its special magic, the flickering candles, the irresistible scents of mulled wine and freshly baked cookies is one of the most beautiful times of the year. Who doesn’t associate their most wonderful memories with gingerbread, cinnamon stars, vanilla crescents, spritz cookies and Springerle?
And although there are hundreds of sweet baked goods in Germany, bread far exceeds this wealth of options. There are around 3,200 registered bread specialties in Germany. In 2014 the UNESCO commission included German bread culture in the directory of cultural heritage.
The reason for this variety of breads is the regional handcrafted specialties that include different types of grain, seeds, and spices. While in other countries mostly only wheat is used for bread baking, the German bakers create bread with all kinds of grains (i.e. einkorn, spelt, barley, oats, millet and many more) in addition to rye and wheat flour.
It’s not surprising that bread plays a main role at breakfast and dinner in German families. The so-called “Abendbrot” (evening bread) is an old German meal tradition.
As in most German families, in my childhood home the warm meal was served for lunch and the traditional “dinner” was served as a cold meal in the evening.
Depending on the region this meal goes also by the name ‘Vesper’, or ‘Brotzeit’ and is traditionally served on a wooden board instead of a plate.
The great selection of breads and numerous variations for the topping make sure that dinner never gets boring. “Abendbrot” is served as an open-faced sandwich. Butter or margarine are usually spread as the base, topped with cheese, meats, or smoked fish, hard-boiled eggs, and pickled or fresh vegetable slices.
One of my favorite memories is baking bread together with other people from our community in the village Backhaus (baking house). Before every household had its own oven, there were baking houses in the communities which were equipped with huge ovens enabling the villagers to bake bread together for the whole community.
Even in my childhood, these historic ovens were still used, because the crispness and aroma of bread that is baked in a wood fired oven is incomparable and cannot be achieved in modern ovens. In many places, this old custom is back in vogue today with baking houses having re-opened their doors.