Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) is by far my favorite Sunday tradition in Germany. (For more information on Sundays in Germany, see this post.) After a nice big, relaxing breakfast and some down time, many Germans spend Sunday afternoon either at home, at a local cafe, or at the home of friends or family members to enjoy Kaffee und Kuchen. Many people bake their own Kuchen, but others simply buy it from their local bakery. Either way, Kuchen is delicious!
Kuchen is not anything like American birthday cake. Depending on the type, it’s more of a fancy torte, pie, or pound cake. In general, most desserts in Germany, especially Kuchen, are not as sweet as American desserts. I’ve come to really enjoy them, and I find the sugar quantity quite pleasant. It’s enough to satisfy my sweet tooth, but it doesn’t leave me in a total sugar coma afterwards!
Many of the types of Kuchen that tourists and newcomers encounter in Germany are unfamiliar, and there aren’t always extensive descriptions or pictures of them in restaurants and cafes. Additionally, while some restaurants and cafes will have an English menu, it’s not a given, so I’ve given you the German names of popular varieties of Kuchen, as well as a description of each of them below.
- Bienenstich: A torte with cream filling and almonds in caramelized sugar on the top, Bienenstich literally means “bee sting”. Don’t worry–there’s nothing about this Kuchen that stings! It actually got its name in the 1400s in the town of Andernach on the Rhein river. According to the story, the people of Linz, the town across the river, got very angry because the Kaiser decided that the tolls that the town of Linz once collected from ships passing through the river, would now go to the town of Andernach. The people of Linz planned an attack on Andernach in the wee hours of the morning. Little did they know, two young bakers from Andernach had climbed the town wall to get to the beehives because they wanted a sweet treat after baking bread that morning. As the boys heard the first shots fire, they threw the bee hives at the attackers! The bees were quite angry and swarmed the attackers and many of them got stung. It was enough to ward off the attacks! The town had a celebration for the two boys, who asked for some Kuchen as their reward. The Kuchen is called Bienenstich to this day.
- Marmorkuchen: Marmorkuchen translates to “marble cake”, and it is one of my favorites! It has a similar taste and texture to pound cake, and it’s made up of chocolate and vanilla cake swirled together. I’ve seen it served plain or with a glaze icing, chocolate icing, or powdered sugar on top.
- Mohnkuchen: Mohnkuchen, or “poppyseed cake” is my husband’s favorite! I’m not a huge fan, but everyone has different tastes. It’s a torte made up of a crust, LOTS of poppyseeds for the filling, and most of the time it has a streusel topping. It’s definitely something different, and it’s a German classic, so I highly recommend trying it.
- Käsekuchen: While this translates to “cheesecake”, it’s actually not your typical New York style cheesecake that you might expect. Instead of cream cheese, Käsekuchen is made with Quark, which is a fresh curd cheese that tastes a little bit like sour cream. The result is a lighter, less dense, and less sweet version of cream cheese. It’s different than what Americans are used to, but it’s still delicious!
- Apfelkuchen: Apfelkuchen, or apple cake, is also a German classic. It’s not quite a pie, but it’s also not quite cake-like in the American sense, as it’s much denser than typical American cakes. Apfelkuchen is especially tasty in the late summer and fall when apples are in season.
- Erdbeerkuchen: The closest thing we have to Erdbeerkuchen (strawberry cake) in the United States is strawberry shortcake, but it’s still quite different. This cake has a shortcake-like base, a cream filling, and a thick layer of strawberries on top! This is especially popular in June, at the peak of strawberry season. When both strawberries and rhubarb are in season, you can often find a strawberry-rhubarb version of this cake. There are lots of other similar cakes with seasonal fruit toppings that you can find. In any case, I highly recommend eating with the seasons, even when it comes to cake!
These are just a few of the types of Kuchen to be found in Germany. There are so many more, and each region and bakery may do them all slightly differently. As a tourist in Germany, there are many ways you can partake in this blissful Sunday afternoon tradition. If you’re renting an apartment or vacation house with a kitchen, I recommend stopping by a local bakery on Sunday morning and picking out several pieces of cake to save for later. Most bakeries close pretty early and may not be open in the afternoon. If you’re staying in a hotel or hostel that doesn’t have a kitchen, I recommend going to a cafe or restaurant on Sunday afternoon. Many places have their specials for their Sunday Kuchen written on a board outside their door. Kaffee und Kuchen is a wonderful German tradition that you’ll definitely want to experience and perhaps continue long after your trip is over.