The Great German Bake Off

Before coming to Germany I thought I was a fairly good at baking. Lemon drizzle cake, raspberry muffins, carrot cake, treacle tart, no problem. I’m not claiming to be Mary Berry (British baking legend), but I could confidently walk in to the office knowing my baked goods would go down a treat. However, that confidence was soon rocked on my first attempt at baking in Germany.

Success! The sticky toffee cake as mentioned PHOTO: Sarah E

I find baking quite therapeutic so setting out to make some cupcakes for my partners colleagues was going to be the perfect activity to remedy the stress of moving countries. But I soon learnt that it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as I thought. The first hurdle is to tackle the baking aisle at the supermarket and the hundred and one flours available. The choice is great but when you just want a self-raising flour, think again. After much internet searching I discovered self-raising flour doesn’t exist here, so it’s a case of getting plain flour and adding baking powder. I find that Type 405 flour is the best option then add the required amount of Backpulver, usually zwei Teelöffel (teaspoon) per 150g of flour. As baking is all about the chemistry, it’s better to get this as exact as possible otherwise your sponge will sink or taste like iron.

After gathering the ingredients and following the usual cupcake recipe to the letter, they were a disaster. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a miserable result, the sunken cupcakes went straight in the bin. What was meant to be a stress-free activity turned to be disappointment. But I wasn’t going to be put off and set about making a second batch. Practice makes perfect after all. I’ve been practising for over a year now and the cakes have definitely improved, although I’m not quite ready to compete on ‘Das große Backen‘, the German equivalent to the Great British Bake Off.

I’ve found that standard British/American recipes are slightly more difficult to navigate now as not all the ingredients are on hand. However, with a bit of creativity and willingness to work around issues you’ll get there. It was just this week when I attempted a sticky toffee tray bake I had to find a solution another baking conundrum. After hunting high and low in Edecka for muscavado sugar, I resorted to Google and scoured numerous forums to discover muscavado sugar isn’t available here in Germany. Brown sugar, yes, but not light or dark muscavado sugar. Rather than be put off, I decided to make a version of it by adding molasses to normal brown sugar and it works. Molasses is essentially treacle, another item you can’t find easily here without paying a fortune, but luckily I recently returned from the UK with a bottle of the good stuff, Lyle’s golden syrup. Also, you’ll be hard pushed to find vanilla extract here, another item I recently hauled back to Bremen with me. What you’ll find in sachets (pictured below) isn’t quite the same as vanilla extract and certainly won’t taste the same, trust me, I’ve ruined many Victoria sponges with it. Another expat blogger, Sarah F, has shared what other foods you might also struggle to find in Germany.

Staple ingredients for baking PHOTO – Sarah E

To stock your store cupboard with key baking ingredients, here’s what to look for:

Mehl: Flour…for a plain flour that you can add baking powder to, go for Type 405.

Sandzucker: Caster sugar, a finer sugar that is best for baking light sponges compared with refined sugar you would put in your coffee.

Backpulver: Baking powder. In the UK you find backpulver in tubs but here you need to look for sachets which are usually quite cheap, and also state they are glutenfrei, which I haven’t found out why that is yet. I read that it isn’t quite as strong as British baking powder so I tend to add a touch more.

Natron: Baking soda. You’re most likely to find 7g sachets by Dr Oetker, a well know German baking company, ..

Puderzucker: Powdered sugar, or mostly known as icing sugar used for buttercream icing.

Troken-Backhefe: Dried yeast. I haven’t experimented with bread yet, why would you when awesome bakeries line the streets. I have tried making pizza dough using my usual Jamie Oliver recipe but that resulted in another disaster so I’m sticking to pizza Mehl from now on, Jamie’s pizzas are shelved for now.

If you’re attempting your first bake in your German kitchen, good luck, hopefully this advice will help avoid any baking disaster. Feel free to share your baking photos with us.

– Sarah E