17 Traditional German Cake Recipes
It's for good reason that traditional German cakes are famous all over the world. Not only are they scrumptious, but the country's cake repertoire is also highly diverse. From the chocolaty, kirsch-spiked Black Forest Cake to a quick and easy apple sheet cake, there's a cake for every taste. Some German cakes are more elaborate and time-consuming than others, especially those that call for a yeast dough, a particularity of the more rustic German cakes. What all classic German cakes have in common is that they are made from scratch and use wholesome ingredients. In this selection of 17 German cakes, you'll get ideas for your next Kaffee und Kuchen get-together, plus tips on how to substitute or make typical ingredients used in German baking, such as quark and vanilla sugar.
Apfelkuchen (Apple Cake)
It is not unusual for traditional German cakes with fruit, especially with apples and plums, to have a yeasted pastry base. Mostly these cakes are large sheet cakes meant to serve a crowd; a yeasted dough base was more economical than a butter-based batter or pastry crust. While the dough of these cakes is usually not very sweet, the streusel topping that is often added makes up for it. Yeasted dough tastes fresh the same day but if you freeze the cake within a few hours, let it thaw and pop it in the hot oven for just a few minutes to crisp up the dough — it will taste almost as good as freshly baked.
Authentic German Cheesecake
Cheesecake is comfort food in Germany, too. The filling of authentic German cheesecake (Käsekuchen) is made with quark, a dairy product that might be difficult to find where you live. But 0% Greek yogurt works very well as an economical and widely available substitute. The addition of non-instant vanilla pudding mix is to stabilize the filling. Try not to overbake the cheesecake; the filling should still be a little wobbly but it will firm up further as it cools.
Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich)
Bienenstich is one of the most beloved German cakes that evokes childhood memories for many people. True, this German classic is neither a quick nor super easy cake to bake with its yeasted dough base, topped with a caramelized almond crust, and filled with creamy pudding made from scratch. Traditionally Bienenstich was a large sheet cake and bakeries in Germany still sell it that way, by the slice. You might also wonder, is this bread or cake? It is in fact very much a cake — in Germany, many traditional cakes, especially sheet cakes, have a yeast dough base. This is a scaled-down recipe for home bakers.
Black Forest Cake
There are several accounts of how and when Germany's most famous cake was invented, and it's not even proven that Black Forest cake (Schwarzwälder Kirschttorte) originated in the Black Forest in southern Germany. What is uncontested though is that the cherry brandy kirsch (Kirschwasser), which has been traditionally produced in the Black Forest for generations, is a key ingredient in this layered cake. Kirsch is drizzled onto the chocolate sponge layers, which are then filled with cherries and lots of whipped cream. Black Forest cake tastes better the day after it has been assembled so the flavors can meld — so if you can wait to dig in, let the cake sit in the fridge overnight.
Don't be deterred by the simplicity nor the name of this classic German cake. Because it is a cake for a crowd and traditionally served after funerals, it is also referred to as "funeral cake." The best part of this cake is the buttery, crumbly topping and ideally it should be served when it's still warm. But unlike other yeasted German sheet cakes, which taste best the same day, Butterkuchen is very tasty even when it's a bit dry. Cut it into small pieces the size of biscotti and dunk them into tea, coffee, or hot cocoa.
The name of this traditional German and Austrian sheet cake gives away its origin: Donauwellen means the waves of the river Danube, which flows in southern Germany and Austria. The bottom layer is a white vanilla cake, followed by a layer of chocolate cake and canned sour cherries. When it comes to the next layer, there are different variations, and this recipe is lighter with a custard filling instead of buttercream. It's a rather rich cake that is cut into small squares or rectangles.
Easy German Apple Sheet Cake
Sheet cakes (Blechkuchen) are a traditional mainstay of German baking. By definition, large sheet cakes are the ultimate cakes for a party or any occasion when you need to feed a lot of people. Germany has endless variations of sheet cakes. Easy ones like this apple sheet cake are topped only with fruit but always with a generous amount because sheet cake, in all its simplicity, should never be dry. Other cakes have a custard or quark layer below the fruit topping, or a rich, moist poppy seed filling, often combined with nuts and raisins. The cakes are either left plain or they're dusted with confectioners' sugar, drizzled with a simple white icing, or topped with streusel. If a whole sheet cake seems too large at first, consider sheet cake the the ideal bake-ahead cake that you can freeze and take out a few slices at a time.
German Advocaat Cake
Unlike eggnog, German egg liqueur, usually sold as advocaat, is not tied to any holiday season in Germany, and so it's consumed and used to spike cakes and other desserts year-round. You can find advocaat in liquor stores or make your own, which is quick and easy. Adding a whole cup of advocaat to this classic German Easter cake might sound like it will impart a strong alcohol taste but it doesn't — the spirit evaporates during baking and gives the cake a wonderfully fluffy texture. Traditionally the cake is baked in a Bundt or a kugelhupf pan but you can also use a tube pan, just bake it for a shorter time as needed.
German Rhubarb Streusel Cake
Germans really love their streusel — and by streusel we don't mean itsy bitsy crumbles but large, chunky, crunchy streusel! There is virtually no German cake with fruit of which there isn't a variation with streusel topping. Rhubarb streusel cake is especially popular because rhubarb on its own is very tart and it's only the sweet streusel that makes it the treat that it is. Interestingly, it was only after the price of sugar dropped and was no longer a luxury that rhubarb gained popularity in Germany and found its way into streusel and cakes alike.
German Strawberry Roll
Fresh strawberries are the most popular fruit for this German version of a jelly roll but it can also be made with other berries, such as blueberries or blackberries. Made with fat-free sponge and a filling using only three ingredients — whipped cream, sugar, and chopped strawberries — this is a very light, airy cake. After assembling it, let it sit for a few hours in the fridge so the flavors can meld. Sometimes German recipes call for gelatin to stabilize the whipped cream, especially if the fruit is very juicy.
Käsesahnetorte (German Yogurt Mousse Cake)
This is a festive layered cake that goes by two different names in Germany: Käsesahnetorte or Käsequarktorte. The second name indicates the key ingredient in this cake: quark. If you cannot find quark, you can use 0% Greek yogurt, which makes an excellent substitute. The technique of baking a single sponge cake and cutting it in two equal layers instead of baking two separate thinner cakes is typical for the way layered cakes are make in Germany. It creates a neater surface and the sponge layers are moister. This cake should be baked the day before serving, as the filling needs several hours to set. The cake tastes better the next day, too.
Marmorkuchen (German Marble Cake)
For generations of Germans, Marble Cake was the most common birthday cake, or the cake that would be served during visits to your grandparents on a Sunday afternoon. German home bakers today have adopted cake recipes from around the globe and marble cake has gotten some tough competition, yet it has remained a classic. Its formula hasn't changed much. A good marble cake is made of butter (always unsalted in German recipes), sugar, vanilla sugar (a staple in German baking), eggs, all-purpose flour, milk, and unsweetened baking cocoa. The rule of thumb is that one third of the batter is darkened from cocoa. For special occasions it is baked in a Bundt pan, but baking it in a tube pan or a large loaf pan is also popular.
Ottilienkuchen (German Chocolate Sprinkle Cake)
The recipe for this cake first appeared in the German baking book entitled "Backen macht Freude" ("The Joy of Baking") in 1930. Like other books published by the Dr. Oetker company, it was intended to promote its products such as baking powder and custard powder, but soon enough the books gained a life on their own. The baking book is still in print; it grew to over 400 pages and has been revamped and updated over numerous editions. Ottilienkuchen, however, has remained and is as popular as it was when the book was first published — although the identity of Ottilie, after whom the cake was named, is shrouded in mystery.
Red Currant Pie
Red currants are small, tart, and juicy berries that are a beloved summer fruit in Germany. Currants, both red currants and black currants, are not to be confused with the dried currants sold in the baking aisle of supermarkets, which are from raisins. The berries ripen in late June or early July. One of the most popular German desserts with red currants is red currant meringue pie, with red currants folded into the meringue topping. If you're wondering why a "pie" is included in this collection of cakes, it's worth noting that the German language actually does not distinguish between a cake and a pie — they're all called "kuchen." This pie should be eaten within a few hours; if the meringue topping sits, it tends to soften.
Rhubarb-Almond Custard Cake
Rhubarb season is always eagerly awaited in Germany, as rhubarb is the first locally grown produce in the spring that can be turned into a cake or a pie, long before the first strawberries ripen in June. The start of the local rhubarb harvest depends on the regional climate but there is a clear end date to rhubarb season in Germany: St. John's Day on June 24. And there is a practical reason for this — as the season progresses, the rhubarb contains more oxalic acid, which not only makes it unpalatable but also harmful to ingest. If you don't get around to making this cake during rhubarb season, no worries — rhubarb freezes very well.
Zwetschgendatschi (German Plum Sheet Cake)
In late summer during plum season, it's impossible not to encounter plum cake in Germany — it's everywhere and there are many different variations of it although plum sheet cake remains a classic. Plum cake in Germany is exclusively made with Italian plums or zwetschge plums. Both plum types are subspecies of the long European plums and both are freestone, meaning the pit separates easily from the flesh. Because Italian plums tend to be juicier than zwetschge plums and they can turn the crust soggy, zwetschge plums are the preferred type for baking in Germany. If you can get your hands on European plums and aren't sure which one you have, no problem — either plum makes a delightful cake.
Versunkener Apfelkuchen (German Sunken Apple Cake)
It's debatable whether German sunken apple cake is a cake or a pie because the apples are partially covered by the batter. While there are many different variations of this popular cake, one thing that all recipes have in common is that the apples are not chopped or sliced but cut in halves or quarters depending on the size of the apples, then cut deeply but not all the way through (a wooden toothpick inserted in the bottom third of the apple does the trick so you don't actually slice the apple). The apples are placed with the round, cut sides facing up. If you like, you can also fan the apples out in a decorative way. The cooled cake is dusted with confectioners' sugar.
Find loads more inspiration in our entire German recipe collection, and more: