Tomorrow, Carnival starts in the Rhineland! At this time of year, you can’t get away without eating Berliner doughnuts! While this traditional German recipe takes time (the dough has to proof), it is super easy and guaranteed to succeed. Just follow these simple steps to make your own.
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I wasn’t going to make Berliner doughnuts
To be honest, I was not planning to make Berliner doughnuts this week. I had never made them or anything like them before and I was a little worried about the complexity of the recipe. There is no need for you to worry though – this recipe really is super easy and they taste so good!
I also realised that I had made some of the traditional German recipes following other posts about German traditions: Weckmänner for St Martins Day and Berliner currywurst for the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I really had to make a similarly traditional recipe for the Rhineland Carnival. It really does not get much more traditional than this!
Berliner doughnuts = Carnival
In our area, Berliners doughnuts are synonymous with Carnival. Although Carnival does not start for a few days, bakeries are already selling them. Our local bakery even has an extra waggon for the few days of Carnival in front of its shop, just to sell Berliner!
This recipe is for simple jam-filled Berliner doughnuts – what many of you would probably call a jam doughnut. Here, the bakeries sell a number of other variations:
- Jam-filled with icing and ‘confetti’ on top.
- Filled with a vanilla custard
- Filled with chocolate custard, often with chocolate icing
- A boozy version filled with an Advocaat sauce (a traditional Dutch liqueur made from eggs, sugar and brandy).
On a side note: I am not a fan of Advocaat, so don’t like the Berliner doughnuts filled with Advocaat sauce. However, Royal De Kuyper Distilleries just made a lemon cheesecake ‘Likorette’. Now that is a flavour I would love to try in my Berliner.
Why do Germans eat Berliner doughnuts during Carnival?
As we explained in our Rhineland Carnival post, Carnival is the last few days before Ash Wednesday, when Lent starts. It is common to give up something during Lent. Traditionally this would be meat, alcohol or fat. In preparation, during Carnival, the fat is used up in meals such as doughnuts and other fried goods.
This is not limited to Germany. In many countries, Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), Pancake Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday are days to eat pancakes, doughnuts or other goods with a high-fat content to use up the fat before Lent.
In fact, Germans also like to eat Berliner doughnuts one New Year’s Eve. It is not sure where this tradition comes from, though it may also have an origin in fasting. Then again, it could just be that they form a good basis for intended alcohol consumption.
Tips for the perfect Berliner doughnuts
We have a few tips to help ensure your Berliner doughnuts are perfect.
Proof your dough
Let the dough rise. Proofing or proving is letting the mixed dough sit and for the yeast to grow, building air in the dough and causing the dough to rise. Cover it with a clean tea towel and let it sit somewhere warm. If you don’t have somewhere warm in the house or outside in the sun, put your oven on low and let the dough proof for approx. 30 minutes. You need to do this before and after forming the dough balls.
Weigh the dough balls
In order to make sure that your Berliners are all the same size, weigh the dough for your dough balls. Each one should weight 75-80 grams.
Refrigerate to form a skin
Once you’ve formed your dough balls, place them on a floured tray that will fit in your fridge (floured so that they don’t stick to the tray). Place them somewhere warm and dry to proof again. Once they have risen to about three times their original size, put them in your fridge for about 10 minutes. This will help dry out the dough to form a ‘skin’. This skin will help ensure that the Berliner doughnuts turn gold-brown when you fry them.
Get your perfect pale ring
Traditionally, the perfect Berliner doughnut will have a pale ring around it. There are three steps to this traditional German recipe which ensure that your doughnuts will have this ring, too.
- Once your balls have finished proofing, place them in the refrigerator. The top of the dough balls, which is exposed to the cold air, will form a skin.
- Carefully place the dough ball ‘skin side’ down in the oil.
- Once you have enough dough balls in the oil, put a lid on the saucepan. The warm air in the saucepan will force the dough (that was on the tray) to expand.
Use a mild oil
The Berliner doughnuts will take on some of the taste of the oil in which they are cooked. Make sure you use a mild oil like vegetable oil or canola oil.
Don’t let the oil get too hot. Once it has heated to the right temperature, turn down the heat. If you don’t, your Berliner doughnuts will be too dark but not cooked properly inside as the oil will keep heating.
You could try to make these Berliner doughnuts in an air fryer, but it would defeat the purpose. These doughnuts are made before Lent to use up the fat in the house.
Strain the jam
You can use any flavour jam or jelly that you like for these Berliner doughnuts. Traditionally, they are served filled with jam or jelly, especially plum or raspberry, apricot or rosehip jam. I used homemade red currant jelly as we have a lot of it in our cellar (my Mother-in-Law has been busy!).
No one wants pips in their Berliner. Whatever type of jam you decide to use, if it is not smooth, strain it to remove any pips or seeds or skin or lumps. Of course, this assumes that you are not using vanilla, chocolate or Advocaat custard…
And a bit of history: “I am a doughnut“
On 26 June 1963, US President John F. Kennedy gave a speech in then West Berlin. In this speech President Kennedy famously said:
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!“US President John F. Kenndy
While the speech is now the best-known speech of the Cold War, Kennedy was also mocked for saying “I am a doughnut”. The story has been embellished to add that the crowd laughed at this mistake. However, this is not true.
While Berliner doughnuts are called Berliner throughout Germany, in Berlin they are called Pfannkuchen (which is what everyone else calls pancakes). To say “I am a doughnut” in Berlin, Kennedy would, therefore, have had to have said “Ich bin ein Pfannkuchen“.
Enjoy some Berliner doughnuts today!
Even if you don’t celebrate Carnival and are not planning to give up fat for Lent, you can still enjoy these doughnuts. This traditional German recipe takes time – any recipe that requires the dough to prove takes time – but it is super easy and fun. Just follow these simple steps to make your own. I even got the right the first time I made them!
Why not try your hand at this traditional German recipe? What will you fill them with?
- Dough hook attachment
- Paper towel
- Skinny nozzle attachment
For the dough
- 500 g plain flour
- 1 packet of dry yeast
- 50 g white sugar
- 1 flat teaspoon of salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 100 g melted butter at room temperature
- 125 mL lukewarm milk
For the filling
- 1.5 L canola or vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup jam strained if necessary
- caster sugar and icing sugar for dusting
For the dough
- Pour dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir until well combined.
- Add eggs, egg yolks, butter and milk. Mix well using a dough hook until well combined. and airy. This should take 6 to 7 minutes.
- Place the dough in a warm, dry place to prove for about 30 minutes or until tripled in size.
- Remove the dough from its bowl and knead for a few minutes.
- Cut the dough into 12 equal parts (approx. 80g each) and roll into nice, even balls. Place on a flat, floured tray and press each ball flat for a few seconds.
- Cover the trays with your dough balls and place them in a warm, dry place again to prove for another 30 or so minutes until they have at least doubled in size.
- Place the dough balls on the tray in the fridge for 10 minutes.
- Place the oil in a saucepan and heat to 160°c. Carefully place some of the dough balls in the oil. The side that was facing up during proving should be facing down in the oil. Place the lid in the saucepan.
- Fry for 2-3 minutes then turn the balls to cook the other side for the same time.
- Remove from the oil and place on paper towel to remove excess oil.
For the filling
- Using a long and skinny piping bag attachment, pierce the Berliner and squeeze a good amount of the jam into the Berliner. If you fill it too much, it will squirt out.
- Sprinkle with caster sugar and dust with icing sugar to serve.