Josna Rege

258. Kuchen

In 2010s, Food, Inter/Transnational, places, travel on April 12, 2014 at 7:32 pm

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

from (© picture-alliance / dpa )

from (© picture-alliance / dpa )

Kuchen, or cake, usually served in generous slices with dollops of fresh cream (optional) and coffee, is a German institution. It is most commonly eaten in the afternoon, but is acceptable after a meal, or even as a meal if either the necessity or the occasion for extravagance presents itself. Its status seems to be comparable to that of an English cream tea. An array of kuchen usually includes a variety of different cakes, massive and thick, many made with fruit filling or toppings, and frequently includes torten as well, cakes made in layers, with or without flour, and also often filled with fruit and/or cream.

cafe at Worpswede Museum

cafe at Worpswede Museum

Visiting the artists’ colony of Worpswede, just outside Bremen, we stopped at the Worpswede Museum and communed with the paintings and sculptures in that idyllic setting. Because we hadn’t had any breakfast to speak of, let alone lunch, it was already mid-afternoon by the time we’d worked our way through the museum, and I for one was weak with hunger. We made our way to the café ooh-ing and aahing at the trees, architecture, and works of art en route, but my most heartfelt oohs and aahs were reserved for the food, or lack thereof. By the time we got there lunchtime was over, and all they were serving now was kuchen. But “all” proved to be an interesting word, given what it encompassed.



There were about eight different kuchen to choose from, fully ten inches in diameter and some standing almost six inches tall. There were apple cakes, cherry fruitcakes, cheesecakes, cream-filled layer cakes, works of art all, rivaling the displays we’d just visited in the museum, and I was hard put to it to choose one. Desperately thirsty as well as ravenous, I was pleasantly surprised that they offered tea as well as coffee, a choice of black, green, or herbal tea, and within the black teas, a choice of Darjeeling, Assam, or Earl Grey. It turns out that there is a long-standing tea culture in Northern Germany, particularly in East Friesland, Hamburg, and Bremen. I could see that I was going to be a happy camper.


It was a hard decision. but eventually I settled on something I’d never seen before, a meringue-topped kuchen filled with rhubarb. This was neither the typical rhubarb pie nor the kind of lemon meringue pie one might find in an American diner; it was the queen—no, the empress of the genre. I need not have asked so timidly if I might have some cream as well; it seemed that they served a dish heaped with fresh whipped cream along with the kuchen almost as a matter of course.


I had had a large wedge of apple kuchen (and cream) with my friend’s parents a few days before, also chosen from a dizzying array of different varieties. Although each had its own distinctive—and delicious—flavor and texture, I noticed two—no, three—things about both of them that set them apart from their U.S. counterparts. First, they were not too sweet; in fact, the rhubarb kuchen was not sweet at all, whereas American cakes are almost always loaded with sugar. Second, they weren’t too heavy; in fact, everything from the meringue to the pie crust was as light as air, whereas their American counterparts tend to sink to the bottom of your stomach and stay there. And third, one can tell that the Germans pride themselves on their kuchen being made with the finest ingredients; no margarine, dough conditioners, corn sweeteners, artificial ingredients—in short, no substitutes for the real things. Sadly, all but the top one percent of their American counterparts would be loaded with all of the above.

cycling in Bremen (

cycling in Bremen (

No doubt I exaggerate. There are certainly cakes and pies I have had in the United States that rival the two specimens of kuchen I’ve tasted so far. But they are the exception, not the norm. What I don’t understand is, how come more of the German people aren’t outrageously overweight, given the cakes and breads and potatoes and large quantities of full-fat milk products, beer, red meat, and even lard that they seem to consume? Quite to the contrary, everyone I’ve seen so far has been remarkably trim and fit-looking. I have also been struck by the numbers of middle-aged and elderly people I have seen on bicycles or on foot. Perhaps they get more exercise than Americans do, perhaps they eat in moderation, or perhaps they go easy on the sugar. Whatever it is, I wish them—and us all—Zum Wohl and Guten Appetit!

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Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

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atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

  1. This reminded me of the Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer. I desperately wanted to go (even though it was only for girls) because they had Kaffee und Kuchen every afternoon.

    • I don’t know that series, Shounak–will have to look it up. I too enjoyed lots of exotic food and drink vicariously when I read. Check out this photo from a visit to the artists’ colony of Worpswede, of a sign reading, “Kaffee, Kuchen, Eis kleine Speisen.” P1050604

  2. I wish I could find some of those low sugar cake recipes. My daughter makes wonderful cakes and I love cake but lately have been feeling it’s too sweet. Guess I could look for some recipes. Your visit sounds like it’s going well.

    • It is, Kristin, thank you. Low-key, which is just what I needed. I’ve actually been eating very healthy, though from my blog posts one would think that I’m constantly consuming all this rich food. Today, for example, my friend came back from Frankfurt, where they have a special dish made from a number of herbs (parsley, borage, cress, dill, and a few others). She brought the herbs in a bundle, blended them up with yoghurt, a small amount of mayonnaise, and some seasoning, and we ate it over string beans and with some Frankfurt non-pork sausage. I will see if I can find a low-sugar kuchen recipe.

  3. Yummy photos. FYI, when I was researching Happy Camper for my April 8th article, I found the best available info on the origin: the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation.

    Happy Eating!

    • Thanks and sorry! I just went back and re-read your terrific “F” post, “Fun With English.” Since I don’t remember ever having used the term “happy camper” in writing before, it’s likely that it lodged in my head from reading your blog and found its way out in my “K” post! Having forgotten that you mentioned the origin as well as the term in your post, I did a quick online search and linked to Urban Dictionary for the definition—which is pretty sketchy and really doesn’t explore its origins. The internet can easily get circular in this way. Incorrect information can become truth if it’s recycled enough, and few people bother to give credit to an original work when they appropriate it as their own.

  4. MY mouth was watering… what a delight to know that somewhere in the world good pure ingredients are valued – I felt like dashing into the kitchen straight away to cook up a treat !!

  5. What a marvellous post Josna. Our daughter-in-law is German and we have often visited Germany to see her parents. I have always been mesmerised by the cakes and her Mom bakes like no one I’ve ever known. So I know something of what you have described so beautifully. What a time you must be having.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Don, and that it was confirmed by your own experience. You are quite a traveler! You hadn’t yet mentioned Germany in your blog. Speaking of blogs (and thinking of breaks from them), it’s a lovely Spring (Palm) Sunday here and I think I ought to get up from the computer and go out for a walk before the weather changes—as it will inevitably do. Warm regards to you and your family. J

  6. My father is German – this explains his love of desserts. 🙂 visiting from A to Z

    • Thank you for visiting. While I was doing a little research for this post, I learned that kuchen was v. popular in the U.S. in the states where there is a large community of German heritage: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Apparently it has been named the state dessert of S. Dakota! Wishing the best of health to your father.

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