baking, history lesson, settlement cookbook

Berliner Pfann kuchen

We’re fast-forwarding here (briefly) to the 1960s. After East Germany built the Berlin Wall in 1963, dividing Berlin into two parts, President John F. Kennedy paid a visit to West Berlin to demonstrate America’s support for the divided country. During this visit, he gave a memorable speech in which he proclaimed,

Ich bin ein Berliner!

There’s a rumor floating around that what Kennedy literally said was,

“I am a jelly doughnut.”

See, while Berliner can refer to a citizen of Berlin, it can also refer to a popular German confection, Berliner Pfannkuchen, which is often shortened to Berliner. This pastry is very like a jelly doughnut. By using the article “ein” before “Berliner,” then, say the critics, JFK was calling himself a doughnut rather than a symbolic citizen of Berlin. It’s a fun story that gains a lot of traction in high school classrooms. Indeed, I think I first heard this story in my own 11th-grade European history class.

But unfortunately (or fortunately for JFK), this is one of those history myths. As my friend Aaron explained, it’s still linguistically correct for a person to say “ein Berliner” if they want to say they are a citizen of Berlin (especially if they’re trying to be symbolic, rather than literal, as the president was). So JFK did indeed say that he was a Berliner, or a citizen of Berlin. He was not a jelly doughnut.

But this is!

Remember that versatile kuchen dough that can be used for so many different confections? I made another batch a few days ago and turned it into Berliner Pfann kuchen: jelly doughnuts. Then they took center stage at a doughnut party I held for some friends.

This is a beautiful treat. After making a regular kuchen dough and letting it rise, you roll it out and cut out circles with a biscuit cutter (same as before). This time, though, you place a dollop of jam in the middle of only half the circles and place a plain circle on top. Seal it up by pinching the sides and let rise until light. Then you fry them up in fat (I used Crisco) and roll in cinnamon sugar.

Sigh. Is there anything better than homemade doughnuts?

I think not.

Berliner Pfann kuchen
(adapted slightly from The “Settlement” Cook Book)

1 batch kuchen dough
1/3 cup your choice jam (I used homemade strawberry)
egg white (you can use the leftover from the kuchen dough)
vegetable oil or Crisco for frying

Once the kuchen dough has risen, punch it down and roll out on a floured board to about 1/2 inch thickness. Cut the dough into circles with a biscuit cutter. Make an indentation in half the circles and place a dollop of jam in the middle. Brush the edges of the dough with egg white and place a plain circle of dough on top, creating a sandwich. With your fingers, pinch the sides of the dough to seal it shut. Let rise until light, about twenty minutes.

Heat the vegetable oil over high heat. Once a deep fryer thermometer registers 350 F, use a slotted spoon to place the doughnuts in the fat, about 2-3 at a time. Watch them carefully, as they’ll brown quickly. When they’ve browned on one side (about 2 minutes), turn them over and let them brown on the other side. Remove to a pan lined with paper towels. While the doughnuts are cooling, you can roll them in cinnamon sugar (cinnamon + sugar, your choice of ratios) if you’d like.


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