My Mother’s Berliner Brot („Berliner Bread“ – Traditional German Christmas Spiced Bar Cookies)

Being a full-time working mom, my mother was never one to have much time to spend on producing home-made sugary sweets that would also interfere with the balanced diet she observed when making food for herself and the members of her family. With one exception. There would not be a Christmas without her famous and much-appreciated Berliner Brot. I cannot remember one without. I would not like to remember one without. She still sends around a package every year and it still disappears within almost magical speed. So sometimes I have to replenish our supplies myself, and she generously shared her recipe with me.

On the trivia side, despite the name, Berliner Brot does not originate from Berlin at all, but is actually a local speciality from the Bergisches Land in the West of Germany. I tried to research how the sweet came to its name and hit on very few explanations. The only ones I met with range from the mythical (something very much in the line of „Virtuous Maiden Getting Lost in the Woods“) to a theory pointing to different schools of baking, namely the „Viennese“ as opposed to the „Berlin school“ with the latter involving only the finest spices, which seems a fair enough guess when you take a look at the ingredients of Berliner Brot. Nevertheless, I could not find evidence that any of these schools actually existed and/or were involved in any sort of competition with one another. So, I believe, the question of why Berliner Brot is called Berliner Brot remains open for discussion.

Berliner Brot is traditionally made with sugar beet syrup or, alternatively, apple kraut, but I have picked up my mother’s custom of replacing it with not-at-all-authentic Canadian maple syrup which is more aromatic and less sweet. The proportions are the same, though, should you prefer to switch back to sugar beet syrup or apple kraut.

Sanni

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Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons of warm water
  • 170 grams of sugar
  • 65 grams of maple syrup (alternatively sugar beet syrup or apple kraut)
  • 1 tablespoon of dark rum
  • 1 tip of knife of ground allspice
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • 250 grams of strong flour (German type 550)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 75 grams of chopped dark chocolate
  • 125 grams of whole almonds
  • 50 grams of finely chopped candied lemon peel
  • For the glaze: 100 grams of icing sugar, 1 teaspoon of dark rum, a few tablespoons of water

Preparation:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees (fan oven).
  2. Spread the almonds on a baking tray and roast in the oven for approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool down and set aside.
  3. Beat the eggs and the water and add the sugar bit by bit. Beat until creamy and almost white.
  4. Bit by bit, beat in the syrup, rum, allspice and cinnamon. Then change to kneading hooks.
  5. Pass the flour and the baking powder through a fine mesh sieve and slowly fold into the dough.
  6. With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate, roasted almonds and lemon peel.
  7. Grease a baking tray. Spread the dough on the baking tray evenly approximately 1/2 cm high. The amount of dough will cover approximately 1/2 of a regular sized baking tray (which is plenty). Unless you have a smaller baking tray, you can build a little barrier by folding a piece of aluminum paper several times to prevent the dough from spreading. As the dough is very heavy and dense, this will work fine.
  8. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for approximately 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 170 degrees Celsius and continue baking for another 5 to 7 minutes.
  9. For the glaze, mix the ingredients until the glaze is smooth and thick. Glaze the cake while still hot.
  10. Let cool down a bit (but not completely), then cut into rectangular or diamond-shaped individual pieces.
  11. If you wish your cookies to remain moist (which is how I like them better), store in an airtight container while still a (very) little bit warm. Traditionally, Berliner Brot is allowed to dry and can then be stored in a metal box or an airtight container for several weeks.

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