Monday, March 14, 2016

Happy Pi Day! (aka The Little Things: Pies & Baking in Germany)

Every year for the past few years I’ve celebrated today's date with a slice of pie. (Usually dessert, although pizza is also good.)
Pi = 3.14 = 3/14 = March 14

Pizza you'll find in abundance, complete with weird and wacky toppings. But it was a bit of a shock to find that local bakeries weren’t brimming with dessert pies. 

Loaves, rolls, tortes, pastries, cakes, cheesecakes, yes. Straight-up pie? No.

A couple of forums online noted the same thing, so I knew I wasn’t crazy. And I’m used to making pies at home, so I thought no big deal, right? Ha. That’s when I got my first lessons in baking in Germany:

Lesson 1: Graham crackers are not universal.
My go-to dessert for dinner parties is chocolate chip pie in a graham cracker crust. With so many people helping us when we first got here, we were booking “thank you” dinners fast and furious once we got settled. But I couldn’t find graham crackers anywhere to make my own crust, and the pre-made crusts I had on hand vanished quickly. Recently I found a recommendation to use Vollkorn cookies or digestive biscuits as a substitute for graham crackers. Can’t wait to try it!

Lesson 2a: Stirred, not sifted.
I remember helping my mom in the kitchen as a kid, using the metal flour sifter to mix dry ingredients or get the flour super fine. It was time-consuming and a bit messy, but I loved it. I was a kid. As an adult, I don’t want to deal with that. So it was a bit distressing to discover that most flour here is not sifted, and that you’re expected to weigh it out rather than measure by volume. Hmm. That seems as likely as me buying a flour sifter for old times’ sake.

Lesson 2b: How high can you count?
In addition to having my flour pre-sifted, I was used to buying “all-purpose flour” that took care of my pie, pizza, cookie, and other baking needs. Not so here. Flour has different numerical values for different purposes. Check out the head-spinning details on flour types here. (Now that I know, though, my pizzas are much more successful.)

Lesson 3: Not getting weighed down
After finding the right numbers for my needs but adopting a devil-may-care attitude about weighing my flour (which has worked so far), I soon found myself in a similar predicament with butter. I know, I could look up the conversion, but thankfully I’ve had enough experience with butter to just eye-ball the amount I need/want.

Lesson 4: Mini bits vs. decadent discs
Germans seem to take their chocolate as seriously as their beer. Blocks, bars, figurines—I’ve seen everything except the chocolate chips I’m used to. Eventually I discovered itty bitty mini chips, and Plättchen, dime-sized wafers of really rich chocolate. Although I have to severely adjust the amount I use of either for recipes, experimenting with both has been super sweet.

Lesson 5: Do-it-yourself vanilla
Following a fruitless search through five grocery stores for vanilla extract, I gave up and substituted maple syrup. (This was for fudge*, but now that I know it works, I might use it as a stopgap for some pies.) All of the stores carry vanilla bean pods, but apparently the rest is up to you. So at some point I will need to grab rum or vodka and try my hand making my own vanilla extract.

Now that I’ve got a better handle on some of the baking differences, I’m looking forward to making even more of my favorite pies and sweet things in the future. But if you’re in easy reach of some key lime or French silk goodness today, please have a slice for me!

*Ah, a side note about fudge. I made some and shared it with a bunch of Germans, and they were baffled. Could be the peanut butter, which is also not as big here as in the U.S., but the one vocal fudge fan in the group confirmed that "this milk and sugar thing" is not common here.


  1. You can order vanilla extract from or That's how I got mine. I ended up cheating and buying the cheap chocolate bars at the LIDL and chopping them up for chocolate chips when I made cookies and such. It was cheaper than German chocolate chips and tasted great. Miss you tons!

  2. Thanks for the tips, Serena. Wish you were (still) here!

  3. Wow, what an interesting post! Bachelor Paul didn't cook much in his TEENY kitchen in his hole-in-the-wall-but-furnished Durlach studio so I never would have heard about this!