A pastry stand in Wolfenbuttel’s Saturday Market selling the Amerikaner and Berliner pastries.
These days our media are ripe with political tongue-slips. We hear the candidates mouthing vitriol at each other in speeches, making slurs, slips and slanders. One of the most famous political blunders was delivered by JFK on June 26, 1963, at the height of the Cold War, in Berlin. That was when our beloved President outed himself as a pastry to hundreds of thousands of amused Germans, by saying, “Ich bin ein Berliner!” By mistakenly inserting the article ‘ein’ he turned what was meant to be a warm “I’m one of you” statements into an even warmer funny moment. He literally said he was a delicious raspberry filled donut very popular with Germans. This funny oops lightened the tension of the Cold War, and thankfully caused no international incidents.
Even funnier to Germans, probably, was his delivery in thick Boston brogue. It became a cute blunder offering a lesson in good German grammar – No articles before people.
But many American ex-pat studenten, myself included, haven’t learned from this Presidential blunder and repeat history. We introduce our nationality and say “Ich bin ein Amerikaner,” instead of “Ich bin Amerikaner”, and proclaim ourselves yet another delicious and popular German pastry. Yes, in Germany, as it turns out, Germans do eat Americans. This treat is available at nearly every corner Bakerei in Germany, and many childhood memories are filled with eating Amerikaner as an after school snack.
I was introduced to the Amerikaner at the Wolfenbuttel Saturday Market three years ago in Germany’s Lower Saxony region. I encountered it at a pastry stand next to its more famous bakery cousin, the Berliner. Wash it down with some strong German coffee and a shot of locally made Jaegermeister (or another local schnapps) and you have a weekend breakfast on the go.
The Amerikaner is a popular round iced cake batter pastry, made of flour, butter, and lemon juice. It’s glazed on the bottom, and can be glazed plain white, or half-white/half chocolate, like the American Black and White Cookie, made famous in the TV show Seinfeld. The black and white version seems to be most popular in Berlin, and everywhere else, the Amerikaner is glazed white. Sometimes the cakes are even amped up and decorated with funny faces, which are then marketed as Smiley Amerikaner.
Why the Germans call this pastry an Americanker is unclear. Some theorists say it’s an alteration of the former name Ammoniakaner, because the cookie uses baking soda or ammonium bicarbonate as leavening, instead of the more popular leaving agent, baking powder, used in Germany. Other food etymologists say the Amerikaner was brought over by Americans in the 1950’s as the black and white cookie, and simply named for its carrier.
Baking soda and powder are both leaveners but are chemically different. Baking soda is a base and when mixed with an acid like lemon juice or buttermilk, creates bubbles of carbon dioxide, imparting the leavening. Baking soda will bubble and leaven on its own when heated, but if not balanced with an acid, the resulting taste may be a bit metallic. Baking powder is a mix of baking soda and a dry acid like with cream of tartar or corn starch and reacts in two steps – once when mixed with wet ingredients, and next when heated.
Whatever the origin of this delicious Amerikaner pastry, make sure to drop the ein when introducing your nationality, unless you want to be forever known as a sweet treat.