From flaky squares of Syrian baklava to Spaghettieis, Mary Scherpe of blog Stil in Berlin gives Culture Trip her pick of the best places for dessert and sweet treats in Berlin.
It’s difficult to walk down the street in Berlin without passing a bakery, whether it’s the Middle Eastern spots in Neukölln with windows stacked high with baklava, or a French-style pâtisserie in Mitte with delicately decorated fruit tarts glazed to a shine. After all, a love of sweets is practically built into the daily diary here: Kaffee und kuchen, the German version of the Swedish fika, is a semi-sacred moment during the afternoon to pause, recaffeinate and linger – ideally with a friend and a good conversation – over coffee and a slice of cake.
There are few people as knowledgeable about Berlin’s food scene as Stil in Berlin’s Mary Scherpe. She’s been blogging about Berlin since 2006 and has even created her own comprehensive map of where to eat in the German capital, so who better to turn to for the best places to enjoy something sweet?
With a popular location on Sonnenallee – a hub for Berlin’s Arabic and Turkish communities – Damaskus Konditorei was opened by a family who had to give up their four-decades-old sweets shop in Homs, Syria, because of the war. “This place is the best when it comes to Arabic, sugary-sweet treats,” says Scherpe. “I get one or three portions of the halawet el jibn, a roll of semolina dough filled with white cheese, and never say no to the rosewater sugar syrup to dip it in… Also try their many kanafeh [a dessert made of thin, noodle-like pastry] as well as their baklava.” If you’re looking for a sweet souvenir, they sell beautiful tins of their take on the treat – more nutty than sticky-sweet – which always go down a treat.
An Instagram favourite, JONES Ice Cream is one of the best places in the city for a scoop of eis – and in a city that loves ice cream, there’s plenty of competition. Scherpe says that, despite all the choice, this shop remains her “absolute favourite”. Jones is truly a labour of love; the owner, Gabrielle Jones, learned the art of patisserie in France, and then, as Scherpe puts it, “moved to Berlin for love and artisanal ice cream. Their flavours and textures are divine,” she says. “I highly recommend the roasted chicory root, the mango passion fruit – one of the rare possibilities to taste intense passion fruit in these latitudes – and the whiskey and pecan, which is an excellent flavour to take home.”
Located along the lovely Maybachufer Canal in Kreuzberg, Brammibal’s Donuts is a popular stop for Berliners heading to the market that is held twice weekly along the water. “I’m not a fan of doughnuts, but I do love Brammibal’s – especially in the morning, when they’re super-fresh,” says Scherpe. “They make new flavours every month, depending on the season, and everything is made in-house – not to mention that everything is vegan.” Not only do the doughnuts taste better early in the morning, but you’re more likely to get the flavour you’re craving, as these treats sell fast. If you’re not a morning person, keep an eye out for the food-truck version of the shop, which pops up at foodie events around the city like the Bite Club street-food parties that take place throughout the summer.
Since 2013, Anna Plagens and Stephan Zuber have been making traditional French patisserie, which means, says Scherpe, that “this is your haven for macarons, financiers and cannelés, as well as a ton of ultra-picturesque embellished tarts and tortes”. And why decide between eating in or taking away when you can have your cake and bring it home? “You can stay here, get a coffee and eat yourself through the display and then get some baked goods to take home,” Scherpe suggests.
“This is my favourite ice-cream place up north – they not only have excellent classics, all made in-house with fresh ingredients, they also do the rare chocolate sorbet, as well as Spaghettieis,” Scherpe says. Spaghettieis, as Scherpe explains, is a local speciality – and there’s nothing savoury about it. “Vanilla ice cream is pressed through a sieve to form ‘spaghetti’ on top of a bed of whipped cream, then you put strawberry sauce on top and sprinkle grated white chocolate over it – and voila, a prime German–Italian dessert.”
Cakes at Martin’s Place are examples of both craft and indulgence, and with the assortment Martin produces, there’s always something new to try, whether it’s an Israeli sesame cake (he’s from Israel originally) or a decadent layered chocolate cake dripping in berries and cherries. “I’m picky when it comes to cakes, and these ones never fail to amaze me,” says Scherpe. “Josef Martin knows his craft and applies it to over 20 different cakes every week, all made in-house. The flavours are strictly seasonal, and classic – from poppyseed cake to chocolate torte – and if you don’t find what you like, you can order your own personalised cake.”
Berlin’s Turkish community has shaped the city’s taste buds, and this bakery in the heart of Kottbusser Damm is where you’ll find some of the best baklava in the city. “This baklava shop serves all the buttery pastry I want, with a big selection of pistachio-filled everything, as well as a delightful künefe, the Turkish version of kanafeh, that comes with thin threads of dough on white cheese, doused in sugar syrup and sprinkled with pistachios, says Scherpe. “These should always be ordered with a generous dollop of kaymak, a clotted cream,” she says. “Expect a sugar rush of the best kind.”
Forget the self-deprecating name – this little Swedish kiezcafé (neighbourhood café) is excellent. Come for a cosy spot to read or work; stay for fika, featuring sweet buns. “Marie-Louise Crona bakes a ton of buns every day, since her home country, Sweden, kind of mastered this treat,” says Scherpe. To add some order to her prolific output, flavours are offered on a rotating basis, with cinnamon buns – the staples – offered each day and an additional daily one: cardamom on Wednesdays, Nutella on Sundays, and so on. If you find yourself here at the weekend, though, add one more thing to your order; if there’s one thing that tops the buns, Scherpe says, it’s Crona’s plättar, “tiny Swedish pancakes with the nicest consistency and a choice of toppings, from savoury to sweet”.
“Their cheesecake is famous way beyond the borders of Berlin, known near and far as the best in the city,” says Scherpe. “Here’s the trick, though: you have to get it at their original location in Kreuzberg, where it comes as a thick slice with just the right ratio of flavourful, sweet cream cheese to slightly salty graham-cracker casing.” Whichever branch you find yourself in, don’t leave without trying some of Five Elephant’s espresso roasts, taken straight up or transformed into a silky flat white – some of the best coffee in Berlin.
“This is a classic German place for kaffee und kuchen, the afternoon break of sweets and coffee that we locals like to celebrate, especially on weekends,” says Scherpe. And you can sample a very special treat at this 160-plus-year-old konditorei: Scherpe says this bakery’s speciality is baumkuchen, which means ‘tree cake’. It’s made by layering thin layers of batter on a spit, then turning it against a heat source (traditionally an open flame), then covering it in chocolate; when you cut into it, the resulting piece is ring-shaped and, thanks to the layers, resembles a slice of tree trunk, complete with age rings. It’s understandably a bit difficult to recreate at home, so come here to try it. “Few do it as well, or at all, like Buchwald,” says Scherpe. “It’s more of a Christmas thing, but really, you can – and should – eat it all year round.”