What Is a Berliner?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
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  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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A Berliner is a type of pastry that involves frying sweet dough in fat or oil, filling it with a syringe, and covering it with powdered sugar. In English speaking countries, similar items are known as jelly doughnuts. Other countries may also apply different names to this dessert, for example, in Australia and Britain. In Portugal, the use of the term “Berlin” prevails, translated to “bolas de Berlim” - many of these versions of the doughnut are filled with a bright yellow custard, though the sweetness and exact recipe may vary.

Although the Berliner can be filled with many different fillings, the most common and authentic one is yellow custard. Other common fillings include white cream, different flavors of fruit jelly or preserves, or a chocolate or mocha filling. Some versions of this pastry are not filled at all.

In some parts of America, this type of doughnut is known as a Bavarian cream or Boston crème doughnut when it is filled with the yellow custard. Although the fruit type pastries are most commonly known as jelly doughnuts, in some gourmet presentations they may be called by the name of the fruit, for example, where an apple filled doughnut might be called an Apple Berliner. The Boston crème doughnut is so-called because it resembles the larger Boston crème pie.


The simple Berliner has inspired a controversy well beyond its straightforward composition. The famous words of American president John F. Kennedy, in Berlin, on a diplomatic visit, caused many to argue over whether the visitor’s words were, in fact, correct. Kennedy is said to have told the crowd Ich bin ein Berliner, which, in similar forms, can mean either “I am a person from Berlin,” or “I am a jelly filled doughnut." While some contend that the President’s words erred on the side of describing a jelly doughnut through the use of an incorrect German article, ein, others with knowledge of the German language feel that the phrase can be accurately interpreted in context.

It’s important to note that, although the convention in many bakeries is to make Berliners, or jelly doughnuts, with standard pre-packaged fruit filler, some versions of this pastry may use fresher fruit fillings. Other bakers may add less sugar to filling to make it seem less processed. Different frying or baking techniques also add variety to these types of doughnuts.


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