The A to Z of German Christmas: B is for… Bethmännchen

Bethmännchen on a surface dusted with icing sugar
Image Credit: Sibylle Mohn, Fotolia

Bethmännchen are bite-sized Christmas pastries traditionally baked and eaten in Frankfurt during Advent. Made with flour, icing sugar, marzipan and eggs, and flavoured with rosewater, they’re small, fat, lightly-browned balls with flat tops and bottoms, the sides decorated with three halved, skinned almonds. Bethmännchen have a mild marzipan flavour and a squidgy, slightly grainy texture, and are delightful with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon treat.

Bethmännchen translates literally as “little Bethmann”, the pastries named after a well-known family of bankers called the von Bethmanns, for whom it is said they were first made – back in 1838. Legend has it that Bethmännchen were originally decorated with four almond halves, each representing one of the family’s four sons, but when one of the sons died, one almond half was removed. In every other sense, however, the recipe has famously never changed.

Where to buy Bethmännchen

Much loved at the Frankfurt Christmas markets throughout Advent, Bethmännchen are also available in any Frankfurt bakery worth its salt. If you fancy warming up indoors with a couple of Bethmännchen and a coffee, head to tiny café-pâtisserie Condit Couture, a short walk from Frankfurt’s medieval Römerplatz, where the city’s main Christmas market takes place. (But be warned, it’s both tiny and very popular indeed.)

If you’d like to take a packet of Bethmännchen home, you can either pick them up from a Christmas market stand or head to Frankfurt’s beloved indoor market, the Kleinmarkthalle, where they’re available from the delectable (and award-winning) Confiserie Graff.

B is also for…

Bratäpfeln: large baking apples cored and stuffed with a mixture of nuts, spices, marzipan and/or raisins, sprinkled with sugar, baked in the oven and served warm, with a light vanilla custard.

Butterplätzchen: the simplest of all the German Advent cookies, crumbly and buttery, often flavoured with vanilla or lemon, and cut out in any shape you please.

4 Comments

  • This is awesome. We have enjoyed learning about your culture in the six months since we arrived. Your Christmsa traditions posts are a great resource for us. …. I wonder if we can find Bethmannchen in Stuttgart? We will keep an eye out. We want to make Christmas cut outs (cookies) and decorate like we did in America, with frosting and sprinkles and cinnamon candies and such. Do you have these types of embellishments in your grocery stores? Again…I will keep an eye out.

    • Oh what a lovely message, thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m afraid most of the Americans I know here have been generally very disappointed by the cookie and cake decorations available in German grocery stores (it’s not something we Brits do much of so it’s not something I tend to look out for!) but it might be worth looking in the really big stores – or perhaps you’ll find a specialty store near you? Otherwise you may end up having to look online. Sorry I can’t be more helpful with that!

  • Hello! Well…there is always the commissary (military grocery store on post) but I am really trying to be in Germany and not pretend like I am in a little US bubble. So I guess I’d better abandon the idea of American Christmas cookies and go for the German versions! 🙂

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