Germany has the most miraculous array of festive specialties available in the run up to Christmas. As well as the beautifully-packaged sweet treats on offer at the hundreds of Christmas markets across the country, the supermarkets display mountains of classic Christmas chocolates and cakes; and there are even pop-up shops dedicated to seasonal foodstuffs. So if you’re lucky enough to be in Germany at this time of year, now’s the perfect opportunity to wrap up a selection of festive bits and bobs to send to loved ones as a sort of mini German Christmas hamper, or to take back home after your visit to stuff stockings with.
The choice of German Christmas goodies can however be a little overwhelming to the uninitiated, so I thought I’d put together a quick guide to the very best of the edible (and non-edible – and of course drinkable) Christmas treats that Germany has to offer; ones that just happen to be inexpensive, pocket-sized and mostly non-smashable for shipping off to friends and family or squeezing into your suitcase. I don’t think there’s anything included in the selection below that might be tricky to get through customs or is liable to go off in the post – if you want to post some mountain cheese or a wild boar pâté to your mum, you’re on your own!
The big chocolate makers such as Ritter Sport, Milka and the very traditional Sarotti all have Christmassy chocolate offerings on supermarket shelves at this time of year, but of course, though they’re strictly Swiss, nothing says Christmas quite like a Lindt chocolate Santa. At specialty chocolatiers, you’ll find all manner of beautiful chocolate creations, from truffles to thin slabs of bark, that are festive both in terms of flavour – pistachio and cranberry, perhaps, or seasonal spices – and their shape and form.
And for loved ones who can’t resist chocolates with an alcoholic kick, have a look for the brandy-filled, bottle-shaped treats from the 90-year old Rüdesheim-based chocolate maker Asbach.
If you’re packing your parcel for a marzipan fan, you’re definitely in the right place: the Germans go mad for the stuff at Christmas, and it’s available in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
The most traditional German marzipan treats are formed either as small loaves (Marzipanbrot) or potatoes (Marzipankartoffeln) – Niederegger is the most popular brand for those – but there’s also the much-loved Austrian Mozartkugeln, balls of pistachio marzipan covered first in nougat, then dark chocolate and wrapped in Mozart-themed blue and silver foil. Again, they’re technically speaking not German, but they’re so well-loved here that they might as well be.
3. Cakes and biscuits
You probably don’t want to put a postage stamp on 2kg loaf of Stollen, so you’ll be pleased to discover there’s a wide selection of mini ones available to buy at German supermarkets. There are all sorts of brands and varieties on offer using various flavours and dried fruit fillings, but Niederegger (the Marzipan specialist – see above) is always a safe bet for a good chunk of German Christmas cake.
Gingerbread-like Lebkuchen are another wonderful Christmas gift, offered in an assortment of different shapes and sizes and available either chocolate-covered or sugar-glazed. Some traditional Lebkuchen – Elisenlebkuchen – are naturally gluten-free, though you can also get excellent gluten-free ones from Schär in the nationwide drugstore DM, so the coeliacs in your life needn’t miss out on all the festive German sweets. As well as finding these wonderfully aromatic, squidgy biscuits at the Christmas markets, there are often dedicated Lebkuchen shops set up at this time of year, too.
Packages of mini layered batter cakes (Baumkuchen) and packets of spiced shortbread (Spekulatius) and other traditional Christmas biscuits (Plätzchen) are widely available at Christmas markets and in supermarkets and specialist shops, too – just be sure to wrap them carefully so that they don’t crumble in transit.
The Germans understand the importance of portable booze. At supermarket checkouts, you’ll often find vast arrays of tiny bottles – liqueurs and digestifs – that are perfectly packable winter warmers. Just be warned that most traditional herbals varieties, such as Underberg, Kümmerling and Jaegermeister, have a high alcohol content and a very strong flavour. Despite that, and despite also being associated in Germany with old men trying to settle digestive issues in cheap pubs, Underberg seems to have developed quite the hipster following abroad, so you might earn some brownie points for slipping a tin of them under the Christmas tree for any hip young (but legal drinking age) relatives.
For a slightly more sophisticated treat, wine and Sekt (German sparkling wine) come in very cute 0,2 litre bottles, called Piccolo, for less than 5€. None of them are spectacularly good, but prices vary from cheap brands like Rotkäppchen, Henkel and Mumm to the slightly fancier ones such as Fürst von Metternich. If you want a really good one, pick a Winzer Sekt, which means it’s made by an individual winemaker – such as Raumlaund – as opposed to a big brand Sekt producer who uses grapes from all over the world.
5. And finally…
Keep an eye out for festive treats unique to where you live or the towns and villages you visit; Germany’s cuisine and produce are incredibly regionally specific, and you may be able to pick up a local specialty such as a pot of honey or an unusual variation on a festive cake.
You should also have a poke around the Christmas markets for any festive bits and pieces you can throw into your parcel to add a spot of seasonal cheer, from a traditional nutcracker man (Nussknacker) to a carved wooden spoon or even – if weight’s not an issue – a Glühwein mug: every Christmas market around Germany has its own branded one, so they’re considered proper collector’s items.
Parcel your goodies up with some tissue paper, being sure to carefully wrap anything a little fragile, pop in a card and you’re all set. Just remember not to include any sweet-smelling toiletries – you don’t want your treats travelling around the globe just to be delivered tasting of soap!
GERMAN STOCKING FILLERS: COMPETITION TIME!
I have prepared my own small collection of German (and, full disclosure, Swiss and Austrian) Christmas goodies to give away to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance of winning, simply like the A Sausage Has Two Facebook page and let me know in the comments below what Christmas treats – including any regional specialties – you’d put in your ultimate German Christmas hamper. The winner will be chosen at random on Monday 15 December.