German summer berry compote with vanilla custard: Rote Grütze (recipe)

Red and blackcurrants in cardboard punnets

Late summer, and it’s berry time. Red, blue, green and black; small and tart, fat and sweet; they’re absolutely everywhere, and I can’t get enough of them. They’re piled high at farmers’ market stands and roadside stalls, and falling out of paper bags in my fridge. I happily stuff handfuls of them into my mouth as they are, but I’ve also been having quite a lot of fun experimenting with them on the stove – and here’s the end result, a recipe for a nostalgic German dessert, Rote Grütze.

Jump to the Rote Grütze recipe

I recently spent a Sunday afternoon perched at our tiny kitchen table, pulling plump, round, red- and blackcurrants off their wispy stems, washing and chopping strawberries and cooking them briefly, with raspberries, fruit juice, sugar and cornflour to create one of Germany’s best-loved desserts, Rote Grütze. My husband loved it, and took a tupperware of it round to my in-laws’, where it got a raving thumbs up, too. So it’s official: I’ve integrated, and I’ve the red and purple stained fingers to prove it.

A bowl of rote Grütze and vanilla custard on a checked tablecloth

What is Rote Grütze?

Rote Grütze is a comforting summer berry compote usually served with a light vanilla custard that originally hails from Hamburg. It’s a popular dessert all over the country though, and a childhood favourite for many Germans, who glaze over nostalgically at its very mention. My husband fondly remembers his Oma dishing up bowls of the stuff for him and his sisters, served warm, with spoonfuls of light vanilla custard on top.

A pot of Dr Oetker Rote Grütze and Vanillasoße

The Rote Grütze you can buy at German supermarkets is perfectly good (both the very sugary Dr. Oetker classic and the more luxurious expensive stuff in fancy jars), but as is the way with most things, it tastes very much better when you make it yourself. This recipe is foolproof and perfect for using up gluts of berries; it also freezes well, and this recipe doubles easily for the purpose. (You can also use frozen berries instead of fresh for making it in winter; in my opinion, Rote Grütze just as good on a cold winter’s night as at the end of a light summer lunch.) The quantity of custard given is a generous one, but if you’re going to make it from scratch, you might as make enough to have it every night for the rest of the week.

A note about the sugar: Rote Grütze is traditionally quite tart, but the quantity of sugar needed depends on which berries and juice you use, and of course your own personal taste. The custard is a fairly sweet one, though, so don’t add too much sugar to the compote or you’ll end up with quite a sickly dessert.

Stewed red berries in a saucepan

Rote Grütze mit Vanillesoße (serves 4)

For the compote:

500g mixed berries (I use strawberries, raspberries, red- and blackcurrants; cherries are also very good)
20g cornstarch
200ml berry juice (I use blackcurrant; cherry or redcurrant would also work well)
1 small cinnamon stick
50-75g sugar

For the custard:

4 egg yolks
60g white sugar
500ml milk plus 2 tbsp extra
1 vanilla pod
1 tbsp cornstarch

Prepare your berries: wash them (apart from raspberries) and remove any stalks. If you’re using strawberries or cherries, halve or quarter the large ones.

Mix the cornstarch with 5 tbsp of the berry juice. Put the rest of the juice with 50g sugar and the cinnamon into a pan and bring to the boil, stirring and scraping with a wooden spoon to ensure the sugar doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. Add the currants and leave to simmer for 2 minutes before mixing in the cornstarch mixture until it all thickens. Finally, add the rest of the fruit, plus more sugar to taste, turn off the heat and leave to cool.

For the custard, add the 2 tbsp milk to the cornstarch, stirring it into a thin paste, and then add the egg yolks, beating gently with a fork to mix. Split the vanilla pod lengthways with a knife and scrape out the seeds; put both the pod and the seeds into a small saucepan with the 500ml milk and the sugar and bring slowly to the boil, stirring from time to time to prevent the sugar sticking to the pan. Turn down the heat, add the yolk mixture and bring very, very slowly to the boil again, this time whisking non-stop. Once the custard has come to the boil and thickened, pour it through a sieve, scraping underneath so you don’t miss any of it, and remove the vanilla pod. Leave to cool, carefully placing a layer of cling film directly on top of the custard to prevent a skin forming.

Serve your Rote Grütze warm or at room temperature, with a generous helping of custard.

Have you made Rote Grütze?  Which berries do you like best in it?  And what else are you doing with the end of summer fruit glut?

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  1. says: Anna C.

    I like Rote Grütze very much too- even though it came quite late into my life. Sweet dark cherries make a terrific Grütze- and the next will be made from blackberries, at leats I hope so.

  2. Since I can get neither sour cherries nor any kind of currants here in Maine, I have to make my own ex-pat’s version with wild Maine blueberries. My American family was a bit wary at first, expecting some weird German gruel, but then loved it. No matter which berry combination as long as there are some tart ones in the mix – Rote Grütze is the most refreshing summer dessert I know.
    Greetings from lobster and blueberry land Maine!

    1. I love the idea of your American family expecting weird German gruel, but what a very pleasant surprise after that to be presented with a plate of Rote Grütze 🙂 Most envious of your lobster… greetings from Riesling country!

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