Fifty years ago this month, John F. Kennedy made either the most important speech of the Cold War era or the most well known pastry-related blunder of all time. Yes, it’s the 50th anniversary of JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, an oration celebrated not only for its message against Soviet domination but also for its alleged assertion that the president of the United States was a jelly doughnut. Is there any truth to that legend? Not really, but the doughnut—or Berliner” in question is delicious, so we’re taking a close look at it this week.
The misconception arose from the fact that Kennedy supposed should have said, “Ich bin Berliner.” Adding the indefinite article “ein” implied that the speaker is a Berliner, which isn’t a citizen of Berlin at all but instead a jelly-filled doughnut popular in Germany and Central Europe. However, Kennedy wasn’t speaking as a literal person living in Berlin but in a figurative sense, where the “ein” is still necessary. Additionally, those jelly doughnuts aren’t even known as “Berliners” in Berlin: They’re called Pfannkuchen instead. No self respecting West Berliner listening to that speech would have confused Kennedy’s words.
The Pfannkuchen itself is enjoyed throughout the world, and known by many different names. Italians eat krapfen with their morning coffee, Hungarians munch on fanks, and diners in the American Midwest might chow down on a bismark, but it’s all the same pastry: a fat, fried dough ball stuffed with jam or pastry cream. The doughnut’s German origins come from a celebratory pastry offered primarily during New Year’s. If you happen to be at a German New Year’s party where the doughnuts are being served, look out: it’s a common practical joke to fill some with mustard instead of jelly to trick unsuspecting guests.
Start to Finish: 1 ½ hours
Servings: Approximately 16 doughnuts
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 oz fresh yeast (compressed cake)
4 tbsp white sugar
1 cup and 1 tsp whole milk, lukewarm
3 egg yolks
7 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup fruit jam (plum, apricot, and raspberry are traditional)
1 pound lard or 32 oz vegetable oil
powdered sugar or cinnamon-sugar for sprinkling
Pour the flour into a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle of the flour. Crumble the fresh yeast into the well. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the sugar over the yeast and pour in the warm milk, mixing and dissolving the yeast and incorporating some of the flour, but not all of it. Cover the bowl and let sit for 15 minutes.
Mix the dough in the bowl, adding the remaining sugar, the butter, the egg yolks and the salt. Take the fully mixed dough out of the bowl and place on a lightly floured board. Knead the dough until it is smooth and satiny. Cover again with a towel, and let it sit for 30 minutes or until the dough has doubled in volume.
Gently push down the dough and spread it out on a floured work board to about 1/2 inch thickness. Cut out 3-inch circles from the dough using a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass. Transfer the circles of dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let them rise until doubled.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of lard or oil to 320ºF–360ºF. When the doughnuts have risen and the oil is hot, gently slip a few doughnuts at a time into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown on one side, about five minutes. Flip with a slotted spoon to cook for five more minutes. When the doughnuts are fully browned and cooked, remove to a cooling rack set over a sheet pan.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a small metal tip with the jam. Stick the metal tip into the side of a doughnut and gently squeeze some jam into the doughnut. Roll the doughnut in the cinnamon-sugar. These are best eaten warm, but they keep for a few hours.