What’s a Berliner?

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A Berliner is a fried pastry filled with various fillings, most commonly yellow custard. It is also known as a jelly donut in English-speaking countries and has different names in other countries. The pastry has even inspired controversy, with US President John F. Kennedy’s famous words in Berlin causing debate.

A Berliner is a type of pastry that involves frying sweet dough in shortening or oil, filling it with a syringe, and covering it with powdered sugar. In English-speaking countries, similar items are known as jelly donuts. Other countries may also apply different names to this dessert, for example in Australia and Great Britain. In Portugal, the use of the term “Berlin” prevails, translated to “bolas de Berlim” – many of these versions of the donut are filled with a bright yellow custard, although the sweetness and exact recipe can vary.

Although the Berliner can be filled with many different fillings, the most common and authentic 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 aren’t filled at all.

In some parts of America, this type of donut is known as a Bavarian cream or Boston cream donut when filled with yellow custard. Although fruit-based pastries are more commonly known as jelly donuts, in some gourmet presentations they may be named after the fruit, for example, where an apple-filled donut might be called an apple Berliner. The Boston Custard Donut is so named because it resembles the larger Boston Custard Pie.

The simple Berliner has inspired controversy far beyond its mere composition. The famous words of US President John F. Kennedy, in Berlin, during a diplomatic visit, caused many to discuss 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 “I am a Berlin person” or “I am a donut filled with jelly.” While some argue that the President’s words erred on the side of a jelly donut’s description through the use of an incorrect German article, ein, others with knowledge of the German language believe the phrase can be interpreted accurately in context.

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

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