Berlin’s Best: Cinnamon Bun

Cinnamon buns

Coming out of this years’ Berlin’s Best Bread competition, where the line-up of breads made only with sourdough was so high in quality, we were all surprised and very excited about the state of bread in Berlin. So I decided to hold another competition of a baked treat that I and many others love dearly: the cinnamon bun! This idea was pushed by the fact that the cinnamon bun, kanelbullar, or Zimtschnecke seemed to be everywhere – a trend I explicitly welcomed. So I called some trustworthy bun-thusiasts to join me in the quest of finding the bestest bun in town. However, the outcome wasn’t what we expected.

In order to find the most delicious bun, we gathered on an afternoon in my office in Kreuzberg to taste buns, freshly bought from thirteen bakeries from all over town, from particularly Swedish ones to US-American inspired, Italian versions, and Danish spins on the classic. We divided them by shape, separating the ones baked in a tray and those cut from a roll, and started munching. The jury was made of baker Ruth Barry of Black Isle Bakery, Cory Andreen, coffee-expert-extraordinaire with a special eye for treats to best go with his Brewbox drinks, Ruth Bartlett, tested sweets-lover, co-owner and head of all things looking fabulous at Sweethearts, Anna Thieme, Swedish chef of catering service Anna’s Kitchen, and me!

We picked up buns from these bakeries from six districts: Café Kanel, Café Liebling, Café Stockholm, Café Valentin, Katie’s Blue Cat, Lula, Okay Café, Ora, Sironi, Soluna, The Bread Station, Zeit für Brot, and the café at the Swedish church in Wilmersdorf. We also wanted to include the Finish buns of Populus Coffee and the vegan ones from Brammibals’, both of whom didn’t offer them the day of our tasting.
While we expected to dwell in cinnamon bliss during the tasting, it was quite a bit of work and the results a bit of a surprise. We tasted all of them twice, and our decision was unanimous: only one of them was fit to be considered a tasty, well baked, recommendable cinnamon bun: the Swedish kanelbullar of Lula, which is also the clear winner of this tasting.

What happened? Well, for one we took the buns out of their natural habitat – usually they’re enjoyed with a coffee or tea on the side in the pleasant atmosphere of a café or bakery during an enjoyable break from your day. We lined them up and ate only them to scrutinize their inherent quality. And then their flaws, which might be overlooked during a fika, showed. For one, many of the buns were either under or over baked. This difficulty to match the best baking time didn’t only affect the often bigger tray-baked buns which were either way too dry, even burnt on top, or had a raw inside. The same applied to the smaller buns cut from a roll of dough, with many of them being very pale and squishy.
Another issue was the quality and thus flavor of the cinnamon, most buns didn’t have enough of it, some of them used a cinnamon with a very weird after-taste, and way too much, low-quality sugar to make up for it.
Here are the exceptions: The Bread Station’s bun was tasty and well baked, although a bit greasy with its huge amount of butter, but it was using flaky pastry and had chocolate and almonds on top with only a hint of cinnamon inside, which made it a delicious pastry, just not a proper cinnamon bun in our eyes. Same goes for Ora’s, a not too bad bun all in all, but glazed in a citrus jam that takes it quite far from what we were looking for.

However, we had one we really liked and thought it was cinnamon bun enough to earn the title: the kanelbullar of Friedenau’s Lula bakery. (Which also sells a tray-baked cinnamon bun which unfortunately has most of the issues mentioned above, so be precise when you order). Their bullar is a knotted variety with a bit of cardamom in the dough, then filled with cinnamon and butter, in just the right ratio and thus with a delightful balance of flavors, very well baked through without being too dry, and generously sprinkled with coarse sugar. A pretty bun that is also very tasty!

So what’s the learning? Way to go Berlin! Up your standards! Call out under baked or burned sold to you, ask for better quality ingredients. And to all of you baking buns – don’t try to re-invent the wheel until you found out how to make it roll. A cinnamon bun is a fairly simple affair that needs attention to detail and prime ingredients to jam-pack it with that delicious sweet, spicy, and buttery flavors we’re all craving.

I’m not giving up, though! My hopes for Berlin are high and I will repeat this tasting next year again, hoping it will yield the results we had hoped for this year.

Comments

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  1. Nicole on

    Reply

    Gasp! Zeit für Brot is still the best in my book. I’m from the US and the cinnamon buns at Zeit für Brot are the real deal when I want a thick and authentic bun.

    1. Mary Scherpe on

      Unfortunately, Zeit für Brot’s two buns were both severely under baked, a feature that might be overlooked when they’re sold still warm and had with a coffee, but that shows when you focus only on this one.

    2. Erin on

      I agree! I’m from the US, too, and a baker – Zeit für Brot has great cinnamon rolls. Moist (though mine have never been underbaked), tender, perfect mix of butter and cinnamon… maybe that particular batch was off? :)

  2. Jörg on

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    Next year: include Lindner. Yes, they are a big chain, yes, their cinnamon rolls are not always available.
    But when you get one, they are actually quite good. No fancy stuff, just a plain cinnamon bun but well-baked, not too much sugar, good dough.
    Doesn’t always have to be the hipster-outlets to get goo quality

    1. Mary Scherpe on

      We explicitly didn’t only include hipster places, the Swedish church café is as unhipster as it gets. However, Lindner is a chain and we’re not sure whether they deep freeze their dough to finalize them in the shops, or bake them fresh on site. We’ll consider them for next year, definitely.

  3. Dan on

    Reply

    very interesting and indeed a topic well worth covering! thx! would add Barcomi’s to the list….and would like to kindly suggest to do a Franzbrötchen-Check, too (although i am not even sure if there are many handmade Franzbrötchens around in Berlin :)

  4. Tomek Kurzydlak on

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    Mhhh, looks delicious. Wonder how must it taste with espresso :) I have to try! Thanks <3

  5. Nimmersatt on

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    I’m not overly surprised, I often have the impression that Berlin still has a long way to go with all yeast-based baked goods (or rather not-so-goods). Mostly they are way too dry.
    I love those at Zeit für Brot though, especially because they are definitely not dry, but I admit I never waited for them to cool, I always devoured them right away, still warm and fresh out of the oven…

  6. Illi on

    Reply

    The buns from Brot&butter (the bakery of manufactum at Ernst Reuther Platz) are outstanding, especially fresh and still warm. The dough is light, the cinnamon filling not to sweet.

    1. Mary Scherpe on

      sounds delicious, will try!

  7. DV on

    Reply

    Great article, thank you very much! I love cinnamon rolls and now I have a list of places to try :) so far, Zeit für Brot is my favorite, but I guess I’ve been missing out!

    Btw, it would be really cool if you linked the cafes, so one doesn’t need to search them. Especially helps on mobile :) #justsayin

  8. Anna Nunes on

    Reply

    Loved this article!!! I gattering information for my upcoming trip to Berlin and your site is THE BEST OF THE BEST.
    Can’t wait your next year’s list.

    Thank you !

  9. Anna Nunes on

    Reply

    Loved this article!!! I’m gathering information for my upcoming trip to Berlin and your site is THE BEST OF THE BEST.
    Can’t wait you’re next year’s list.
    Thank you !

  10. Marissa on

    Reply

    Have to agree with Mary on Zeit Fur Brot. I was super excited to go there for the first time and both rolls I bought were very undercooked in the center. Would visit again, but without the same high expectations.

    1. Mary Scherpe on

      I almost think it might be a matter of personal taste – some might prefer the rather raw center?

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