Baumkuchen: The German Dessert’s Long Japanese History

Unseen Japan
5 min readFeb 16, 2024

Read the intriguing history of how baumkuchen, the tree trunk-shaped German cake, grew in popularity in Japan.

Picture: 花咲かずなり / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Walking into the dessert section of a supermarket, bakery, or convenience store in Japan, your eye will likely be drawn by a collection of colorful round desserts. This is baumkuchen, a German cake popular for its unique shape and wide variety of flavors.

This humble pastry, which began its life in Europe, has risen to become one of the most popular desserts in Japan. The story of baumkuchen’s arrival in Japan is one of creativity and industry flourishing even during the darkest of times.

What Is Baumkuchen?

Picture: セーラム / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

The German word “baumkuchen” literally translates to “tree cake.” It refers to the cake’s round shape and layered structure, which is visually similar to the rings of a tree.

Historians debate the origin of Baumkuchen, with several towns in Germany, Austria, and Hungary claiming to be its birthplace. Baumkuchen first definitively appeared in a cookbook in 1581. The text, “Ein neu Kochbuch” (“A New Cookbook”), was written as a manual for chefs-in-training. Baumkuchen was one of 2000 recipes included in the book and was listed as a popular wedding cake due to its ring-like shape.

Chefs make baumkuchen by brushing layers of batter onto a spit. They rotate the spit near a heat source until all sides are evenly cooked. The chef then brushes on more batter during the baking, creating the dessert’s famous layered look. They allow each layer to cook before the next is added, resulting in the distinctive brown lines between each one.

The average baumkuchen has between 15 and 25 layers when completed. Most baumkuchen are flavored with butter, sugar, and vanilla. Other popular flavorings include jam, chocolate, nuts, and rum or brandy. Some baumkuchen may be iced or covered with a glaze or layer of hard chocolate.

Karl Juchheim: The Father Of Japanese Baumkuchen