German Butter Cake (Butterkuchen)

German Butter Cake or Butterkuchen is like a big, soft hug from a German grandmother. This old-fashioned bake is made from an enriched yeast dough, topped with loads of butter, sugar and sliced almonds - and let me tell you, one slice is NEVER enough! Perfect to serve for Kaffee und Kuchen.

Sometimes, the best cakes and treats are made from the simplest ingredients, which is precisely the case with Butterkuchen or German Butter Cake.

This traditional German cake is made from a pillowy soft yeast dough, topped with lashings of butter, sugar and almonds. Perfect with a strong cup of coffee, this sweet treat will keep you coming back for slice after slice!

German Butter cake or Butterkuchen with a slice cut to show interior.

What is Butterkuchen?

Butterkuchen, literally Butter Cake, is a yeasted sheet cake topped with almonds and is an absolute classic of the German kitchen.

The name comes from the unusual preparation method; cubes of cold butter are pushed into the risen dough before baking, which makes the cake incredibly moist and delicious!

Ingredients

To make my authentic German Butter Cake Recipe, you’ll need the following simple ingredients:

  • Flour: You can use plain or all-purpose flour to make this cake. In Germany, we use type 405 flour, which is softer and similar to Italian ’00’ flour.
  • Yeast: Most traditional recipes for yeasted breads in Germany call for fresh yeast, readily available in every store. If you live somewhere fresh yeast is difficult to come by, you can use active dry yeast. You’ll need 10g or approximately 1.5 little packets. If you can get fresh yeast, I THOROUGHLY recommend it; it makes everything taste more delicious.
  • Milk: I always use full fat or whole milk in baking recipes for best results.
  • Sugar: Ordinary white granulated sugar is best in this recipe. However, you might like to experiment with a little brown sugar for the topping after you’ve made this cake for the first time.
  • Eggs: Eggs add richness to the yeast dough. Using room-temperature eggs will help the dough to rise.
  • Butter: The star ingredient in a Butter Kuchen! In Germany, we use unsalted, cultured butter for baking. Use the best quality unsalted butter you can find for best results. Margarine is not suitable for this recipe.
  • Almonds: Sliced almonds form this cake’s lovely, sugary, crunchy topping. If you need to avoid nuts, you can leave them off the cake, but then reduce the butter and cream in the topping by about ⅓.
  • Cream: The secret ingredient! Pouring cream over the hot cake when it is fresh out of the oven will guarantee a deliciously light and fluffy dough. I use German whipping cream, which has a fat content of 30%. Heavy cream has more fat (36%) and may not be suitable for this recipe.
Dough for Butterkuchen with topping ingredients.

Instructions

This is a simple cake, so don’t be scared of the yeast dough! Once you have made it once or twice, you’ll see how easy it is!

  • First, measure the flour into your mixing bowl, make a well in the middle of the flour and crumble or sprinkle in your yeast. Pour half the lukewarm milk and a tablespoon of the sugar, mix gently with a fork just to dissolve the yeast, then cover and leave for 10 minutes. 
  • IMPORTANT! The milk must be only warm, never hot; otherwise, you will kill the yeast. Dip your little finger in the milk to test before pouring it over the yeast.
  • When the yeast mixture is foamy, add the remaining milk, sugar, eggs, butter and salt and knead for 5-7 minutes until you have a smooth dough. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes until roughly doubled in size.
  • When the dough has risen, line a baking tray with baking paper, then roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to the size of the tray. Lift onto the paper, spreading out to fit the tray. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise for a further 20-30 minutes while you prepare the topping.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas 6. Cut the remaining butter into small pieces; you’ll need around 80 little cubes. When the dough has risen, use your finger to poke holes all over the risen dough. Fill each with a cube of butter, then sprinkle over the sugar and almonds. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until well risen and golden brown.
  • Remove from the oven and immediately pour the cream in a thin stream all over the hot cake. Allow to cool in the tray, then slice and serve. Guten Appetit!

​The complete ingredient list and detailed instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of the page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Butterkuchen a cake or a bread?

Many traditional German cake recipes are made from a sweet yeast dough similar to a brioche rather than a cake in the modern sense. Don’t worry, they are still soft, delicious and utterly moreish! Trust me, the Germans know what they are doing when it comes to cakes and bakes.

How should I store Butterkuchen?

I usually leave the cake in the baking tray covered with foil for 2-3 days. If freezing, cut into individual slices, wrap well and seal in a ziploc bag.

Can I add other ingredients to this cake?

I think it is perfect just as it is! You could serve it with some fresh fruit on the side or add a bit of cinnamon to the sugar topping, but I like it for its wonderful buttery flavour.

A slice of butterkuchen with a pile of butterkuchen behind.

​Looking for more delicious German cake recipes in English? I have loads! Click here for more recipes!

A slice of butterkuchen with a coffee and a fork.

Butterkuchen Recipe

German Butter cake or Butterkuchen with a slice cut to show interior.

German Butter Cake (Butterkuchen)

Yield: 20 slices
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Rising Time Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

German Butter Cake or Butterkuchen is like a big, soft hug from a German grandmother. This old-fashioned bake is made from an enriched yeast dough, topped with loads of butter, sugar and sliced almonds - and let me tell you, one slice is NEVER enough! Perfect to serve for Kaffee und Kuchen.

Ingredients

for the dough:

  • 500g ( ca. 4 cups) plain or all-purpose flour
  • 30g fresh yeast / 10g active dry yeast (1.5 packets)
  • 200ml (6.75 oz.) whole milk, lukewarm
  • 125g (1/2 cups + 2 Tbsp) white sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 75g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste or vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

for the topping:

  • 200g (7 oz.) unsalted butter, diced and chilled
  • 50g (1/4 cup) white sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla sugar
  • 100g (1 cup) sliced almonds
  • 200ml (6.75 oz.) whipping cream

to serve:

  • powdered sugar, to taste

Instructions

  1. Weigh the flour into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment fitted, make a deep well in the middle of the flour and crumble in the yeast. Pour over half of the milk and sprinkle over 1 tablespoon of the flour. Use a fork to gently mix the yeast, warm milk and sugar (leaving the flour). Cover and leave for 10 minutes until the yeast mixture is foaming. IMPORTANT! You must use lukewarm milk, NOT hot.
  2. Add the rest of the milk and remaining sugar to the bowl, along with the eggs, butter, vanilla paste and salt. Knead for 5 minutes until well combined. If you don't have a stand mixer, use the dough hooks on a hand mixer or a wooden spoon. The dough will be soft and sticky.
  3. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes until nearly doubled in size.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pat flat, then use a rolling pin to roll out to roughly the size of a 40x35cm / (15.5in x 14 in.) baking tray. Line a suitable oven tray with baking parchment paper and lift the dough onto the tray, spreading it gently out with your hands so that it is even. Cover loosely with a cloth and allow to rise for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas 6 and prepare your topping ingredients.
  6. When the dough has risen for the second time, use your finger to press deep holes all over the dough (Lots of holes! Around 80). Fill each dough with a cube of butter, then sprinkle the sugar and almonds over the top of the dough. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes until well risen and golden brown.
  7. Remove from the oven and immediately pour the cream in a thin stream evenly over the hot cake. Set aside to cool.
  8. When the Butterkuchen has cooled, cut into squares, dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar to taste and serve.

Notes

If you don't have a baking pan in this size, you can use a baking sheet instead, but be aware that the dough may spread while baking. 

It is VITAL that you don't pour very hot milk over the yeast; the yeast will die, and your dough won't rise. Heat milk only until tiny bubbles appear around the sides of the saucepan, then allow to cool for a few minutes. It should only feel warm if you dip your finger into it.

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Jay Wadams
Jay Wadams

Jay Wadams is a cookbook author, food photographer and Le Cordon Bleu Gastronomy and Nutrition graduate. Based in Italy 🇮🇹 Germany 🇩🇪 and Australia 🇦🇺.

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