Given Germany has a culture of Christmas and festive baking, it's no surprise that it has a traditional plate full of goodies to enjoy in the lead up to Christmas. This sweet tradition is called a bunter teller, which translates to 'colourful plate'.
Imagine a plate laden with chocolate-dipped, sugar-glazed and dusted biscuits, balls of marzipan, truffles, chocolates, fruit and nuts — and if you're lucky, even more. It's no surprise that a bunter teller creates a sense of excitement about the festive season and cheer as the days grow colder and shorter.
The exact history of the bunter teller is somewhat of an enigma, but despite generally first appearing on the first Sunday of Advent, like most traditions it's observed a little differently by everyone.
Maria Konecsny, a co-founder along with her sister Eva and mother Gabi of beloved spice store Gewürzhaus, says: "Our bunter teller made their debut on Saint Nicholas Day when we would put our plates out overnight for [Saint Nicholas] to fill."
Born in the German town of Heidenheim an der Brenz, Konecsny and her sister moved to Australia when they were four and three. The bunter teller was one of the Christmas traditions they savoured the most as children, which Konecsny continues in Australia with her son. The colourful plate "evolves throughout the month and we share it as a family rather than having an individual teller [plate]."
For Anja Dunk, author of the indispensable German cookbook Strudel, Noodles & Dumplings, it's "the start of December when the bunter teller first comes out in our house. It mainly has just biscuits on it, but by mid–December I start adding sweets and confections too."
The bunter teller is a joy for adults just as it is for children. For Dunk, it "provokes a feeling of gemütlichkeit [akin to good cheer] and generosity." She also says that left to her own devices, "I would enjoy a bunter teller for breakfast every day!".
It can also be gifted. In her cookbook, Dunk shares how on Christmas Eve she piles "plates high with a selection of biscuits to put under the tree, one for each family member, individually tailored to suit the tastes of that particular person."
To create a bunter teller, Luisa Weiss, the author of cult cookbook Classic German Baking, says it can either be homemade or store bought. In terms of quantities, "five types of treats is a good place to start". Her bunter teller also includes cakes.
"It doesn't all have to be cookies. It could also be stollen or fruit bread, or any of the other things that you like to make for Christmas".
Weiss suggests taking a regular dinner plate and putting a Christmassy napkin on it. Next, it's simply a matter of narrowing down what to include based on what you like.
For both Konecsny and Dunk, three musts are: lebkuchen (gingerbread), zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) and vanillekipferl (vanilla crescents). Dunk also recommends "a good balance of chocolate, butter, spiced varieties and...to balance the texture with chewy, soft and crunchy." She adds, "there is something about foil wrapped chocolate that is part of the essence of Christmas to me too."
Seasonal fixtures such as nuts in shells, mandarins and even small apples also feature in the bunter teller. "It's a bit of balance to all the sweet," says Weiss.
On Advent Sundays, enjoying a bunter teller is a social event for families and friends. Served with tea or coffee, the platter and everything that goes into enjoying one evokes warmth and cheer. "You have candles going...Christmas music playing, you have the lights turned off. It's all very cosy and atmospheric and beautiful," says Weiss. "You pull out the Christmassy tablecloth and red and green napkins."
To make the bunter-teller experience even more special, Dunk also recommends serving glühwein (mulled wine) or kinderpunsch (non-alcoholic punch for children).
Perhaps this year more than ever, this colourful tradition is something to celebrate because it provides something of a symbolic rainbow on a plate.
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