We are only a few weeks away from this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna (and don’t tell me you didn’t realise that!), which is one reason why my thoughts have moved to all things Austrian (Conchita Wurst was quite unforgettable, after all) – and baking in particular, of course. From Vienna coffee and kafes (coffee houses), Swarovski crystal, music greats (Mozart, Hayden and Strauss), to memorable palaces, castles and architecture, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, PEZ (the sweets that we all grew up with), Formula One driver Niki Lauda and, of course, my favourite, The Sound of Music, Austria has offered the world a diverse bagful of treasures. In general, these contributions ooze elegance, charisma and/or individuality – attributes that are also reflected in the food.
The Austrian cuisine, over time, has had many outside, but geographically close, influences, such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Italy and the Ottoman Empire. All have left their mark, particularly on the pastries and sweet treats for which this European country is so well known.
Afternoon tea in Austria just wouldn’t be the same without the Gugelhupf. Traditionally served with a simple sprinkle of sugar or dusting of icing sugar, this wonderfully simple cake (either sponge or yeast based) was traditionally one for the poor. That was until Marmorgugelhupf (a marbled Gugelhupf) became the chosen breakfast of Emperor Franz Josef I in the 19th century. In turn it was adopted by the Austrian bourgeoisie for afternoon tea. The well-known Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) is made with a beautifully crisp and unique pastry that came to Austria from Arabia via the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. Variations of this pastry-encased spiced apple and raisin treat have also become a staple in neighbouring Italy, Slovakia the Czech Republic and Slovenia proving.
And then there’s the Salzburger Nockerln – Austria’s interpretation of the French soufflé. Elegant, light and airy, it is a symbolic nod to Salzburg’s snow-capped mountains, and legend has it that Wolf Dietrich Raitenau, Salzburg’s Prince-Bishop, loved his mistress mostly because of her Salzburger Nockerln. Hmmm, there’s a joke in there somewhere but we might leave that one alone.
An array of breads also features heavily in the Austrian bakery line-up. The sweet rolls filled with jam (often plum), known as Buchteln, are simple and quite refined. A specialty of the Café Havelka in Vienna, where they are made to a very old and secret family recipe, they are often served warm and unadorned except for a dusting of icing sugar. But I will share my recipe for Buchteln with you – including my recommendation that although not traditional, lashings of butter are exactly what’s needed to enjoy them the most! Pretzels are also found far and wide in Austria and my soft pretzel rolls, even through not completely traditional, are an interpretation of these ‘bread’ snacks so widely loved in Austria.
And finally there is Austria’s most famous cakes (if not the world) – Sacher Torte. This beautifully rich, incredibly elegant layered cake was created by Franz Sacher in the early 1800’s for Prince Wenzel von Metternich and is now such a valued part of the cuisine, December 5th has been declared National Sachertorte Day.
Anneka's Austrian baking recipes
Anneka's mission is to connect home cooks with the magic of baking, and through this, with those they love. Read our interview with her or for hands-on baking classes and baking tips, visit her at BakeClub. Don't miss what's coming out of her oven via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Photography by Alan Benson. Styling by Sarah O’Brien. Food preparation by Kerrie Ray. Creative concept by Lou Fay.
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