Austria in 6 Cakes: The Sachertorte Saga

Cafe Hotel Sacher, Vienna

Cafe Hotel Sacher, Vienna

The Hotel Sacher is a grand old property in Vienna’s first district. The ground floor café has marble topped tables and red upholstery and the wait-staff are attired in black with white aprons. There’s a conservatory that faces the street and in the summer time, it’s transformed into open air seating. The neighborhood is amazing; the Hotel is right across the street from the Opera House. The Hotel opened in 1875 – Grace Kelly stayed here, as did John F. Kennedy and Rudolph Nureyev.

Slice of Sachertorte with whipped cream on the side.

The Original Sachertorte

The Hotel Sacher is a gorgeous slice of Viennese opulence and sure, …

Austria in 6 (or More) Cakes: The Pistachio Problem

Mozart torte at Cafe Aida by Pam Mandel

Mozart torte at Cafe Aida by Pam Mandel

For reasons that are hard to track down, the Mozart Kugel – Austria’s famous Mozart Ball chocolate – is filled with pistachio marzipan. Theory: Mozart made several journeys to Italy as a young man and while there, he became fond of pistachios which were commonly used in Italian desserts.

But.

The pistachio has been in trade since biblical times; it was a highly valued crop. So it’s also possible that pistachio is more random choice that relies on the nut’s identity as a luxury item – we’ll use pistachio because it’s fancy! Mozart is fancy! So, Mozart equals pistachio!

Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s not just about chocolates, it’s also about cake. There are two front runners in the Mozart-something cakes race, the Mozarttorte and …

Austria in 6 Cakes: Gingerbread Translated, Twice

“Lebkuchen” gets translated from German as “gingerbread,” but that’s not quite right. The word “gingerbread” sets expectations for it being the kind of stuff you’d build a house out of, though that variety does get used in edible architecture.

There are also those ubiquitous gingerbread hearts, decorated in icing sugar with your sweetheart’s name and a swooping script that says “Ich liebe dich” — I love you —  or maybe just “Greetings from this twee Germanic town.”

The stuff used to deliver messages or act as culinary sheetrock is all fine and well. But more interesting is a cakey sort of cookie packed with honey and spices and baked on top of what’s essentially a communion wafer — in much earlier days, …

Austria in 6 Cakes: The Kaiser’s Favorite Guglhupf

The Kaiser's Villa, Bad Ishcl

The Kaiser's Villa, Bad Ishcl

The Austrian town of Bad Ischl hit the spa scene in the early 19th century, but it became the Next Big Destination when Kaiser Franz Josef started using the location as his summer retreat. When Vienna’s weather became too oppressive in the summer time, the Kaiser and all his hangers on would pull up stakes for the cooler alpine climes of Austria’s Salzkammergut. The Kaiser’s entourage included his companion, the actress Katharina Schratt.

It’s said there was a secret path between the Kaiser’s summer place and Villa Schratt, the country home the Kaiser purchased for his lady friend. It can’t have been so secret if morning Kaiser sightings made the phrase, “Oh, the Kaiser’s had his guglhupf!” part of the vernacular. …

A holiday travel gift guide that doesn’t stink

A Try the World food box.

A Try the World food box.

Ed. Note: This time of year we see lots of gift guides, almost always filled entirely with free products that companies sent editors so that they’d be included in their gift guides.

Since all the stuff people offered to send us was rather lousy, we turned to someone who knows how to pick a good gift, my wife. Her gifting has become legendary, and not just because she once kidnapped me for a Tokyo escape on my 30th birthday (but that’s a pretty good example). She finds little things that others ignore, and pulls a package together in ways you can’t always imagine.

So in a move that combines both nepotism and public service, we turned to her for holiday travel gift …