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. It was also common knowledge that Ms. Schratt greeted the Kaiser’s regular visits with a freshly baked guglhupf, or bundt cake.
If, heaven forbid, Ms. Schratt’s guglhupf failed to rise, she would order one from the Konditorei-Kaffee Zauner. The bakery claims to still use the original recipe — it includes four eggs yolks and fresh yeast. None of that dried quick rise stuff for the Kaiser, no sir. The guglhupf has a few variations — there’s yellow cake marbled with chocolate, or chocolate only, or sometimes, there are additions like berries or raisins. Typically, the finished cake is dusted with powdered sugar, but it might be glazed with a chocolate ganache.
Until the Kaiser made the guglhupf popular with the 1%, the cake was considered a bit low rent since it requires no spendy ingredients. Compare it with the snobbier Sachertorte which needs fancy chocolate, double cream, and apricot jam. The humble guglhupf is yeast, butter, flour, eggs, and milk. You can fancy it up, but you don’t have to.
The Zauner’s Pfarrgasse salon is a fine place to enjoy a slice of guglhupf if you don’t happen to have a paramour doing your baking. The cafe has been in Bad Ischl since 1832, before the Kaiser made it cool. The setting reflects the formal style of the Kaiser’s time — there are chandeliers and potted palms and portraits of royalty on the walls and the staff wear immaculate white shirts, but it’s not a stuffy place. People in their hiking gear (or ski clothes in winter) mix with ladies in furs and older gents wearing traditional Austrian attire. Zauner has a second location on the river esplanade — that one’s been restored to the original 1940s decor.
Regardless of where you get yours and in what style, it’s not just a slice of cake. It’s part of a royal tradition involving a Kaiser, a confidante, and cake for breakfast. You know, simple country pleasures, Austrian style.
Top image: Kaiservilla at Bad Ischl via Wikimedia