Austria in 6 Cakes: Poppy Seeds are Popular

Cafe at the Art History Museum, Vienna

Cafe at the Art History Museum, Vienna

Pakistan is the world’s largest producer of poppy seeds, but the Austrians are no slouches, they produce about 1,000 metric tons, annually. The technical term for that is a whole lotta poppy seeds. Poppy seeds show up all over Austria baking – dusting the top of your bread rolls, sprinkled over butter smothered dumplings, and inside your cake.

Recently, the EU passed new menu labeling guidelines, allowing diners to understand if their choices contain dairy, nuts, wheat – most of the foods that set off the allergic and intolerant. The labeling guideline includes the current villain of choice, gluten.

This hasn’t been as bad as you’d think for the Austria cake landscape. Lots of cakes are made with a nut flour base. …

Austria in 6 Cakes: What a Mess!

Kaiserschmarren with apricot jam

Kaiserschmarren with apricot jam

“So ein Schmarrn!” is a handy of Austrian German slang for “What a mess!” Schmarrn is also the name of dessert that’s not much more than a scrambled pancake. (Pancake is a kind of cake too, friends!) The Kaiserschmarrn got its “Kaiser” prefix because it was a favorite of Emperor Franz Josef – he of the fondness for Bundt cake.

A well made Kaiserschmarrn is dusted with powdered sugar and served warm with a side of current or apricot jam. Serving sizes are absurd and because of that, it’s often the dessert for dinner selection of choice. The trick to making a proper Kaiserschmarrn is lots of fluffy egg whites and plenty …

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.


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, …