Austrian Desserts: The Alps' sweet side - Part I

Sachertorte Cake, the most famous of all Austrian chocolate cakes, presented in Vienna.

I met Wolfgang Erben when I was doing research for an article on "Salzburger Nockerl", the sweet soufflé mostly consisting of hot air and sugar that my hometown is famous for. Erben was the head of the patisserie in the "Stiftskeller St Peter", a high-end restaurant in the very heart of Salzburg that is associated with St Peter′s Abbey. There is an inn on this site since the 9th century and thus the Stifskeller claims - probably rightfully so - to be Europe′s oldest restaurant.

The famous Salzburger Nockerl Soufflee.

I remember taking photographs and asking questions about the dessert traditions of Austria while Erben beat egg whites with his bear hands - warning me not to beat them for too long or otherwise the final Nockerl would collapse. He told me the total numbers of Salzburger Nockerl that were sold during the main season in the summer, the amounts and measures that varied a bit, and how conservative the guests were when it came to ordering desserts.

"The Salzburger Nockerl are the classic choice in Salzburg, Kaiserschmarrn is sold best in Bad Ischl and in Vienna, the tourists go for Topfenstrudel and Apple Strudel", I can recall him saying. It is indeed remarkable: The list of desserts on Austrian menus usually consists of an impressive array of extravagant creations - which are usually widely neglected in favour of the "classics".

Kaiserschmarrn, the Bad Ischl Classic

In the case of the Kaiserschmarrn and Bad Ischl, it is particularly unusual: The torn, sweet omelette with raisins and plum chutney wasn′t even developed in the Salzkammergut, but in the capital Vienna. However, since Emperor Franz Joseph I spent almost every summer of his life in Bad Ischl, the bakeries of the spa resort town trained the creation of Kaiserschmarrn to perfection.

Salesroom in Cafe Demel, Vienna

Similar to the Kaiserschmarrn, most of Austria′s sweet meals and desserts can be traced back to the 19th century, when the sheer concentration of wealthy people in Vienna meant a high number of balls, receptions and other high-society gatherings that fuelled the development of newer, better desserts and confections. Just walk around in Vienna′s first district and look at the many manors, most of which were built in the 18th century, that were used as the "capital branch" by noble families from various parts of the empire.

Impressions from the tart display of Cafe Demel, the mother of all confectioners in Vienna...

They all hosted guests and wanted them to be fed well. It is here in the first district where you can also find several of the chocolatiers, confectioners and bakers that supplied the Habsburg court and the associated nobility, often still in business: Most notably the confectioner Demel, founded in 1786 - still selling chocolates, tarts and cakes in the Kohlmarkt near the Hofburg Palace.

Just behind the Staatsoper, the national opera, you will find the famous, thus somewhat touristy Café Sacher, home of the legendary chocolate tart of the same name. And all over the first district, you will find many of the famous Viennese cafes: Café Central, Café Landtmann, Café Griensteindl, to name just some of the most famous.

Continue with "Austrian Desserts - Part II"

Further Reading

More on Austrian Cuisine

Slowfood Austria

Regional Cuisine of Austria

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