Austrian Desserts: The Alp's sweet side - Part II

Even the names of some of Austria′s most famous tarts and cakes reflect a 19th century origin: Dobostorte, Esterhazytorte, Metternichtorte, Malakowtorte - all named after Austrian nobility. Mohnstrudel, Marillenknödel, Linzer Tart, Topfenpalatschinken, Topfengrießknödel and Nussnudeln; the list goes on and on and it is not surprising that many Austrians have a starter with a large dessert as a main meal. But what is the origin of Austria′s passion for the sweet side of life?

The über-tart: Sacher

When Emperor Maximilian I got married to Mary of Burgundy in the early 16th century, he married the offspring of Europe′s richest family. It was a time when new and exotic ingredients came to the kitchens of the ruling class from overseas - the Americas started to produce all sorts of spices, fruits and: sugar. Up to the Renaissance, sweet meals in Europe were made with honey as a sweetener.

In the early 16th century, sugar was introduced to Europe and a luxury good that only super-rich people like the Dukes of Burgundy could afford to use on a grand scale. When Mary of Burgundy transferred to Austria, she took many of her cooks and bakers with her. It sounds a bit of a legend, but it is said that this is the historic origin of the Austrian′s sweet tooth.

In the case of Salzburger Nockerl, I always thought that they were a creation from the 19th century - similar to the Mozartkugel chocolate balls made for the slowly developing tourism. However, it was Wolfgang Erben in the Stiftskeller that told me that the origin of the Nockerl goes back to the 17th century. The three cones of the soufflé are meant to symbolize the three hills of central Salzburg (Gaisberg, Mönchsberg and Kapuzinerberg).

Sweets for Emperors & Princes

They are said to be a creation of the cooks of Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau and his mistress Salome von Alt. Here we can see the sequel of the Renaissance sugar-introduction: Baroque lifestyle, full of excessive celebrations, excessive feasts, excessive music, architecture, sex - accompanied by a morbid fascination with vanity, death and piety. It certainly takes good desserts to meet Baroque standards.

A window in Cafe Demel

So we can close the circle: The Baroque Prime of Austria led to a cultural bloom once protestant uprisings and the threat of the Turks were sorted. The cuisine developed and sugar became increasingly common. The position in Central Europe and the multi-ethnic population certainly helped with absorbing culinary influences from Italy, Hungary, Poland, Bohemia and other countries. And here we go, the desserts of Austria finally evolved in the 19th century k. and k. Empire into the style that people enjoy today.

Tarts go with coffee; sweet dumplings, Wuchteln and Pofesen are less sophisticated and can be eaten as a dessert or a main meal; Linzer Cake, Brandteigkrapferl and Guglhupf Cake are classics for a quick snack in the afternoon. A completely different story are the many different Christmas Cookies that are made all over Austria in November and December. In any case, make sure that your vacation in Austria does not coincide with a diet.

Return to "Austrian Desserts - Part I"

Further Reading

More on Austrian Cuisine

Slowfood Austria

Regional Cuisine of Austria

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