Friday, 31 July 2015


Dumplings, and variations on that theme, are found all over the world. Dumplings are small pieces of dough, cooked alone or wrapped around a filling. They can be made from flour, potatoes and bread and their filling may include meet, fish or vegetables.

In Britain dumplings are most commonly found floating atop a hearty stuff, like puffy clouds. Made well, from a mixture of flour and suet, they are light and fluffy, but add a useful helping of carbohydrate to a meat or vegetable stew of broth.

Travelling east, dumplings in various forms are found all over Europe, from ravioli and tortellini in Italy to knödel in Germany and Austria, not forgetting the famous Pierogi of Poland, which come in savoury and sweet varieties. Meanwhile, Turkey's answer to ravioli is Manti (meat-filled dumplings), and indeed these are popular throughout Central Asia. And in India there are samosas. Swing round the globe the other way, and in Central and South America, there are empanadas and pasteles.

Far Eastern cuisine is full of variants on the dumpling theme, the most famous being the Chinese dim sum and wonton, and the Japanese gyoza, which has been made popular in the West through restaurants such as Wagamama.

I really love gyoza and will always order them if I eat at Wagamama. My local oriental supermarket sells bags of frozen gyoza (meat, fish and vegetable filled) which can be cooked quickly and dropped into a miso broth for a warming and healthy meal. The same Oriental supermarket also sells gyoza wrappers, and so now I make my own. They are easy to make and you can vary the fillings according to your taste. They are also a useful way of using up leftovers such as roast chicken or mince. Use oriental spices and herbs to add the right eastern piquancy and serve with plum sauce, sweet chilli sauce or sriracha hot sauce (my favourite!).

Here's a simple recipe from Jamie Oliver which also includes a spicy dipping sauce

Dan Leppard's apple dumplings

Friday, 20 February 2015


Last weekend I visited Vienna for the first time with members of my piano group. Because of the musical connections (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Schoenberg and more all lived in the city), it's a city I have long wanted to visit. The trip was ostensibly to connect with a Viennese amateur piano group, and we also took in a tour of the Bosendorfer piano factory while we were there. But aside from the piano activities (which included a joint concert given by ourselves and the Vienna piano group), we were all keen to sample the many other delights which Vienna has to offer, culinary as well as cultural.

Sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher, Vienna
One of the most famous Viennese culinary specialities is Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake invented by confectioner Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna. This rich chocolate cake consists of a dense chocolate cake meringue based with a thin layer of apricot jam on top, coated in dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. It is traditionally served with unsweetened whipped cream. December 5th is National Sachertorte Day. Sachertorte is available in cafes, tea rooms, and at the airport to take home as a gift. There seemed to be a lot of mystique surrounding Sachertorte, until I made it myself and discovered it is quite easy to make.

But Viennese patisserie is by no means limited to Sachertorte, and the city's many cafes and tea rooms offer an embarrassment of riches of sweet and chocolatey confections. At the beautiful pistachio-green Gerstner cafe and tea room opposite the Staatsoper (opera house), we drank champagne and ate, amongst other delights, a 'Klimt' cake - chocolate and praline with chocolate cream, topped with a layer of marzipan and dusted in edible gold, in honour of the artist Gustav Klimt whose work can be viewed in the Belevedere museum. In the display in the shop downstairs, there were macarons, strudel, glossy fruit tarts, petit fours, and elaborately decorated cakes for Valentine's Day, as well as the ubiquitous Sachertorte. And in a corner of the chiller cabinet were ready-made coloured icing and cake decorations so that you could make your own wondrous creations at home.

Another culinary speciality of Vienna - and in fact the national dish of Austria - is the Wiener Schnitzel, a very thin escalope of veal or pork, dusted in flour, dipped in beaten egg and then coated in breadcrumbs before it is deep fried in butter. It is traditionally served with potato salad and a wedge of lemon. We ordered schnitzel on our first night in Austria and not long after the order had been submitted to the kitchen, we could hear the chef beating the meat to create the traditionally thin escalope It's not difficult to make, and pork or chicken can be substituted if you prefer not to use veal.

Wandering around the area near the opera house on our first night in Vienna we came upon a wondrous thing: a Würstelstand (hot dog kiosk) selling a variety of speciality sausages, wieners, hot dogs, Kasekrainer (sausage with cheese) and pickles. For £5 you can enjoy a glass of beer or a mug of Gluhwein (mulled wine), a plate of sliced sausage, a generous dollop of mustard or horseradish and a hunk of rye bread. Just the thing for a cold evening in Vienna!

Apart from the sausages, schnitzel, cakes, beer and gluhwein, my other particular culinary favourite from Vienna is Mozartkugeln ("Mozart ball"), a small, round confection made of marzipan, nougat and dark chocolate. When my godfather visited Vienna in the 1970s or 80s, he brought me Mozart chocolates and I have never forget that special combination of marzipan, nougat and dark chocolate. Originally created in the 1880s by confectioner Paul Fürst, Mozartkugeln are everywhere - there are whole shops devoted to the things, and their spin offs (Haydn balls, Princess Sissi balls etc). They are delicious, with a glass of schnapps or a good strong coffee.

Two days was not nearly enough time to explore Vienna, but it gave us a flavour of this most civilised, cultured and beautiful city, and I am looking forward to a return visit. Meanwhile, here are some recipes to help keep those memories of Vienna alive.....

Mary Berry's Sachertorte recipe

How to make the perfect Wiener schnitzel


Buy Mozartkugeln online