Friday, 20 February 2015

MUSIC & CAKES IN VIENNA

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

Gluhwein

Buy Mozartkugeln online

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