I am from VIENNA
The Pastry Paradise
- A Little History -
The world’s finest pâtisserie comes from Vienne”, as France’s great chef, the late Fernand Point, once said. The genius of the Restaurant de la Pyramyde in Vienne, a city south of Lyon, did not mean his own Vienne but the Austrian Vienne – the City of Vienna.
Vienna has been endowed with its love of bread and pastries for over 500 years. Five years before Columbus discovered America, an anonymous Viennese baker invented the Kaisersemmel (the Emperor’s roll), known in less civilized places as the “Vienna roll”. Emperor Frederick V had ordered a batch of rolls to be distributed among children, with the Emperor’s likeness stamped on each roll, and the famous Kaisersemmel was the result. Handmade rolls that are round with the top crust divided into four sections are still called Kaisersemmel in Vienna though they no longer bear the Emperor’s picture.
Given this glorious and persistent tradition, it is no small thing to be a baker in Vienna. Vienna’s Lebzelter (gingerbread maker), for instance, had their own guild in 1661. There were also sugar bakers, restricted to the use of “burned sugar, burned almonds, biscuits and zwieback”; and chocolate makers, marzipan makers, cake bakers and candy makers. As for producers of bread they were divided into ordinary breadmakers, Semmel roll bakers and luxury bakers. Today it is different. Bakers call themselves makers of Weiss und Schwarzgebäck, meaning that they bake both white rolls and dark breads.
Vienna’s pastry lore is as rich as the city’s musical tradition, for local pastry lovers have perpetuated all kinds of legends. No one can be sure whether Vienna’s addiction to sweets stems from the marriage of some Byzantine princess into the Babenberg family or dates from the time of the Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, grand son of King Ferdinand of Aargon, who came to Vienna in 1526 from Spain. His cortège consisted of Spanish and Burgundian noblemen who had in their entourage some Burgundian pastry makers. Actually, the first sugar bakers had previously appeared in 1514 at the court of Emperor Maximilian I. In any case, Vienna’s pastries are a synthesis of these foreign influences, as is almost everything else in this city where so many nationalities have passed through or settled. In 1762, Mozart’s father, a skeptical man, wrote, “Are all people who come to Vienna bewitched so they stay here? It rather looks like it.” And this question most certainly still apt.
Three hundred years ago, an anonymous Viennese cook scooped the cream of the milk and carefully whipped it into Schlagobers – whipped cream. In Vienna, whipped cream is not only used in countless pastries and on top of many Torten (flat, round cakes), but sugared whipped cream is served as a dish by itself. Hopeless Schlagobers addicts pile more whipped cream even on top of their whipped cream. There are few Viennese who pass a day without a little Schlagobers; they seem to need it as a Frenchman needs wine. They have it with morning coffee, or with their desserts, or in some pastry, or “in between”; there is always an excuse for it. You can’t blame them: it’s marvelous.
Another delight of Viennese pastry lovers is
Faschingskrapfen have been a Viennese marvel since 1615, the year that they were first available, under the name Cillikugeln, after Frau Cäcilie, who made them. They are light, round fried yeast cakes, and they have been inadequately described in English as carnival doughnuts.
Of course, this is all wrong. There is no carnival in Vienna but there is Fasching, a very different kind of affair. Fasching begins the day after Epiphany (early in January) and lasts until Shrove Tuesday (the last day before Lent). Vienna’s Fashing is more civilized, intimate and gemütlich than the boisterous Karneval times in Cologne, Mainz and Munich, or the Fastnacht in Basel, with their street parades, wild speeches, commercialized fun, heavy drinking, and almost-anything-goes spirit. Vienna’s Fasching is frankly devoted to the pleasures of wine, women and song, and, naturally, walzing. There are hundreds of balls during the Fasching weeks, and many Viennese socialites go to two or three every week. The best-known is the Opernball, when the stage and auditorium of the Vienna State Opera become a giant ballroom.
No ball is possible without a buffet and on each buffet there are Faschingskrapfen. No one knows how many Krapfen are consumed during the merry-go-round of Fasching, But Fasching wouldn’t be what is without the feathery fried cakes that look like doughnuts and taste so much better. During 1815, the year of the Congress of Vienna, over 10 million Faschingskrapfen were said to have been eaten. Some were broken in half by young girls and given to their young men. The young men were trapped since a broken Krapfen was considered a token of engagement.
The making of Krapfen is a most important event in Viennese households. A Faschingskrapfen Expert will explain that the most important thing to remember before you start is to have your kitchen warm. There must be no cool draft. If you go out for a minute, be sure not to leave the door ajar. Everything should be warm – the ingredients, the mixing bowl, the pastry dough, even your hands. Apart from the basic yeast dough, you need apricot jam, good and firm, and the very best fat you can get for frying. In Vienna they used to use any combination of fats from beef, pork or goose for frying of Faschingskrapfen. Today many people buy pure lard though it browns the Krapfen rather fast. And so, one has to be quite careful.
The Krapfen are turned as they fry in half inch of sizzling fat until they are golden color on both sides, with a white band around the middle where the fat has not reached. After being well drained the Krapfen are served, still warm, with some vanilla-flavored confectioner’ sugar sprinkled over them. And they are absolutely delicious.
There is one place in Vienna where they fry the Krapfen in Butter. Everybody will tell you that it can’t be done, that the butter will burn. But nothing is impossible at Demel’s.
There are over 1,500 pastry shops in Vienna making and serving pastries and sweets. The 800 – odd coffeehouses and 1,100 restaurants also serve pastries and sweets. But the fine art of pastry making has generally fallen on bad times in Vienna and elsewhere. The former Iron-Curtain countries sweetmeats are sometimes condemned by misanthropic commissars (though not by their wives) as “food for the idle Capitalists”. Restrictions, rationing and other limitations have ruined such once great confectioners as
o Rumpelmayer in Dresden,
o Felsche in Leipzig.
o Berger in Prague (once famous for its chocolate parfaits and light creams)
has been nationalized, and so have Budapest’s most famous confectioner,
o Gerbeaud (now called Vörösmarty), and
o Kapsa in Bucharest.
Even where the ingredients are plentiful in the Western world, people have become calorie conscious. A generation told to watch the bathroom scales and to stick to fruit juice and stake feels guilty at the mere sight of a Schaumrolle (a puff paste filled with whipped cream) or a layered Doboshtorte (a rich, chocolate filled cake with a caramel topping). Some three star Konditoreien (confectioners) nonetheless carry on:
o Rumpelmayer in Paris,
o Hanselmann in St. Moritz,
o Sprüngli in Zurich,
o Florian in Venice,
o Zauner in Bad Ischl.
But the greatest of all is Demel’s in Vienna.
Demel’s being the ranking pastry shop in Vienna and Austria, is naturally the world’s champion. A great many good things have come to an end in Vienna, but not Demel’s. It is not simply a pastry shop but the greatest temple of la Grande pâtisserie this side of paradise. It represents the Viennese Lebensart, its manner of living, its sweet way of life. Even Viennese who never go to Demel’s (it is pretty expensive) feel assured by its still being there. They often stop in front of the shop windows and with a warm glow in their hearts wistfully gaze at those sweet masterpieces. The feeling is that, as long Demel’s and the Opera and St. Stephan’s Cathedral stand, everything will be all right.
Around Christmas Demel’s show beautiful fairy-tale landscapes such as Tyrolean chocolate chalets surrounded by creamy meadows and marzipan glaciers. At Easter time there are lovely bunnies and chocolate eggs. For years the place won every culinary honor with its delicious assortments of Torten, made from centuries-old recipes.
In 1786 Ludwig Dehne, a sugar baker’s apprentice from Württemberg, who came to the Mecca of pastry making for a postgraduate course, opened his shop across from the stage door of the old Burgtheater. One of the previous owner, Baron Federico Berzeviciny-Palavicini, keeps several metal containers in which coffee ice cream were carried to the box holders of the Burgtheater. Admirers took their leading ladies to Dehne’s Burgtheater Sugar Bakery for beautifully shaped ice cream creations, Hobelspähne (shavings), as the rich but fragile “carpenter’s curl cookies” are aptly described, and various kind of small Krapfen (doughnuts), some sweetened with honey and spices.
After Dehne’s death his widow was named court caterer and the shop became the official sugar baker of the imperial household. But Dehne’s grandson, Anton August, deserted the hones craft of pastry making for a career in politics. In 1857 he sold his shop to his first assistant, Christoph Demel. When the old Hoftheater was torn down 30 years later, Demel moved his pastry shop to its present location in the Kohlmarkt.
Demel’s is not only a national monument but also Austria’s culinary conscience. Supreme quality has always been their creed. To get the finest ingredients, Demel’s will go to great lengths, sending all over the world for what they need. Of course, everything is made in the house. They even make their own chocolate, mixing selected cocoa beans and sugar for 72 hours. They produce something so delicious that it might be called “the beginning and the end of chocolate” – genuine cocoa beans dipped in chocolate. At Demel’s each of the pastry cooks is a specialist. Some of them make puff pastry and others make cake mixtures. No electric beaters are used; at Demel’s they are convinced that only a cake mixture artfully beaten by hand can have the needed consistency and “warmth”. They use 80 pounds of the finest butter daily.
There are always problems to be solved – such as how best to make dough patties filled with fresh strawberries, a summertime creation. Originally Demel’s put the fruit on the dough and the patties got wet and sticky. In Germany, some pastry shops “isolate” the dough with a thin chocolate coating, but at Demel’s they know better than to blend chocolate and strawberries. After many months of experimenting they found out that only a very thin coat of hot apricot marmalade would separate fruit and dough, without influencing the taste of the pastry.
At Demel’s the former Habsburg Empire has its sweet resurrection. They have borrowed and perfected the best pastry recipes from all corners of the Austro-Hungarian realm. Other fine things have also been appropriated from abroad: brioches, soufflés, Madeleine and croissants from France; kulic (a large brioche from Russia), Baumkuchen (tree cake) from Germany, a delicate creation of many layers of the thinnest dough showing concentric rings like a real tree trunk.
At Demel’s they make dozens of different Torten every day. In Vienna they say,
“A Torte is a round cake, but not every round cake is a Torte.”
On an average day you may find the
o Rum punch Torte,
o The Indianer Torte,
o Chocolate cream Torte,
o The various Linzertorten,
o The Nusswaffeltorte (the exception because it is square),
o The macaroon Torte (either soft or hard),
o The bread Torte,
o The Neapolitaner Torte,
o The Breslauer Torte (almond and sour cherries).
There are especially light specimens, such as
o The Sand Torte and
o The Konserventorte (made of a fluffy biscuit dough),
and heavier Torten such as
o The Anna Torte and
o The Dörry Torte (extra thin, filled with chocolate cream, and extra good).
History is reflected in
o The Nelsentorte and
o The Austerlitztorte.
There is also a
o Demeltorte – a rich, crisp pastry filled with glazed fruit.
Among the best-known specialties of the house are the various
o Strudel and the
which is made everywhere in Vienna – though nowhere as well as at Demel’s. Another baker’s wife is credited with the “Indianer”; in fact the baker’s wife plays a big role in Viennese history, as in French love lore. In 1850 a Hindu tightrope walker, called Indianer by the Viennese, was the great sensation locally. He performed on a tightrope suspended from two towers, balancing with the help of a long stick that had a black ball on each end. Not far from where he performed there lived the baker named Krapf and his wife, Frau Cilli. The story goes that the baker told his wife to stop staring like crazy at the Indianer up there. Thereupon Frau Cilli got mad, and threw a lump of dough at her husband. It missed Herr Krapf but mercifully landed in a pan of hot fat and puffed up. Frau Cilli, no fool, filled it with cream, dumped it in hot chocolate and called it Indianer. Another authentic Viennese delight was born. The only trouble with the story is that, like so many tales, it is misleading. The Indianer is baked, not fried. But the story persists and at least illustrates the legendary aspect behind so much of Viennese cooking.
On a large table in the front room of Demel’s there are innumerable desserts: notably the Gugelhupf, a tall, sugar-dusted cake with fluted walls and a hole in the middle, made in various sizes, and the Rahmkuchen, a light sponge cake covered with whipped cream. On the shelves are many other marvels including the Indianer, the Hahnenkamm (puff-paste brioches with marmalade) and the Rehrücken (mock saddle of venison). This chocolate cake is baked in a special tin, covered with chocolate icing and decorated with spiky strips of blanched almonds to look like the larding on a saddle of venison.
The most famous of Vienna’s pastries – at any rate, outside Vienna – is the
Yet the Applestrudle is not of Viennese origin. It was the Hungarians who took their incredibly thin Strudle dough from the great Turkish delicacy baklava and filled it with apples. For centuries, Apfelstrudel has been the pride of Hungarian housewives and the test of great pastry chefs. But it is in private homes that the superb quality of Hungarian Strudel is seen.