Sunday, 16 September 2012

Exploring Vienna through the medium of cake.

Viennese cakes!
After spending the past few weeks working as an au pair (and having a general holiday) in Vienna, I am now back home in good old Engy, with about a kajillion things I want to blog about from my time away. I have my priorities in order though, so first things first: let's talk about cake.

Vienna is a city as famous for its cuisine as its culture. You will never have to go far to find a konditorei full of incredible cakes as opulent as the city's architecture. This pleases me. Obvs. I took it upon myself to sample some of the city's baked offerings in the hope of finding the very best...

The Sachertorte from Hotel Sacher
The Sachertorte is probably the most famous of Vienna's traditional cakes: a rich chocolate cake with a yummy layer of apricot jam, traditionally served with whipped cream. There's quite an interesting story behind the Sachertorte too - let me fill you in briefly: Back in 1832, there was a prince who was having a party. Tragically, his head chef became ill, so the job of concocting a unique dessert fell on the shoulders of a 16 year old apprentice, Franz Sacher. Aha! I think you can see where this is going... Not much happened to the cake recipe over the years, and it was perfected by Franz's son, Eduard.

Over the years, there have been disputes over whether Vienna's Hotel Demel or Hotel Sacher actually has the original recipe - I imagine they both make cracking Sachertortes to be honest, and both recipes are top secret.

The difference is that at Hotel Sacher there is another layer of apricot jam between the cake and the chocolate coating as well as the layer running through the cake. And let me tell you, this went down a treat with me. Yes, my friend and I treated ourselves to a breakfast of Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher. We sat outside in the early September sunshine, eating our cake and it was fabulous.

disappointing Sachertorte.
Of course, everywhere you go in Vienna offers their own versions of the Sachertorte, and naturally (all in the interest of research), I sampled some others too. Sadly, my first Sachertorte was a let down. It was from some random little café that wasn't really a cake place at all, but it was my first day and I was desperate for some Sachertorte. The cake is meant to be dryish (hence the cream on the side), but this was one was way too dry. Sad times.

delicious Sachertorte!
Obviously I then had to try an actual good Sachertorte, and this was achieved in the café in the bookshop Thalia on Mariahilfestrasse (Vienna's answer to Oxford Street.) On a side note, this is a fabby bookshop, selling much more than books, and is one of those places I can easily spend hours. Especially seeing as you can get a shopping boost from a slice of their Sachertorte if needs be!

One of many branches of Aida in Vienna
Another great place for a cake stop is the Aida café-konditorei chain. They are all over Vienna, and I just love them for their pinkness: interior, exterior, waitress outfits... It's all pink! But colour aside, they have got an incredible array of cakes on offer at really quite reasonable prices. A slice of Sachertorte is €2.90, as opposed to €4.90 in Hotel Sacher! Aida are also open till 9pm which I personally think is really great - the Austrians sure do cake culture well, and I think it's something we're missing in the UK. Sure, we have good cafés for afternoon tea and cake, but usually they close at around 4.30pm. Ludicrous. Sometimes, you just want to go out for cake in the evening, don't you?

So anyway, enough of my cake ranting. Back to Aida. It's a popular place with locals and tourists alike, despite the typical Austrian grumpy waitresses. If you go in there when it's busy (for example when the heavens opened one afternoon), expect to wait a while for service, but then it's perfectly normal in Austria to hang around in a café for hours, and you won't be judged if you finished your cake ages ago and haven't ordered anything else. Pretty fab. We chilled in Aida for a good two hours eating our cakes and watching Vienna bustling by in the rain outside. However if you are in a rush or feeling the pinch a bit more (and the weather is nice), Aida offer a 10% discount if you take away. Always handy.

My Mozart Torte from Aida
And now down to the cakes on offer. One of my faves was their Mozart Torte (Mozart cake), which was basically a chocolate cake with milk chocolate icing and some marzipan and pistachio flavours thrown in their somewhere. I was too busy scoffing it to take too much notice but it was delish, put it that way.

Apfeltorte from Aida
I also had a rather nice Apfeltorte (apple cake) at Aida. Not mind-blowing but nice all the same.

Cardinalschnitte from Aida
My friends had a Marokkanertorte (a rich chocolate cake filled with a light chocolate cream) and a Cardinalschnitte (some pastryish thing filled with flavoured cream) which seemed to go down jolly well with each of them indeed. Basically, there's so much on offer that it's impossible for someone to go in and not find something they'd like.. The more likely scenario is that you'll be spoilt for choice and need to make multiple trips to try them all!

A nutty pastry from Ströck
And gosh, don't even get me started on the Viennese pastries! The bakery chain Ströck is found at most underground stations, and is absolutely fab for relatively cheap pastries. Again, there are too many to choose from though. DAMN YOU, VIENNA, AND YOUR YUMMINESS!

I think my next baking challenge may just have to be the Sachertorte. Watch this space...

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