Featured Country of the month: Austria
From my first post on Instagram asking for suggestions, my sister has religiously requested that I feature Austria. I have seen enough social media posts of people away skiing in the Alps recently that I found myself with a hankering for some Alpine fare, and so I gave in.
I have eaten my fair share of Austrian food and so decided to go with familiar favourites this month. Unusually for me, I have also chosen to feature two desserts..
A quick shoutout is necessary here to two of my favourite Austrian delicacies - Almdudler and Kasekrainer. Almdudler is a fizzy drink which upon googling just now I have discovered is described as a ‘herbal lemonade’.. Sounds gross, but trust me, it is the nectar of the gods. Kasekrainer, is a bratwurst with CHEESE stuffed in the middle. Both of the items are almost impossible to find in the UK and so if you are lucky enough to visit Austria in the future, I recommend you seek these out.
Despite allegedly originating in Italy, Wiener schnitzel is undeniably an Austrian classic. In fact the term 'Wiener Schnitzel’, translating to mean ‘Viennese cutlet’ is actually protected by Austrian law. If a restaurant in Austria claims to sell ‘Wiener Schnitzel’ then it must be veal. Any other kind of meat schnitzel cannot be sold under this title.
On the subject of veal - I would like to share with you what I have only recently learned myself. I have heard in the past that veal is not a cut of meat that should be endorsed due to the cruel circumstances with which it is raised. In the 80s in the UK, this was a valid concern. However, there has been extensive legal reform since then and it is now possible to purchase ‘British Rose Veal’ with no such moral quandary. In fact, the consumption of British Rose Veal prevents the needless culling of newborn male calves, making it a great choice for the ethically minded. It is still not a very popular meat in the UK (I suspect due to lack of awareness) but it is usually stocked in M&S and Waitrose, if you feel inspired to give it a go!
Wiener schnitzel is made by first pounding the cuts of veal as thin as you can manage - this can result in being served up a Wiener schnitzel larger than the plate itself. Once you have the meat as thin as possible, it is breaded and fried. Typically it will be served a lemon wedge on top and a side of french fries or potato salad. What happened?
I decided to follow Felicity Cloake’s ‘How to make the perfect Wiener Schnitzel’ and I appreciated a couple of the extra tips to ensure as indulgent a Wiener Schnitzel as possible. First up, the eggs are mixed with double cream which makes the batter that forms on the outside super rich. Secondly, I fried them with clarified butter - again, this added further richness to the dish. Felicity’s recipe strongly recommended homemade breadcrumbs, but when I ran out of the breadcrumbs I made myself, I used Panko. In the future, I would just use Panko from the start. There is definitely a knack to be acquired when frying the schnitzel - a constant swirling of the pan ensures that the butter glides over the top of the schnitzel, and ensures it cooks evenly.
For my first attempt, the butter was definitely not hot enough, resulting in a slightly anaemic looking schnitzel and I made a further mess of things by lifting it out of the pan with tongs - causing the coating to slide right off of it. I learned from these mistakes and the rest were a beautiful golden brown and the breadcrumbs stayed firmly in place.
Did you like it?
It tasted exactly as I remembered and so how could I not be chuffed?! The richness of the Wiener Schnitzel means that it is unnecessary to serve it with a sauce, just a squeeze of lemon juice. I do think I would be tempted to make a sauce to go with it next time - suggestions on what are welcome! Marks out of 10: 8/10
Coffee and cake is a quintessential Viennese experience that the Austrians take great pride in. In fact, so appreciated is the culture of coffee and cake that UNESCO has attributed the Viennese experience as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’. Austria is unsurprisingly known for an extensive variety of cakes, hence me putting my baking skills to the test TWICE this month. I chose Apfelstrudel first of all because it is one of my favourites.
Apfelstrudel is thought to have originated during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when the Ottoman empire extended its influence throughout Europe, making the Apfelstrudel a likely descendant of Baklava. The paper thin dough needed to create both delicacies is tested by sliding a newspaper underneath it - if you can read the print through the dough, then it is thin enough.
The filling consists typically of apples, rum soaked raisins, cinnamon, sugar and breadcrumbs. I was surprised by the presence of breadcrumbs but they serve a necessary duty in soaking up excess liquid from the apples as they cook.
When the strudel has been folded and baked, it is sliced and liberally sprinkled with icing sugar. It can be served hot or cold and with ice cream or custard.
I had a lot of fun with this! I thought the pastry would be a nightmare but it was actually a lot easier to work with than I had imagined. Stretching it paper thin was a bit cumbersome but picking it up and stretching it like you would a pizza allowed for gravity to do a lot of the legwork. For the filling, I opted for Granny Smith’s to provide a suitable amount of tartness.
I’ll be honest, when it came to rolling up the strudel, I was convinced I had a failure on my hands. There was so much filling compared to pastry that it didn’t seem plausible that I would end up with strudel as I knew it. However, once I’d eventually enveloped all of the apples, I was delighted to see that I did have a cylinder of sorts, albeit a little wonky. When it came out of the oven, it was still a little bit suspect looking - however as soon as I had sliced off a piece and dusted it with icing sugar, I was amazed by how convincing it was. It looked exactly like Apfelstrudel!
Did you like it?
Not only did it look the part, it tasted the part. I was immediately transported to a little cafe in Vienna and it was blissful. I will have more faith the next time I make this - I am pretty positive there will be a next time! A resounding success.
Marks out of 10: 9/10
The Sachertorte is another classic Austrian cake and this one comes with an interesting backstory. It is said that in 1832 Prince Metternich had sent orders to his kitchen that he would like to try a new cake that evening. The kitchen’s usual chef was not in on this particular day and so the duty fell to the 16 year old apprentice cook - Franz Sacher. He got to work with the ingredients he had to hand and thus the Sachertorte was created. The cake was such a success in the palace that the apprentice went on to open several successful cafes and restaurants. Many years later, the prized recipe was sold by a descendent of Franz Sacher to a coffee shop - later leading to a legal battle on who could rightfully claim their cake as the ‘original Sachertorte’. It eventually fell in favour with the Sacher family.
There are minimal differences in the various Sachertorte recipes and the distinctions usually fall with the jam placement - whether the layer of jam is spread between the two cakes, or underneath the icing.
In terms of taste this is a very mildly chocolatey cake that is made using grated dark chocolate and not traditionally with any cocoa powder, which would be standard for a chocolate cake. This means it is relatively subtle in flavour and also a little bit bitter. By nature, it is also on the dryer side and therefore is always served with a healthy dose of cream.
This took longer than anticipated as there were a number of elements that required attention. The cake itself needed to be made and baked and cooled. A rum syrup is made to soak into the otherwise relatively dry sponge. I sieved the apricot jam that I bought (no faffing around making jam on this occasion), and finally there was chocolate icing which had to be heated to the exact right temperature in order to get a glossy, smooth sheen across the cake. Nothing too complicated, but definitely not one you could whip up last minute.
Did you like it?
Not especially. For a chocolate cake, it didn’t really give me the chocolatey oomph I would want and to make matters even less pleasant, as mentioned already - it was dry. This is by design and not by accident but I do not see the point in a dry cake that needs to be served with cream. Just give me a gooey chocolate cake please and thank you.
Marks out of 10: 3/10
You can view all previous 'Country of the Month' articles HERE.