As a teenager I was already enchanted by the idea of visiting Vienna. Back in the 1960s Lillian Langseth Christensen was writing a series of articles in the old Gourmet magazine about Viennese life and food traditions. I zealously followed up on anything she mentioned such as tenor Richard Tauber’s version of the somewhat schmaltzy but nonetheless beautiful song Wien du Stadt meine Träume (Vienna, City of My Dreams); I even taught myself to pull strudel dough more than paper thin from a recipe in Craig Claiborne’s original New York Times Cookbook. I visited Vienna for the first time when I was apprenticing in Zurich in the early 70s but after anall-night train ride I was pretty punchy when I arrived and had just a day to look around before heading back. I never made it back to Vienna until 2003 and I arrived with a sheaf of introductions to pastry chefs, coffeehouse owners, and restaurant chefs. I’ve been back many times since then, most recently about a month ago during the last week of August. I packed a lot into a short visit as you’ll see. Many thanks to Astrid Pockfuss, my contact at Vienna Tourism, for her help in making appointments, sometimes on the spur of the moment when I discovered a cake I wanted to know more about.
No visit to Vienna would be complete without a stop at the legendary Hotel Sacher for a taste of Vienna’s most famous chocolate cake, the Sachertorte (pronounced ZAKKertawrtuh). The short history of the sometimes controversial cake is here. Lately, the Sacher, as everyone in Vienna refers to it, has undergone a complete renovation including its two restaurants, the Rote Bar (the Red Bar) and Anna Sacher, named for the hotel’s dynamic cigar-smoking owner who lived from 1859 to 1930.
I enjoyed meeting the hotel’s new pastry chef Roman Schatner, but it was an insanely busy day there and we only had a limited amount of time to talk; I snapped a couple of pictures and was on my way. Look out for my story on rising stars of Viennese pastry that’s going to appear in Dessert Professional magazine in the first half of 2013.
From the Sacher it was a short walk to Café Central where an unheard-of-in-Vienna thing had occurred – the coffeehouse had a French pastry chef. I missed Pierre Reboul by a couple of weeks but had the good fortune to meet and speak with the new chef, Nicolas Welsh.
Though he isn’t Austrian he has lived and worked in Vienna for a long time. Welsh has a big job on his hands and was happy to show me one of the new items he had introduced, an individual raspberry dessert brimming over with raspberry flavor, color, and freshness. Even though he intends to modify the offerings of his predecessor, Welsh also has to maintain the quality of the dozens of traditional cakes and pastries including their own version of Sachertorte and the complex and elegant Café Central Torte, a fantasy of almond paste and buttery cake scented with orange and covered in a chocolate glaze.
Onward to my favorite sweet place in Vienna, Café Diglas. Hans Diglas, the owner, was one of the first people I met when I returned to Vienna in 2003; he was and has remained a constant source of inspiration and wonderful recipes for classic Viennese specialties. This year I had a long talk with Mr. Diglas one morning, then his son, also Hans, took me to their pastry shop a few blocks away and I had a chance to observe production meticulously done by 3 young women.
The following day I returned and spent the whole morning shift with them. I even picked up several recipes for my next book of all dough-based pastry specialties due to be published in 2014.
I couldn't resist getting a photo of these very Viennese looking cupcakes at Gerstner, a classic pastry shop open since the 19th century. I wonder if whoppee pies will be next...
Stay tuned for the opening of the bread pages on this site as soon as BREAD is published early next month.