An Austro-Hungarian café (known as a Kaffeehaus in Austrian, kávéház in Hungarian, and kavárna in Czech) is living history. It was from the Café Dommayer that the lilting music of Strauss, inseparable from central European culture, first caressed Viennese ears. The violent 1848 Revolution erupted from Budapest’s Café Pilvax. The compeers of Václav Havel and his compatriots organized Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution over coffee at the Café Slavia. The intelligentsia of all three cities used the cafés as their living rooms, occasionally laying down their pens to argue the latest developments in literary, art, and music circles. Historical and geographical names jump out from the menu—Malakoff,
First, the coffeehouse tradition is well over three hundred years old, with customs so entrenched they are almost choreographed. At a true Kaffeehaus, there is no such thing as a quick cup of coffee; coffeehouse habitués never rush through their cup. Your coffee comes in a china cup on a gleaming metal tray, always with a glass of cold water that your waiter refills from time to time. If you need a fast coffee to go (a condition that is met with the utmost sympathy), you must search out an espresso bar, an entirely different venue.
The desserts served at a Kaffeehaus set it apart from its peers throughout the world. The dessert display can be a modest selection of a few specialties of the house, or it can be an impressively dramatic exposition of towering Torten. Your choice of dessert could be the hardest decision you have to make all day. Should it be a thick, intensely chocolate slice of Sachertorte, one of the world’s most beloved cakes? Perhaps freshly baked apple strudel (or grape or cherry or cheese)? Or the sugar-dusted Gugelhupf? A chocolate-glazed “Indian” puff, a wedge of jam-filled Linzertorte, a slice of vanilla-scented cheesecake, or a square of rustic but satisfying plum cake? They are all there in their tempting glory. Austro-Hungarian pastry shares very few of its masterpieces with French pâtisserie. It stands proud and independent, and it could be argued that the French picked up plenty of baking secrets from the skilled Viennese bakers.
If the Viennese had a food pyramid, desserts would be the main category. They are a way of life, not just a treat at the end of meal. The Austrians have the equivalent of British teatime, the Jause (pronounced YOW-sah, from the Czech word jouzina, or lunch). Every afternoon at four o’clock, the city’s coffeehouses and bakeries (which always seem to be bustling and filled to the brim regardless of the hour) get a fresh infusion of customers. While British teatime will include savory snacks, Jause is always sweet, stemming from the period when filling cheese- or fruit-based meals were served for dinner on meatless Fridays. Adherence to the Catholic rules of abstinence and fast was paramount, as the emperor of Austria was also the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a title conferred by the pope himself.
Finally, Vienna had an enormous influence on world thought, although it is waning as new schools of thought develop. But there is no discounting the importance of the Viennese in modern international culture. The practice of psychiatry was started by Sigmund Freud and Victor Adler. Constantly feuding over the superiority of the subconscious versus the superiority complex, the two did not speak to each other when they ran into each other at Café Landtmann. Hollywood would have been less stimulating without movies directed by Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, and George Cukor. Gustav Mahler, Alban Berg, and Anton Bruckner changed twentieth-century music. The recent film success, The Grand Budapest Hotel, was based on the work of Stefan Zweig, who, during the 1930s was the world’s most translated writer. Theodor Herzl developed the idea of the Zionist state. The words of Hugo von Hofmannsthal are regularly sung whenever Richard Strauss’s operas are performed. The operettas of Johann Strauss the younger, Franz Lehár, and Oscar Straus were not only European favorites, but Broadway and Hollywood hits.
This cookbook is about the classic Kaffeehäuser. Yes, there are contemporary cafés, but they are the children of the old guard. Even if the trappings of the new cafés are sleek and modern, the menu will still have apple strudel and not lemongrass sorbet. It should be said here that not every place that serves dessert and coffee is considered a Kaffeehaus. There are many categories, including pastry shops, bread bakeries, espresso bars, and café restaurants. These distinctions are very important to the Europeans if not to Americans or other visitors. Also, this is not meant to be a complete cookbook on the home-baked desserts of the three countries, but a collection of recipes for the desserts you are most likely to find at coffeehouses and bakeries. Recipes contributed by home bakers have been included only if they can be found on coffeehouse menus.
My great-aunts were wonderful bakers in the Viennese style. Relatives still argue over who was the better baker:
The broad term encompassing all Viennese desserts in Süßspeisen, literally “food or meals made from sugar,” but can also mean a dessert that incorporates little or no flour. Within Süßspeisen is Mehlspeisen, “food or meals made from flour.” Austro-Hungarian cookbooks often separate the desserts into two distinct categories, warm and cold. While there may be a few overlaps, the chapters in this book generally follow the Viennese categorization, concentrating on the Mehlspeisen that are most often served in the classic coffeehouse.
The recipes start with the basic batters, doughs, and icings. The “cold” flour-based desserts start with simple cakes, then move on to fancy tortes, working their way through the Mehlspeisen family, offering strudels, sweet breads, cookies, and doughnuts along the way. “Warm” desserts are represented by dishes that may be uncharted territory for many American bakers: pancakes (crêpes), sweet omelets (which are actually more like warm, fluffy cakes than the French egg dish), sweet dumplings and noodles (much beloved by the Czech), puddings, and beverages.
One day I was baking with my friend
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