Coffee and Cake: The Best Sweet Treats for Viennese Afternoons

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Visitors to Vienna will have no trouble finding a coffee shop to stop in for a break while they sightsee. Where they might have trouble is deciding what to order. Vienna’s rich array of confections to pair with coffee can be overwhelming for anyone with a sweet tooth. Read on for a description of some of the treats you’ll encounter in Vienna.

First in any list devoted to Vienna’s sweets and treats is the Sachertorte. Named for Austrian chef Franz Sacher, this chocolate spongecake with apricot jam and dark chocolate frosting is now world famous. It was invented by Sacher in 1832 for a royal palate — that of Prince Wenzel von Metternich, one of the era’s most important politicians. At the time, Sacher was 16 years old and the prince’s regular chef’s apprentice. However, the regular chef had fallen ill so Sacher took on the job of devising a special treat. Sacher furthered his training and later opened his own delicatessen, where his son Eduard Sacher made the final adjustments to the recipe before serving it to the public. Eduard Sacher opened a hotel with the family name, and the cake was served there regularly.
By the 1930s, the cake had become so popular vendors sold it on streets and the Sachers fought a legal battle to keep the Sachertorte name. Austrians celebrate Dec. 5 as National Sachertorte Day.

When searching for Vienna hotels online, note on the map the surrounding coffee shops. There’s no better breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up for tourists and business travelers in Vienna than a slice of Sachertorte and a cup of coffee.

● Other Sweet Treats

Sachertorte is not the only option for cake-lovers in Vienna. In fact, afternoon cake breaks are so popular in Vienna certain cafes have their own ordering rituals. For example, at the Café Demel, which challenged the Sachers’ right to the Sachertorte name, customers first choose the cake they’d like from the café’s display case, receive a ticket for the cake and then present the ticket to the waiter to be served. This regulates the ebb and flow of cakes to customers on busy afternoons.

In display cases, you might find Hungarian-origin Dobostorte, which is made of thin layers of cake fixed together with chocolate cream and then topped with caramel. This was also created for royalty: Emperor Franz Josef I was reportedly the first to try it in Budapest.

The epicure might find Esterhazytorte, another Austro-Hungarian delight, made of buttercream and almond meringue in layers. The name doesn't reveal the maker — instead Esterhazytorte was made to honor Prince Esterhazy, a famous politician and former ambassador to the United Kingdom.

More recognizable to foreign palates are some of the other offerings in Vienna’s coffee shops. Cheesecakes and carrot cake are popular, as are lemon tortes, Bundt cakes and Black Forest cake.

Gugelhupf is a bundt cake that conjures up Sunday afternoons for many German-speaking people, as it was traditionally served on weekends. This cake may have its origins with the Romans. Variations of it are found in France and Germany as well as Austria. It is similar to Italian panettone.

● The National Austrian Food

Apfelstrudel is instantly seen by most visitors to coffee shops, but shouldn't be ignored because you know what it is. Some call this the Austrian national dish, just as apple pie is quintessentially American. The best apple strudel is made simply: from apples and raisins, cinnamon and sugar set into a pastry. Some prefer to eat this treat with custard or vanilla sauce, but most Austrians take it plain, even cold.

Cardinal slices are a denser coffeecake, with varying ingredients. Incorporating raspberries and raspberry brandy, these rich slices fill you up yet keep you wanting more.

When in Vienna, one thing is certain: You will have no lack of cakes to pair with your coffee.

About the Author: Contributing writer Tina Hauser has lived in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in her role as a domestic arts teacher at international schools.

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