For almost thirty years I repeatedly saw one and the same dream: I would arrive in Vienna at long last. I would feel really happy, for I was returning to my serene childhood.
In its culture and life, Vienna seems to be a contradiction–elegant operas and waltzes, punctilious tailoring and social mores, against the tubercular nudes of Egon Schiele and challenging theories of Sigmund Freud.
Stefan Zweig recalls Vienna once the center of the Hapsburg Monarchy “demoted to the status of a provincial German town.” After such a demotion, perhaps one takes comfort in nursery foods, treated punctiliously. If you can’t run an empire, at least you can run a kitchen.
Part of what makes Viennese dishes so appealing is that they seem to be glorified nursery food. Even the sweet pancake called Kaiserschmarren, a supposedly royal favorite, means the Emperor’s mess–a light pancake that tore when flipped, but with an airy sweetness that is nonetheless appetizing.
Recipes cover appetizers, soups, sides, mains–meat and fish, but bakes will love this book–more than half is recipes for cookies, pastries, confections, sweet desserts, cakes, gateaus, tortes, creams and marmalades. You can make your version of the famous Plum Buns from Cafe Hawelka or Gugelhopf, Gingerbread, Linzer Torte and Apple Slices.
But though these are simple dishes–a repertoire of repeated and expected recipes–they have been honed to great refinement. Just as each cafe has its special pastry and each confectioner a special sweet, each family has its special dishes. Dumplings, Lentil Soup, Potato Salad, and deviled eggs may seem like nothing special, but here they are refined to this family tastes.
And what makes them more homey are the family stories that frame the book. These are recipes from the author’s Tante Herthe, a Baroness in the 1900s. Her recipe journal contained only the barest of instructions and measurements, but in a connection between generations, the author’s mother has interpreted them for modern cooks.
And in a further bit of context, the book includes family photos–weddings, country homes, children, and soldiers–as well as photos of the cafes that are the bulwark of Vienna’s distinct culinary culture. A slice of that culture, recognized as part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage, is captured here.