If you’ve been wondering where the Cream Puff has been for the last week, she has been in the thick of battle with Workasaurus, the beast that has reared its ugly head once again. Long days and long nights have resulted in not much time for food blogging.
But Mother Nature smiled upon me today with the most unbelievably beautiful snowstorm. Well … beautiful if you didn’t have to drive in it as I did. But I made it home and I have settled down for the evening and am finally ready to talk to you about the final days of my trip to Berlin, Prague and Vienna.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been more than two months since I returned. I tried many times to write about the last four days that I spent in Vienna, but every time I sat down to do so, the words wouldn’t come. I don’t think I was quite ready to share those memories. I think I wanted to keep them to myself for just a bit longer.
Very selfish, I know.
We left Prague on a rainy Friday morning, bound for the city that I’d dreamed of visiting for so long. Our little group was uncharacteristically quiet on the bus as people caught up on some much-needed rest. I spent a lot of time just watching the Czech landscape as it went by, wondering when I would have the next opportunity to visit that beautiful country.
By early evening, we found ourselves pulling up to a hotel just outside of Vienna’s city centre. After a short rest, we hopped back on the bus for the drive downtown for our very first glimpse of the heart of Vienna.
In all my days, I don’t think I could have ever imagined a more breathtaking site.
Imagine a city by night, lit by millions of tiny lights, filled with people strolling from one bustling Christmas market to another. Imagine a pianist at a grand piano, in the middle of a wide boulevard, surrounded by Christmas decorations and people. Imagine more pastry shops than you’ve ever seen in your life, all decked out to the nines, with some of the most elaborate Christmas displays anywhere.
If you can imagine this, you can begin to understand what we experienced that first night.
We took an unbelievable ride around the Ringstrasse, the track that runs all the way around Vienna’s city centre, enclosing it the way a ring encloses a precious jewel. It was almost impossible to focus as to our right and left there were so many incredible sights to see: the Christmas markets, the twin museums, the statues, the Parliament building, the Royal Palace … I could go on and on and on.
Returning to the hotel that evening, I found it difficult to sleep as I tried to let it all sink in. I was actually in Vienna! I had finally had my first glimpse of the city’s treasures. And very soon, Vienna’s pastries would be mine!
The following morning, we began our first full day in Vienna by visiting the Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral). Interestingly, I never imagined that Vienna was graced with so many beautiful churches but it is. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is truly a majestic site. It is the most recognized church in Austria and to walk inside is to be immediately surrounded my a deep sense of history and importance. It is not to be missed if you are ever in Vienna.
From St. Stephen’s we walked by a number of the city’s greatest landmarks. The Viennese are a people of music and it shows in their opera house, the Wiener Staatsoper. As with so many European landmarks, it sustained damage during the second world war, but it has been beautifully restored. The opera company is one of the most famous in the world and tickets are hard to come by. I didn’t have the time (nor did I plan in advance) to see an opera, but should I ever return to Vienna, that will be high on my list of things to do!
We walked by what became one of my favourite sites in Vienna, the twin museums, both of which opened in 1889. The Naturhistorisches Museum (Museum of Natural History) and the Kunsthistoriches Museum (Museum of Art History) are mirrors of each other. On the outside, the buildings are stunning, especially when you realize that they are exact copies of each other. Think of the work that such a feat would require! Would we ever see anything like that today in our "modern" cities? I can’t imagine that we would.
And however incredible they are on the outside, they are even more so on the inside. Both museums are world-renowned. While I did not have the chance to visit both of them, I did visit the Kunsthistoriches Museum. I spent several hours marveling at the stunning collections! Unbelievably, a large part of the museum’s pieces came from the personal collection of the Habsburgs, Austria’s royal family.
In between the two museums sits what was perhaps my favourite landmark in all of Austria, a majestic statue of Maria Theresa, Austria’s grand empress. Mother of 16 children, she is a beloved figure in Austrian history and the statue dedicated to her in the Maria-Theresien-Platz is incredible. Completed in 1888, the monument features Maria Theresa atop a throne, flanked on all sides by her children. The monument became my favourite landmark and whenever I felt myself a bit lost, I always looked for Maria Theresa and immediately knew where I was.
After Maria Theresa, there’s no question that the monument most people wanted to see was the statue of Mozart. Vienna celebrated Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006 in grand fashion. The Viennese organized a year of festivities to mark the occasion. While I’d obviously heard of Mozart and was familiar with his music, I was surprised to learn that he was not truly embraced as a brilliant talent until after his death in 1791. The statue of Mozart is hard to miss. There’s an enormous treble clef designed in the lawn in front of the statue, not to mention constant crowds of people!
Our free time was spent shopping and trying to cram in as many sites as possible. If you’ve got the Euros to spend, Vienna is the place to spend them. The shopping is incredible and I was particularly impressed by the number of shops that sold local items. My favourite store had to be Babette’s, a charming little cafe/bookstore named after the title character of the movie Babette’s Feast. While I only had an hour or so to spend in there, I could have stayed there for days looking at all the lovely volumes of cookbooks and sipping some glorious Viennese coffee.
Very close to Babette’s is perhaps Vienna’s greatest shopping attraction (if you’re a food blogger), the Naschmarkt. It’s like being in foodie heaven! You can find everything from the most beautiful fresh vegetables and produce, herbs, spices, alcohol, specialty food products … the list goes on. Walking through the Naschmarkt, I couldn’t help but think that if I were one of the people that lived nearby, I’d be there all the time!
As you might have suspected, though, the sites that I was most interested in were those of the pastry variety. Is there any place on earth with more pastry shops? It seemed like every street corner had another cozy little place just calling out to me. I was especially impressed by the quality of pastries available at all of them. I made sure to stop into several locations of the popular chain, Aida. This "chain" of pastry shops put what we refer to as chain shops or franchises here in North America to absolute shame. The quality of the pastries and coffee available were beyond belief!
I had it on good authority that the pastry shop currently favoured by the Viennese is Kurkonditorei Oberlaa Wein. Also a chain of pastry shops with at least five or six locations, this was my favourite place to breakfast. The coffee was incredible and the pastries made me weep. Literally. Plus it was such a pleasure to see all of the lovely Christmas treats for sale.
Of course, I also had to visit what are likely the two most famous pastry destinations in Vienna: the Hotel Sacher and Demel. While I didn’t try the pastries at the Hotel Sacher, I did stop in to buy some of the famous Sachertorte (to bring home as a treat) as well as the cookbook, The New Sacher Cookbook. I almost fainted when I saw the bill for these two items. The hotel is very expensive, but still worth a visit.
I also made sure to take time to visit the beautiful Demel. Like the Hotel Sacher, it was very expensive and I didn’t really feel that the sweets that I bought there were any superior to those at Oberlaa. But there’s no question that Demel is a place of beauty. And the glassed in kitchen where you can watch the pastry chefs working their magic is a definite treat!
This is how I spent my time in Vienna, wandering from pastry shop to pastry shop, making sure to visit as many of the historical sites as I could in between. On my final day in Vienna, I decided to visit the Schonbrunn Palace, the summer residence of Austria’s royal family. A few members of our tour group who had stayed behind in Vienna and myself made our way to the outskirts of the city to visit this stunning site. The palace has been beautifully preserved and the grounds are a sight to behold. I can only imagine how beautiful they are in summer.
As we stood on a hill in the gardens, overlooking the palace, we stayed silent as dusk slowly began to settle. It was a fitting way to look back on my time in Vienna and the fulfillment of one of my dreams.
I have so many people to thank for their advice. First among them is my dearest Angelika of The Flying Apple. On my second last night in Vienna, Angelika met me at my hotel and we had a lovely time strolling around before heading to dinner at a restaurant called Plachutta, which is famous for its Tafelspitz, a traditional Austrian dish of boiled beef served with various side dishes including potatoes. Besides the fact that I was in heaven thanks to the incredible meal Angelika treated me to, I was doubly in heaven because I finally got to meet in person someone whom I have come to know and respect immensely. I got to hear firsthand about her plans to open a cozy restaurant in her own home. In fact, I even got hired to be her special helper next time I’m in Vienna! How about that!!! I have a very special thank you coming for Angelika, which I’ll share with you in the next few weeks, but until then, I just had to take this opportunity to thank her friendship and incredible generosity.
I’d also like to thank Karen of the blog Bake My Day. Having visited Vienna, she sent me a number of useful tips including a link to Chubby Hubby’s incredible guide to Vienna. If you’re planning a trip there, I highly recommend that you print out the information in his guide. It’s invaluable.
And finally, I owe a huge thank you to a gentleman by the name of Franz. As I mentioned to him in several e-mails, he should be writing guide books to Vienna as he singlehandedly provided me with all sorts of information ranging from transportation to food to entertainment. Danke, Franz!
To everyone that left me comments about Berlin, Prague and Vienna with suggestions of places to see (and eat), I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
For those of you interested, you can take a look at the album of photos that I put together.
As a token of my appreciation and as a way to fight off the cold on this raging winter night, I’ve prepared a dish from one of the cookbooks that I purchased at Babette’s. Called Culinary Austria, it’s a book that covers many of Austria’s most famous dishes. This particular dessert is a sort of baked pudding with crepes filled with cheese. It seems that the original recipe would have called for curd cheese, but not having that at my disposal, I used ricotta. In German it’s called Topfenpalatschinken.
Like Vienna, it’s divine and delicious!
Baked Crepe Pudding
Adapted from Culinary Austria.
Note: The recipe may seem long and complicated but it’s really not. The "hardest" part is making the crepes and that’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. This is the perfect dish for a cold winter night. You can make this the day before serving and simply reheat it in a 325 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until it’s warmed through. Leftovers should be refrigerated.
For the crepes:
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- pinch of salt
- 250 ml. whole milk
- melted butter for the pan
- Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. Mix until you have a smooth batter with no lumps. Set the batter aside to rest for 30 minutes.
- Brush a bit of melted butter in your crepe pan (I use a small frying pan) and place over high heat. Once the pan is very hot, pour a bit of batter into the pan and swirl it around so that it forms a crepe in the pan. Depending on the size of your pan you’ll have to adjust the amount of batter you pour in.
- Cook the crepe for a minute or two, until golden and then with a fork or spatula, gently flip the crepe over to cook on the other side. Once cooked, transfer the crepe to a platter. I like to place a piece of wax paper in between each crepe so that they don’t stick together, but you don’t have to do that.
- Let the crepes cool while you prepare the filling.
- 4 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
- 2 tbsp. icing sugar
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup sour cream (full fat)
- 1 cup ricotta
- 1/4 cup raisins
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch baking dish or pie plate.
- With a fork or a whisk, combine the butter and sugar in a bowl until you have a creamy mixture. Add the lemon zest and the vanilla extract and mix well.
- Add the egg yolks and mix until the yolks have been completely incorporated.
- With a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer (with the whisk attachment), beat the egg whites until stiff.
- Fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture.
- Spread two to three tablespoons of the filling onto each crepe. Roll the crepes up and then cut them in half. Place them in your prepared dish by layering them to create a fan effect.
- Bake for 10 minutes. While the crepes are baking, prepare the final part of the pudding.
For the Pudding:
- 125 ml. whole milk
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 3 tbsp. sour cream (full fat)
- icing sugar for dusting
- Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Once the crepes have baked for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and pour the pudding mixture over the crepes. Return to the oven for 15 minutes.
- The pudding should be set and cooked through. If it still jiggly, cook for a bit longer.
- Remove the crepe pudding from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes. Dust with icing sugar. Serve warm.