Strudel literally means ‘whirlpool,’ and due to its characteristic swirl of pastry and apple filling – which is visible when you cut a slice – this iconic dessert is one of the national dishes of Austria. Making a strudel is an art. After flogging and stretching the unleavened dough to make it thin and elastic, the filling (usually grated apple with brown sugar, lemon, cinnamon and nuts) is added intermittently between pastry layers to create the ‘whirlpool’ effect. It is then baked to glorious golden perfection and dusted with icing sugar when cool. Pair it with piping hot custard for the perfect winter treat.
Legend has it that this light-as-air dessert (meaning ‘Emperor’s mess’ in English) came into existence during imperial times when Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I was travelling through the Alps and decided to stop by a farm to eat something. Since the farmer he called upon was nervous by the emperor’s unexpected visit, he scrambled the pancake in a panic. In an attempt to hide the catastrophe, he smothered it with a rich berry jam. Lo and behold, the Kaiserschmarrn was born. Paired with warm berries, it will surely keep you toasty when the cold weather kicks in!
Created in the rural Upper Austria, the käsekrainer is an adaption of a Slovakian recipe — essentially a large smoked sausage stuffed with Emmental cheese. Widely available at most Wurstelstands throughout Vienna and Berlin, it is often on people’s must-try list when sampling Austrian and, mistakenly German, cuisine. There are a variety of ways of serving the käsekrainer, with grated horseradish and mustard being popular accompaniments. The sausage can also be eaten with ketchup or sprinkled with curry powder for a spicy kick.
Christmas isn’t Christmas in Austria without copious amounts of steaming glühwein. The traditional recipe is a basic mix of wine, cinnamon and sugar, blended together to make the most festive drink known to man. You’ll find a number of stalls serving this delightful warming beverage at any market in Vienna, and it has been adapted to entice even the most wine-weary, with flavours ranging from orange to vanilla bean. Virgin varieties for the teetotal festive-makers are also available.
Known as ‘kurbis suppe’ in Austria, this deliciously smooth soup is often served with a generous dollop of fresh cream and a swirl of deep brown pumpkin oil – an Austrian specialty ingredient.
Maroni and bratkartoffel
You know it’s time to awaken the Christmas cheer when maroni stalls start popping up in Vienna. Roasted chestnuts, slightly salted and served in a paper cone, are the perfect winter-warmer. The stalls will usually also serve bratkartoffeln – roasted potato wedges.
Bread dumplings, or knödel as they are called by locals, are popular all year round in Austria, but they are a staple accompaniment for any Christmas dinner. They are easy enough to make at home, with a modest list of ingredients: potatoes, flour, semolina and a little nutmeg. So why not try this recipe?
Italians and Austrians bicker over where this pounded, golden bread-crumbed dish originated. Its Italian sister, the cotoletta milanese, is rumoured to have been introduced to the Viennese in the 19th Century, but many believe this is not true. Either way, in order for it to be truly authentic, the meat must be veal, but there are many varieties and deer meat and pork are also often used. Although it’s fantastic all year round, this food item is great to keep you warm in the winter!