Austria knows how to do Christmas. In winter the whole country looks like a snowy Christmas card with wooden chalets, sleighs and bells.
On a recent visit I met the Von Trapp family, of Sound of Music fame, at their castle ,Schloss Friedberg, listened to yodelling, and drank mulled wine while enjoying typically Christmassy recipes such as Linzer cookies. The classic Christmas carol ‘Silent Night’ was written in Salzburg, Austria.
Austrians, even the younger generation, still wear on a daily basis, traditional picture-book outfits such as dirndls and lederhosen.
‘We never wash our lederhosen’ declared one cheerful local. He possesses ten pairs of the suede shorts.
Elisabeth Gürtler, whose family runs the Sacher Hotel in Vienna, home of the celebrated Sacher Torte, a chocolate and apricot jam cake, always wears a dirndl.
I stayed at Elisabeth’s magical pine-scented Alpine hotel in Seefeld, part of the Tyrol region, which boasts mountain views, stags heads and painted furniture. It’s like living in a fairy tale, populated by adult versions of Hansel and Gretel.
Austrians celebrate Christmas on the eve. Why not bake a Sacher Torte as a perfect alternative to a Christmas fruit cake and some Linzer cookies?
For the cake:
- 150 g butter, room temperature
- 230 g caster sugar
- 5 eggs separated
- 150 g dark chocolate, melted
- 230 g flour
- 12 g baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 180 ml whole milk
- 300 g of apricot jam, no bits
For the mirror glaze:
- 40 g caster sugar
- 40 ml water
- 170 ml double cream
- 200 g dark chocolate
- 25 g butter
For the cake:
- Beat the butter with the sugar and egg yolks in the mixer until creamy
- Add the melted chocolate and beat again till creamy. Grease a cake tin (26cm) with butter and sprinkle with flour.
- Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very stiff.
- Then add the flour (mixed with baking powder) to the butter-chocolate cream alternating with the milk.
- Finally fold in the whipped egg whites gently with a whisk.
- Pour into cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes.
- After removing the cake from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for about 5mins, then turn around onto a flat plate and remove the tin.
- Heat the apricot jam gently until smooth.
- Cut the cake in half crosswise, cover the base with jam and set the other half gently on top. Coat the top and around the edges with the rest of the jam.
- When cool, cover with chocolate frosting (ideal is dark couverture melted with butter in a bain-marie).
- Serve with whipped cream!
For the glaze:
- In a small saucepan over a medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the water. Remove from the heat.
- Add 2 tablespoons of the double cream to the sugar syrup
- Melt the chocolate, adding the butter.
- Add the rest of the double cream
- Mix the syrup and chocolate mix together
- Place the sandwiched cake on a grill placed over a plate to catch the drips
- Pour over the cake, tipping it this way and that, to cover the top and sides. Do not smooth over, you want an unblemished shiny glaze.
- Any extra can be scraped off the plate and kept in the fridge for other treats
Linzer cookies with quince jelly
- 150 g plain flour
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 90 g butter, room temperature
- 60 g ground almonds
- 100 g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 150 g jam (I used quince jelly)
- icing sugar to dust
- Stir together the flour, cinnamon and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs
- Add the ground almonds and sugar then gradually stir in the egg, kneading slightly until you have a firm dough.
- Flour a clean surface and roll out the biscuit dough to 3mm thick.
- Cut out 20 biscuits and then using the smaller cutter, cut out the centres of 10.
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Lay on the parchment or silat on a flat baking tray and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
- Bake the biscuits for 30 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
- Spread the jam on half of the biscuits then sandwich them. Dust with icing sugar.