According to Plachutta's "Die gute Küche", where this recipe originates, there are hot etymological debates around this popular Austrian dish. "Kaiserschmarr'n" (with "Kaiserschmarren" and "Kaiserschmarrn" equally accepted) is composed of two words: "Kaiser", easy to translate, means "Emperor". As for the "Schmarr'n", the interpretation is much more difficult. It's a bit like "Gemütlichkeit" and "Lebensraum", words which have found their way into English dictionaries for the very reason that they cannot be translated, maybe because they're more of a concept than simply a word. Now, "Schmarr'n" could mean anything from "da**-it" ("So ein Schmarr'n!"), "bullsh**" or "rubbish" when somebody is talking nonsense and "crap" when something isn't working properly etc.
The story I like best is the one where Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. and his wife Elisabeth (commonly known as "Sisi" or "Sissy") are sitting at the dinner table. Apparently, the Empress was ever so conscious about her waistline, but still found it hard to resist sweets, and therefore insisted that any dessert served should be as light as possible - easy on the butter, the cream and the flour, basically. So when she was served Kaiserschmarr'n that night, she found it to be far too calorific and refused to eat it. Franz Joseph, probably growing impatient with his tantrum-throwing young wife, is reported to have said "now let me see what "Schmarr'n" (read: "rubbish") our Leopold (the chef) has cooked up again." and ate his own AND his wife's portion with delight. Thereafter, the dish was called "Kaiserschmarr'n" everywhere in the empire.
The recipe I have chosen is what Plachutta calls "leichte Masse" - this could mean that it is lighter (using far less flour and milk) or that it is easier: for starters, you don't need to turn the pancake, which is a major bonus I should think. I don't like the idea of food hanging from the ceiling or the lampshades and this is exactly where my pancakes would invariably end up if I had to flip them.
Another difference between Kaiserschmarr'n and an American or English pancake that it contains raisins (which are optional) and is torn into bite-sized pieces after being taken out of the oven. Normally served with a Zwetschkenröster (a delicious plum & apple stew laden with cinnamon), I had some gorgeous Hungarian apricot compote at hand which my friend Timi brought me back from her Mum's. If you think you know what apricots taste like, think again - I have tried apricots of different origin and have found the ones coming from Hungary or the Wachau (a wine-producing region on the board of Austria's Danube) to be the top of the crop. They're bursting with flavour, sweet and slightly sour at the same time, a concentrated taste you normally only find in top-notch sticky wines... something you won't forget and once tasted, you certainly will never make jam with anything else again!
Kaiserschmarr'n - Emperor's pancakes*
(serves 4 as a dessert, breakfast or light meal)
6 egg whites
4 tbsp caster sugar
1 pinch salt
6 egg yolks
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp single cream
2 handful of raisins
50 ml orange juice (optional)
60 g flour
25 g butter (for frying)
icing sugar (for dusting)
Fruit compote or jam (to serve)
If your raisins are quite dry, stew them in the orange juice (or some rum, if you prefer) for 5 - 10 minutes, then drain thoroughly.
Beat the egg whites with the sugar and salt until stiff peaks form. In another bowl, combine the egg yolks, cream and vanilla extract. Beat into the egg whites, then gradually fold in the flour.
Preheat the oven to 200 C. Melt the butter in a non-stick, oven-proof pan. Pour in the dough and scatter the raisins over. Cook until the bottom starts to brown and the mass has warmed up (you should see little air bubbles escaping). Transfer to the oven and bake for 10 minutes until cooked through.
Turn out onto a plate and tear into bite-sized pieces, using two forks. Divide between the plates, dust with icing sugar and serve with a fruit compote.
* Recipe adapted from Plachutta's "Die gute Küche"