Time for a SUGAR HIGH! I've spent the last two months mulling over the many local and regional specialities that surround me - there was never a question that it would be something Austian I would contribute, but what to choose, what to choose?
Austria has a great tradition of desserts and pastry, of course, a culinary fortune ammassed through decades of pilfering other peoples' smorgasbords of sugar-laden treats. But it was not the strudels and dumplings of this world that intrigued me, nor the various cakes and tortes you can find up and down the country: Esterhazy, Dobos, Linzer... (for a brilliant insight into Viennese coffee house culture, treat yourself to Rick Rodgers' "Kaffeehaus", the best English recipe book on the matter that will have you drooling as you read. Hide your credit card as you browse, or you'll be booking a flight to Austria's capital after just a few pages!). I was more interested in the little gems that have become famous over decades and centuries, but not necessarily commercially exploited to the extent that you can buy them at every airport, supermarket and service station in the country (like Mozartkugeln, for example).
The array of local desserts, pastry and confectionary that I have come across is amazing. The stories behind some of them even more so - but I found that a lot of them had so much history that further investigation wouldn't go amiss. Several desserts can be found in various incarnations in different regions of Austria and they all have their local folklore or patina that needs to be unearthed... I have spoken to so many people on this summer's trip to Austria and it would seem that I could fill a whole book with tales and recipes for local specialities that are slowly getting lost because the corresponding tradition is no longer alive. One example is a bagel-type pastry which repenting sinners would get after confession before Easter in the North-Western parts of Upper Austria - but unearthing a recipe for it and finding all the stories surrounding it would take serious investigation which I didn't have time for.
Another problem was that some local specialities that I originally had in mind pertained to a particular patisserie or bakery and a recipe for it was not readily available: the biscuits we used to buy occasionally on our way to our weekend house in Gramastettn, the boozy prunes in chocolate sold at a patisserie established in 1559 (these I will make soon, I promise) or the OÖ Dessert, a more recent speciality, developed by a confectioner in Molln for a competition to find a dessert that embodies all that is Upper Austria... a wonderful creation, but despite all my pleas, neither the creator nor the guild would let me have the coveted recipe!
So I let Salzburg, our home for the past 5 weeks, be the inspiration for my SHF contribution: although this dessert has found its way on to menus up and down the country, Salzburger Nockerl are local to the Mozart capital. Rumour or rather local folklore has it that these fluffy mounts of egg whites are supposed to mimick the mountain-range (or rather hillside) surrounding the city: the Gaisberg, Mönchsberg and Nonnberg.
I had never made nor eaten this dessert before, so was relying on my trusted bible for Austrian cooking, Plachutta's "Die Gute Küche". It is incredibly quick to make and a very light and airy dessert perfect for any occasion. It shows all the cornerstones of a good soufflé, without the fear that it might not rise - the egg white mixture seasoned with lemon zest and vanilla is simply sat in an oven-proof dish (some recipes layer the bottom of the dish with cranberry or red-currant compote, some with a custard-type sauce) and, with the help of a spatula, mounted into something ressembling rock-formations: three of them, to be precise... could you name them again, without cheating? Good on you... now have another Nockerl!
(Pictures of Salzburger Nockerl courtesy of Jeanne who enjoyed them with me)
The round-up for this month's Sugar High Friday, brainchild of Jennifer, the Domestic Goddess, will be posted here on Friday, 31st August.
(Serves 4, with two each sharing a dish)
7 egg whites
100 g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
zest of half a lemon
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
20 g flour
jam or custard sauce as base or to serve (optional)
Pre-heat oven to 200C.
Beat the egg whites, gradually adding the sugar, until very stiff. Quickly beat in the two yolks, zest and vanilla sugar without overbeating. Fold in the flour carefully.
(With the amount you have, I suggest making 2 portions in individual dishes)
Butter two oven-proof dishes. (Optional: you can now line the bottom of the dish with jam or custard)
Heap three large dollops of the egg mass into the dish, sitting alongside each other, slightly offset. Using a spatula, quickly "mount" them to ressemble three mountain backs.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until browning on top.
Serve in their dish, as removing them onto plates will cause them to collapse. It'll still taste good, but won't look as nice!
* based on a recipe in Plachutta's "Die Gute Küche"