If it wasn't for this round of "Waiter! There's something in my...", I would be one thing short on my list of ways to spoil my husband rotten. You should think that after almost twenty years of knowing him, I'd have a rather good grasp of what he does and does not like, but that couldn't be further from the truth, it appears. In the past few weeks, there have been two occasions where he expressed his undying love, unfortunately not to me, at least not directly. The present dish, which constitutes my entry to this month's edition with the theme of "hot puds", is apparently one of his absolute favourite Austrian desserts - and that is something special, seeing that Austria is dessert heaven and the sheer variety of sweet options is, I think, unsurpassable.
Buchteln are made all year round and unlike many other traditional dishes which are available in countless variations, these are served pretty much the same all over the country. As many of our desserts, they have their roots in Bohemian cuisine. They are oven-baked dumplings, made from a yeast dough, sometimes served plain, but more often than not filled with Powidl, an incredibly thick plum jam. They can be eaten cold, but I prefer them straight from the oven, when they are still fluffy as a goose down pillow, and the best way to enjoy them is with a piping-hot vanilla custard, home-made of course.
If you wanted to sample this delicacy on a trip to Austria, you'd probably have a hard time finding them on a menu - they're something that is made at home, and at home only. The only famous exception is the Café Hawelka in Vienna, a quirky home-style coffee house near St. Stephan's Cathedral, which over the decades has attracted many writers, artists and great thinkers, among them Nobel-prize winner Elias Canetti, HC Artmann, Oskar Werner and Andre Heller, known for his performance art lately showcased in the show Africa Africa which is still touring the globe. Is probably fair to say that this is the closest Vienna comes to a bohemian hang-out. No surprise then that they should serve the ultimate Bohemian dessert... but wait. They don't just serve them. Punters hang out here a whole evening long, knowing that smack bang at 10 pm the kitchen doors will swing open and out will come a massive pan of steaming hot yeast dumplings - and they'll literally be gone within minutes.
The Café itself attracts an illustrious crowd and the owner himself, charming and quite a character, has been the life and soul of this place ever since it re-opened in post-war Vienna - so the Café Hawelka has become a crowd-puller and its Buchteln the most famous of them all... although some argue that since the passing away of Mme Hawelka in 2005 they don't taste like they used to. Tourists rarely find their way here and it may lack the grandeur of many other Viennese coffee houses, but the Café Hawelka is very much a well-kept secret and (or maybe because of this very fact) it is one of my favourite places to be in Vienna. Especially at 10 o'clock at night...
And if you've just gotten in the mood and want to share your own, favourite hot dessert, why not send me your post - I am attempting to publish the round-up in the next week, so you've got a few days....
Buchteln mit Vanillesauce* (Sweet dumplings with crème anglaise)
(makes 12 Buchteln)
40g live yeast**
200 ml milk
500 g plain flour (pastry flour, ie "00" grade, if possible)
80 g icing sugar
80 g butter (melted)
1 pinch salt
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
finely grated lemon zest
4 egg yolks
For the filling:
Powidl (plum jam) or any other jam of cutting consistency
For the crème anglaise***:
500 ml milk
6 egg yolks
100 g sugar
seeds of once vanilla pod
Crumble the fresh yeast into the lukewarm milk, mix with a fork to dissolve. Make sure the milk isn't too mwarm: you want to activate the yeast, but too much heat will kill it. Sprinkle over a thin layer of flour and leave to stand in a warm and draught-free place for about 30 minutes.
When the flour layer shows considerable cracks, you know your yeast is ready to roll and do miracles! Place all the ingredients for the dough in a food processor and knead until the dough is smooth and coming off the walls of your bowl. Cover with a moist tea towel and leave to rest for half an hour.
Flour your work surface lightly, form a roll with the dough and cut into 12 equal pieces. Flatten each dough piece in the palm of your hand, place about 1 tsp full of jam into the middle and securely tighten the dough around it. Shape into a rough ball and repeat with the remaining dough, placing the finished dumplings in a generously buttered oven-proof dish. Make sure they're not sitting too tightly as they will rise again.
Cover with a floured tea towel and leave to rise until they have doubled in size or risen considerably, ca. 1 hour. Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 190C.
Brush the dumplings with melted butter and place the dish in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
While they are baking, make the custard sauce. Bring the milk and vanilla seeds to a boil. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until creamy. Continue whisking while you pour in the hot milk. Cook, stirring, until the sauce has thickened.
Serve the Buchteln straight from the oven, with a generous helping of warm vanilla custard.
* Recipe based on Ewald Plachutta's in Die Gute Kueche
** Buy this in a bakery, in the UK the bakery counter at Sainsbury's is your best bet, or try a health food shop where they tend to sell 42g cubes by German whole-food brand Demeter.
*** I make mine in the Thermomix, 10 minutes, 80C, speed 3. Add time as required if your milk and yolks are very cold.