Gulasch with Dumplings (Knödl)
Going out
Travel info

Austrian Cuisine

Austrian cuisine is influenced from the former Austro-Hungarian-Empire and can be quite stodgy with all the fried and baked stuff. Also famous are the excellent pastries and cakes, such as strudel, baked dough filled with a variety of fruits and a sprinkling of raisins and cinnamon.

Dishes that Unite the Best of Many Cultures

Food is an important part of our sense of belonging: to our families, cultural area and nationality. For the British the archetypical dish is fish and chips, for Americans it’s hamburgers, for the Japanese sushi, and for the Austrians it’s Wiener Schnitzel, of course. Culinary specialities serve as national markers. Like such sights as the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or the Acropolis, a nation’s cuisine is part of its identity. In order to strengthen this identity, dishes are given unique recipes and served in specially shaped vessels. Sometimes their history is reinterpreted to give it new meaning. Thus it can happen that an originally Chinese fruit (the apricot) is combined with a plant product from Southeast Asia (sugar) and a Central European method of preparation (the dumpling) to become the cultural icon of Austria’s Danube Gorge, the Wachau: the Marillenknödel (apricot dumpling) is only one of many such examples of culinary patriotism.

Food can be used to convey an ideology or even as a means of political propaganda. Dishes can be named for rulers, heroes and other famous persons or linked to political events or traditional customs. The Italian pasta called tripolini − noodles with a curly edge − are a reminder even today of the Italian conquest of Libya and its capital, Tripoli, in 1912. Beef Wellington is a culinary monument to the British duke who defeated Napoleon in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, and Chicken Marengo is what the same French general ate after defeating the Austrians at the battle fought on the Marengo Plain of northern Italy in 1800.

Our menus define us and distinguish us from other nationalities and groups. The acquired rituals of dining offer cohesion — within our family, social milieu and culture. Our sense of community is reflected in our eating habits, which make us feel somehow superior to others. Our culinary conduct is a reflection of our cultural standards.
We often dislike the foods that others eat, claiming that they taste or smell bad. In doing so we are often overlooking the history of our own recipes and dishes, which we like to consider archetypical of the places we come from. But most of these culinary ideas would never have seen the light of day without intercultural dialogue.

The West

Salzburger Nockerl

Said to symbolize Salzburg’s three ”backyard mountains” − Mönchsberg, Kapuzinerberg and Festungsberg − this dish is also called the queen of soufflés. In Fred Raymond’s operetta Season in Salzburg they are said to be ”as sweet as love and gentle as a kiss”. We’re talking about Salzburger Nockerl (Salzburg dumplings).

The operetta was written in 1938, but it remains unclear exactly when Austria’s famous warm dessert was first served. According to legend, it was invented by Salome Alt (1568 — 1633), the concubine of the prince bishop of Salzburg Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau (1559 — 1617), as an expression of her gratitude for being given Altenau Palace (today Mirabell Palace) by the high ecclesiastical dignitary after they had been together for twenty-two years. Despite the romantic story there is no clear evidence for the existence of Salzburger Nockerl in the late Renaissance period.

It is not even clear when the recipe appeared for the first time in written form. But if Salome Alt actually did invent this delicious dish to proclaim her love of Salzburg and her prince bishop, Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau was probably the man who tasted the world’s first soufflé. According to The Oxford Companion to Food, the French version was not invented until 1782.

Käse (Cheese)

Many of the most inhospitable areas in Europe produce this much sought-after delicacy. Over the centuries, remote mountain regions have developed countless recipes and flavours. But this foodstuff, which has been known for millennia, did not originate in the mountains of Austria or Switzerland but more likely in the Middle East. With the domestication of animals such as the wild ox during the Mesolithic Period, the nutritional value of milk became apparent to our ancestors, who realized that if milk was not chilled, it broke down into liquid whey and a solid component (curd). The latter − as curd cheese − has been a part of the human diet ever since.

The invention of hard cheese probably occurred by accident: dried calf’s stomachs were used to transport milk, and they contained rennin, a protein-digesting enzyme that curdles milk, thus extending the period in which it is retained in the stomach of the young animals. During transport the milk was thus transformed into hard cheese, which kept much better. The shape of the cheese was determined by the container that was subsequently used to store the casein. Easily made round bentwood boxes and shallow barrels resulted in various sizes of round cheeses.

By the age of classical antiquity cheese had become so popular that it was found throughout Europe. The recipe developed in the high mountains of western Austria for purely practical reasons: fresh milk was easily and cheaply available, and hard cheese kept for a very long time, making it possible to survive in high and inhospitable Alpine regions. We owe the wide variety of cheeses available today to the many different kinds of grass and herbs available to the cows found on Alpine pastures. What was once food for the poor has thus become a much sought-after delicacy.

Speck (Bacon)

Fruits, vegetables and raw meat spoil quickly, and food that tastes delicious today may be toxic by tomorrow. Thus it is no coincidence that since the earliest beginnings of human culture, humankind has been seeking ways to preserve food. The earliest methods of conservation were drying and salting.

In ancient Egypt and Greece, fish and meat were rubbed with salt and herbs before being air-dried. In the technique of smoking, which developed later, hot smoke removes water from food and covers its surface with an air-tight, antiseptic skin; at the same time it also adds flavour and substances that act as bactericides. Fish and meat are the foods most likely to be smoked. Among the best-known examples are smoked Norwegian salmon and Alpine bacon. The smoking process developed relatively early in human history. By 3500 BC the Sumerians of Mesopotamia were smoking fish. The ancient Greeks and Romans also used smoke to dry and preserve cheese and tuna. In the Middle Ages smoked herring was an important source of nourishment for the poor.

Over the course of the Middle Ages the techniques of salting and smoking spread to every region that had adequate supplies of salt and firewood. The Alpine regions of Austria offered perfect conditions for the production of smoked bacon, but this aromatic form of pork was originally not particularly popular. It was considered fare for peasants or the poor because salting and smoking were believed to be detrimental to the flavour of the food. Fortunately for bacon producers, tastes in food are a passing fad, and this Alpine interpretation of a Mesopotamian conservation technique is now a delicacy that is sought after worldwide.

Kaspressknödel (Pressed Cheese Dumplings)

Stale bread is soaked in milk and then mixed with eggs, herbs and (optionally) flour to make a dough. When rolled into balls and simmered, this becomes Semmelknödel (bread dumplings), a dish that provides a culinary link between Austria, southern Germany and Bohemia. Upon closer examination, however, a difference may be found between the urban and rural significance of what was once a recipe for using up leftovers. In Vienna or Prague, for example, Semmelknödel is seen as a classic side dish that is often served with goulash or roast pork, but in the country it is often the main course. In the latter case, the dough is enhanced with a wide variety of extra ingredients, generally involving meat. In Upper Austria it is found as Grammelknödel (greaves dumplings), in Bavaria as Fränkische Speckklösse (Franconian bacon dumplings) and in North Tirol as Tiroler Knödel (Tirolean dumplings), served with sauerkraut or floating in broth. South of the Brenner Pass in northern Italy there are vegetarian versions with herbs and hard cheese. Südtiroler Spinatknödel (South Tirolean spinach dumplings) are served with butter and Parmesan cheese.
A similarly simple dish that nonetheless remains a twenty-first century delicacy is Pinzgauer Kaspressknödel (Pingau pressed cheese dumplings). To improve the taste and caloric content cheese is added to this classic dish served at Alpine mountain shelters. Pieces of tangy mountain cheese are mixed into the dough, which is then flattened into rounds rather than being rolled into balls. This is because of the cooking method: pressed cheese dumplings are not simmered like their culinary relatives but sautéed in butter or lard, making the cheese melt. The resulting texture is a pleasure to the palate.

Erdäpfelnudel (Potato Noodles)

They can be served with sauerkraut, bacon, Gorgonzola sauce or sautéed apple slices: we’re talking about the finger-shaped potato noodles known variously as Schupfnudel or Fingernudel, which can be found on the menus of southern Germany, Bohemia and Austria but under different names in southern Italy as well. As early as the Thirty Years’ War there is evidence of mercenary soldiers mixing their ration of flour with water and rolling the dough between their hands to make noodles.

Actually the history of wheat noodles of this type is considerably older. In his book The Oxford Companion to Food the British historian Alan Davidson mentions gnocchi made from wheat flour as the earliest version of pasta, consumed in southern Italy as early as the eleventh century. In the fifteenth century gnocchi di zucca (pumpkin dumplings) were being made in Mantua by replacing part of the flour with pumpkin. This was probably the ancestor of today’s potato dumplings, which, of course, could not have existed in Europe before the discovery of America.

Potatoes are native to South America. In the sixteenth century the first such tubers arrived in Europe from Peru. The inhabitants of the Old World, however, believed this member of the nightshade family to be poisonous. One botanist in Vienna, though, did not share that opinion: the director of the Botanical Garden from 1573-87, Charles de l’Écluse, became one of the first in Europe to cultivate the new plant. In 1620 monks at Seitenstetten Abbey in Lower Austria began growing potatoes for the first time. Some 140 years later, a parish priest at Prinzendorf, also in Lower Austria, began promoting potato cultivation on a larger scale. Presumably by this time the recipe for finger-shaped noodles was being enhanced with the addition of boiled, mashed potatoes. The first recipe for gnocchi made with potatoes appears to have been written in Italy sometime around 1860.

The South


As recently as fifty years ago, Sterz was a staple food for woodcutters. Spending months at a time in often remote forests, they needed high-calorie food that was easy to transport and prepare, that did not spoil easily, and that was extremely inexpensive. The perfect solution: a dish consisting only of ground grain, fat and salt. All one needs to make Sterz is flour, semolina or potatoes, water and lard. Thus it is not surprising that similar dishes are found throughout Central and Eastern Europe: as mămăligă in Romania, as Muas in Bavaria, as žganci in Croatia and as Riebel in Tirol. Today what was once a frugal dish for woodcutters has become part of haute cuisine, served, for example, to accompany a pink and juicy saddle of lamb.

Only a few decades ago, when a few spoonfuls of Sterz, a cup of melted lard and a filterless cigarette were the classic breakfast of woodcutters, award-winning chefs would have given Sterz a wide berth. A staple food in Europe until the late eighteenth century, it epitomized poverty. Until that time most people had no access to mills or ovens, and even if they had, there was not enough fuel to bake bread. Before the arrival of commercial bakeries and the cultivation of potatoes, ground, cooked grain was the ”daily bread” of Europe. By the New Stone Age at the latest, porridge was on the daily menu and remained there throughout antiquity, the famous Roman motto of ”bread and circuses” notwithstanding. The Romans in general and their legions in particular cooked and ate puls on a daily basis: ground grain mixed with water, salt and — when available — wild herbs and spices. Roman soldiers must have brought their wheat porridge with them when they first arrived in what is now Austria, which back then preferred meat just as it does today.

Krainer Wurst / Käsekrainer

We know from Homer’s description of Penelope and her suitors, one of whom fed Odysseus a sausage, that the techniques for making such delights were already familiar to the ancient Greeks. In ancient times animal intestines were filled with meat, blood and offal to make sausages that were appreciated for their flavour and long shelf life. The addition of salt or the processes of drying or smoking made the meat keep longer. In addition to these functional advantages, eating sausages also had slightly suggestive overtones because of their resemblance to the male sexual organ. Thus with the rise of Christianity they were sometimes prohibited. There was no stopping either butchers or consumers in the long run, however. The general popularity of sausages in Europe today is reflected in the wealth of place names the various forms have adopted: Wiener, Frankfurter, Braunschweiger and Bologna to name only a few. Sausages have their own geography.

In Austria Krainer and Käsekrainer sausages are particularly popular. The name comes from the Slovenian kranjska klobassa. Klobassa is any small sausage served whole, while kranjska refers to the region of Carniola (German: Krain) in Slovenia. That was the origin of the current recipe, which calls for a minimum of 68 per cent pork, 12 per cent beef, 20 per cent bacon and a bit of garlic. The Käsekrainer is a southern Austrian version of the Slovenian classic. It incorporates small chunks of cheese, which melt when the sausage is cooked. The recipe is believed to have originated in Graz in the second half of the twentieth century.

The North

Knädel (Dumplings)

Almost 4000 years ago there were settlements of New Stone Age pile dwellings on the shores of Mondsee (Moon Lake) in Upper Austria. In the nineteenth century archaeologists found the remains of prehistoric dumplings there, which may once have provided a wrapping for fruit or meat. Thus dumplings may be considered an Upper Austrian invention. In any case, the German name Knödel derives from the Middle High German Knode and is related to the English word knot. The earliest depiction of a boiled ball of dough is found in a fresco in the castle chapel at Hocheppan in South Tirol. But whether dumplings first developed in the foothills of the Alps or not, today they have become an international classic, called Klösse in Germany, matzo balls in Israel and pierogi in Poland.

Just as important as the ingredients is the ability to make a fine dumpling out of them. As recently as one or two generations a ago, a prospective bride in the southern Bohemian Forest was judged by the quality of her dumplings. Only the ability to make perfectly round, fluffy dumplings that could be cut with a fork was likely to lead to the altar. Not that long ago in Vienna, women called Knödelfrauen could be found standing on street corners where they served up hot dumplings with sauerkraut almost for a song. The versions with sweet fillings have always been particularly popular. All in all, the Knödel must be seen more as a form of packaging than as a dish in its own right. Leftovers from Sunday’s roast or other less-attractive pieces of meat are puréed, chopped up, or ground before being reassembled and spruced up in an appealing shell.

Mohnnudeln (Poppy Seed Noodles)

In the 1930s poppy seeds from the Waldviertel region of Lower Austria were traded on the London commodities exchange. The cultivation of Schlafmohn (”sleeping poppy”), no longer permitted in Germany, has a long tradition in Austria, where the oleaginous seeds with their nutty fragrance were being grown during the Hallstatt Period more than 4000 years ago. The poppy was one of the earliest plants to be cultivated and has a history that can be traced back to 6000 BC in southern Europe. It is no longer possible to say whether the people of the Stone Age and classical antiquity prized poppies more for their beauty, their taste or their narcotic properties. In any case, the Sumerians called the poppy the ”flower of joy”, and Waldviertel mothers were still giving it to their infants in the first half of the twentieth century as a reliable tranquilizer.

The pastry chefs of Bohemia and Austria, on the other hand, have developed a number of completely legal and harmless uses for the versatile plant. Along with Mohnzelten (rolls filled with poppy seeds), Mohnnudeln (poppy seed noodles) are probably the most famous representative of these varied delicacies from northern Austria. The recipe for Mohnnudeln combines the Central European concept of potato noodles (see above) with the ground seeds of the grey poppy (Papaver somniferum), butter and sugar. The morphine content of this delicacy is too small to be of concern, but eating a plateful of Mohnnudeln can nevertheless lead to a positive reading on a drugs test. Thus this lovely dessert is prohibited in German prisons. What a shame!

Linzer Torte

Vienna has lent its name to the Wiener Schnitzel and Salzburg to Salzburger Nockerl, but only one Austrian city has had a cake named for it: the Linzer Torte. Linz gave its name to two of the principal components as well: Linzer Teig for the dough and Linzer Masse for the filling. The former is similar to short pastry but with the addition of walnuts or almonds. The latter is less viscous so that it can be squirted across a layer of currant jam to create a lattice pattern. This makes the Linzer Torte one of the very few tortes to which the jam is applied before baking.
What makes the Linzer Torte unique is the fact that it was the world’s first cake recipe to appear in written form. The library of Admont Abbey in the province of Styria contains a cookbook written in 1653 by Anna Margarita, Countess Sagramosa from Verona, who explains how to make a Linzer Torte. It is highly likely, however, that the city of Linz was the origin of the name.

The cake first became famous when a baker from Franconia, Johann Konrad Vogel, began working in 1822 for Katharina Kress, the widow of a Linz confectioner, and then married her a year later. He began the systematic mass production of the Linzer Torte, which became established as typical city souvenir. He was so successful in this endeavour that the Linzer Torte is just as well known in the USA as the Sacher Torte, not least through the good offices of the Trapp Family. Can it be that the Linzer Torte inspired the latticework that is characteristic of North American pies?

Lebkuchen (Gingerbread)

The type of gingerbread called Lebkuchen was one of the world’s earliest sweets. There is evidence of the ancient Egyptians having eaten little cakes made with honey and spices as early as 1500 BC. They were also placed in Egyptian tombs so that the dead would not go hungry on their trip to the hereafter. The ancient Greeks and Romans used honey cakes as ritual offerings to the gods. The name Lebkuchen, by the way, has Latin roots: the first syllable ”leb” does not come from German Leben for ”life” but rather from libum, the Latin word for cake or pancake, and as far as its linguistic origin is concerned, that’s all a Lebkuchen really is.

Medieval monks baked lots of Lebkuchen because honey was a by-product of wax production for making candles. Special forms of gingerbread got a new lease of life with the discovery of distant lands and the resulting import of such exotic spices as aniseed, cardamom, coriander, ginger and nutmeg, which turned the small cakes into something quite special. The most famous cities for Lebkuchen were found along the commercial routes of the spice trade: Nuremberg, Augsburg and Basel. Nevertheless, the high price of these spices ensured that Lebkuchen were served only on special occasions, such as Christmas.

At some point spices became less expensive, and by the time sugar production became an industrial process in the mid-nineteenth century eating Lebkuchen had become common throughout the Alpine region. Today in the town of Gmunden in Upper Austria heart-shaped Lebkuchen are handed out every year on the fourth Sunday in Lent. This has nothing to do with expressions of romantic love; rather it is a tradition maintained since 1641, when the Order of Corpus Christi began offering food to the poor of the city on that particular Sunday and at some point added gingerbread hearts to the fare. The custom later spread to other parts of Upper Austria, and today edible hearts with an inscription on them are baked, decorated and sold everywhere in the province from Hallstatt to the market town of Schwertberg. Who knows whether these hearts were the inspiration for their kitschy counterparts found at Munich’s Oktoberfest?

The East


Now considered a native-born North American in general and a New Yorker in particular, the bagel has become famous world-wide. Nevertheless a plaque in Vienna identifies the bagel as an invention of the Austrian capital. In fact, however, neither Vienna nor the Big Apple was the original home of these bread rings. They can be found depicted in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and that should come as no surprise. The shape of foodstuffs has always been influenced by the need to transport them easily and safely from one place to another. The preferred shape for packaged food today may be rectangular, but before the days of containers and palettes, round shapes were popular.

Bagels are eminently transportable: all you have to do to take them with you is string them on a cord or staff. The hole in the middle was also useful for prolonged storage: suspending the bagels in the fresh air protected them from rodents and humidity. As famous as they are today, bagels were probably not the first bread to be suspended on a string, and it is impossible to say exactly which form was the original or who stole the idea from whom. From the Russian and Ukrainian bublik to the American doughnut to the Turkish simit, round rolls and pastries are found throughout the world. The Alpine form known as the Beigerl was typically baked at Easter.

The bagel (Yiddish: beygl) was first mentioned in Kraków in 1610. It seems to have been a typically Jewish bread form invented in the shtetl. In 1619 an ordinance was passed in Kraków that every Jewish mother was to receive a beygl upon the birth of a child. Perhaps the Polish king John III Sobieski enjoyed them in 1683 after his relief army drove the Ottoman troops from the gates of Vienna. According to Austrian legend, a Vienna baker honoured Sobieski by inventing a stirrup-shaped bread for the Polish king, who was known to be fond of horses. The Jewish baker is said to have made a Bügel (German for ”stirrup”) as a gesture of gratitude, and perhaps this fairy tale contributed to the bagel’s subsequent global success. Often it takes no more than a good story to create an international reputation. In any case, the bagel has come home to roost in recent years. In Vienna, ”New York bagel shops” have been springing up like mushrooms to offer a piece of a ”wide, wide world” despite the fact that bagels were already popular on Viennese tables hundreds of years ago.


Coffee is nothing more than a brew made from the roasted seeds of an Ethiopian fruit. But the myriad methods for brewing this pick-me-up have made it a designer product, and the Viennese have had a lot to do with it. To help them stay awake, Turkish soldiers had for centuries been drinking water in which powdered coffee had been boiled. The coffee stockpiles of the Ottoman troops who were laying siege to Vienna in the late seventeenth century became legendary after they were discovered by the liberated citizens. It wasn’t long before the first Vienna coffee house opened its doors, though interest in the bitter beverage initially remained limited. But then the Viennese had the bright idea of adding milk or cream to the hot liquid, masking the bitter taste and creating a new, highly pleasant consistency. Coffee that had been lightened by the addition of cream turned a colour that was reminiscent of the habit of Capuchin monks, Austrian soldiers took the recipe to Italy, and the cappuccino was born. Meanwhile it has become a fixture of our contemporary lifestyle.

In the early 1970s three students from the University of San Francisco opened a shop in Seattle to sell coffee beans and coffee-making equipment. In 1983 the three sold their business to former employee Howard Schulz, who took the original name, rebranded his own coffee shops, and starting expanding. The company was largely responsible for introducing the caffè latte and other coffee pleasures to North America. The company was (and is) Starbucks.

Frankfurters and Wieners

The sausage known in Vienna as a Frankfurter is known almost everywhere else in the German-speaking world as a Wiener (a ”Viennese”). That’s as it should be because it was born in Vienna’s Seventh District in 1805. At that time Johann Georg Lahner, a butcher who was born in Bavaria but trained in Frankfurt, developed an innovative sausage made of beef and pork. What made his recipe unique was the combination of two different kinds of meat, a practice that was prohibited in Frankfurt but permitted in Vienna, where the regulations must have been more relaxed. To make a genuine Frankfurter (in Vienna) the meat is trimmed of any sinews and chopped up before being tenderized with a heavy wooden mallet and chopped again with a large mincing knife. The meat is mixed well before being pumped into a casing of sheep’s intestine. This creates a long sausage, which is then cut into shorter pieces that are twisted in the middle to make a pair. In this manner the sausage pairs can be hung over a bar for transport to the smokehouse, where they acquire their typical flavour.

Lahner called his new sausages Wiener Frankfurter (”Viennese frankfurters”), a name that was, of course, initially confusing. Down to the present day the Wiener and the Frankfurter exist side by side in the German-speaking world, although Wiener remains the more common name outside Vienna. By definition the frankfurters made in Frankfurt must be pure pork in a natural casing. They get their typical flavour from a special smoking process. In Germany sausages have to be produced in the Frankfurt area to bear the city’s name; otherwise they must be called ”Frankfurt style” (or Wiener). To make things even more complicated, American producers also make a sausage called a frankfurter. Although the contents today have little in common with either the German or Austrian versions, the recipe must have originally come from the German city of that name. In 1894 the Frankfurt butcher Gref-Völsing developed a kosher sausage especially for Jewish clients, thus creating a popular type of sausage that Americans call ”all-beef frankfurters”.

Wiener Schnitzel (Breaded Veal Cutlet)

The origin of many culinary trends is rooted in the principle of supply and demand. A higher price can be asked for a food product that is difficult come by, and its prestige rises accordingly. The forerunner of the Wiener Schnitzel is among the dishes originally connected with prestige. In order to demonstrate the elegance of their lifestyle, the Renaissance Venetians decorated many dishes — especially sweets — with gold leaf. When the Catholic Church tried to put an end to this extravagance in 1514 by prohibiting the gilding of food, Italian chefs recalled an older, alternative method of creating a golden exterior: breading and frying. The technique of frying meat in a breadcrumb wrapper can be traced to the Jewish population of Constantinople in the twelfth century and is also found with the Moors, who brought the recipe with them to Andalusia.

The connection with Austria dates to the year 1857, when the Austrian field marshal Joseph, Count Radetzky brought the recipe home with him from Italy, where he had enjoyed dining on costoletta alla milanese. The dish was first mentioned in Austria as early as 1831, however. In 2007 the philologist Heinz Dieter Pohl demonstrated that breaded and fried dishes had existed in Vienna more than a century before Radetzky’s birth: Backhuhn (fried chicken) was mentioned in a cookbook as early as 1719. By the end of the nineteenth century breaded and fried veal loin was finally being called Wiener Schnitzel.

Kipferl (Crescent Rolls)

Every Viennese is familiar with the story of how Vienna’s bakers invented the crescent roll (called Kipferl in Vienna) to celebrate the end of the last Turkish siege of the city in 1683. The familiar story, however, is a legend. The crescent roll is one of the oldest known examples of giving a food item an arbitrary form and has been around at least since classical antiquity.

Like Striezel (long plaited buns) and Brezel (pretzels) their shape reflects their originally religious role. In ancient Greece, rolls shaped like the crescent moon were ritual offerings to the goddess of the moon, Selene. In later centuries the significance of the traditional rolls was reinterpreted as being symbolic of the devil’s horns, and in Germany Kipferl are still called Hörnchen (”little horns). The was an old custom among the Danube boatmen, almost none of whom could swim, of throwing Kipferl into the river to assuage the water gods.

As is the case with so many other old stories, we can only speculate about whether the Viennese used a similar method to fend off the besieging Ottoman army, but there is a persistent rumour that Vienna’s rulers at the time used the crescent moon in its baked form for propaganda purposes.. They may well have encouraged the practice of ”eating the symbol of the enemy”, thus promoting consumption of the baked goods and at the same time satisfying an appetite for destroying their adversaries. In any case the victorious Viennese enjoyed eating crescent rolls so much that word eventually spread to Paris, where the croissant remains a favourite breakfast item today. Thus the Kipferl became one of Vienna’s must successful culinary exports.

Krapfen (Doughnuts)

Jews eat their sufganiyot around the Hanukkah holiday, and the Poles love their pączki on Fat Thursday before Ash Wednesday. Romanian gogoaşe, French beignets, Italian bombolini and northern German Berliner are all roughly the same thing. We’re talking about the type of raised doughnuts that are often filled with sweet things before being fried in melted fat or oil. The Austrian form is called Krapfen, and they are consumed in particularly large quantities during the carnival period, hence the name Faschingskrapfen (Fasching being the German name for the pre-Lent carnival).
According to legend, the Krapfen was invented sometime after 1690 by the Viennese chef Cäcilie Krapf. That’s not exactly true. Many centuries before the days of the creative ”Frau Cilli” and about a thousand kilometres from Vienna, the emperor Charlemagne is said to have snacked on something called a crapho.

In the ninth century the Old High German word Krapho was used to describe a hook-shaped pastry. In Austria the word Krapfen first appears in documents dating from the thirteenth century. In 1486 a Viennese recipe first appeared in a cooking regulation issued by the City of Vienna. From that time on, the pastry seems to have been extremely popular. By the time of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Krapfen consumption by diplomats and the Viennese themselves had hit the ten million mark.
Nicknamed Cillykugeln (”Cilli balls”) for the supposed inventor, Cäcilie Krapf, the snack effectively turned the most important political event of the early nineteenth century into a year-round carnival.

Apart from the taste and varied content of these doughnuts, a Krapfen also has an unmistakable exterior: the two golden-brown domes are separated by a lighter stripe running all the way around the doughnut. This is due to the action of the yeast in the dough. A genuine Viennese Faschingskrapfen is fried on one side in deep fat and then flipped over to fry on the other. It floats because the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast is trapped inside; the centre stripe receives less heat and remains lighter in colour.


Strudel is typically Austrian, although there is no denying an origin that lies farther to the southeast. The (probable) history of strudel leads us beyond the boundaries of the Habsburg Empire to Istanbul. The capital of the Ottoman Empire was both a rival and an important trading partner at the time. Thus one of the forerunners of Austrian strudel was probably baklava, a sweet dessert of phyllo dough, nuts and spices, which is drenched with a honey syrup after being baked. The Ottoman speciality came via Hungary to Vienna, where it was refashioned to create strudels that are used today in savoury form to make soups more interesting or in sweet versions as a delicious dessert. The first written recipe appears in a 1696 manuscript now preserved in the Vienna City Library.
From apricots, plums and cherries to asparagus and black pudding: all kinds of delicacies can be packed inside the paper-thin dough before reappearing in improved form on the dining table. Particularly in the case of its savoury forms, strudel is the perfect way to disguise leftovers as well as unprepossessing or unloved ingredients. Wrapping them in strudel dough lends them a touch of mystery and elegance, thus enhancing them. This Austria speciality is in good company internationally by the way. Among the other classics of culinary recycling are the vol-au-vent — known to have been consumed at the theatres of antiquity — and Britain’s notorious meat pies.


Buy Me A Coffee

Interregional Cuisine


The Three Wise Men are said to have passed through Alsace on their return from Bethlehem. As legend would have it, a special cake was invented as a gift for the Magi − one that looked like the turbans they wore. Voilà: the birth of the gugelhupf. Austrians are of a different opinion, of course. They would have it that Marie Antoinette took the gugelhupf with her from Habsburg Austria to the French court at Versailles. We know for sure, however, that the ancient Romans were already baking ring cakes decorated with the characteristic fluting found on gugelhupfs today. Perhaps they were inspired by the fluting of their columns, or perhaps the shape made it easier to remove the cake from the pan. In any case, excavations at Carnuntum, the Roman legionary camp near Vienna, have brought to light a number of gugelhupf pans. Recipes for the gugelhupf type of ring cake have been around since the seventeenth century, and during the mid-nineteenth-century Biedermeier period, the gugelhupf became a status symbol reflecting the middle-class comfort of the German and Austrian bourgeoisie. While all versions of gugelhupf looked very much alike at that time, the recipes varied considerably.

But why is there a hole in the middle and where does the word gugel come from? The opening is basically a chimney that must have been created for purely practical reasons. Cakes baked in simple, round pans tend to burn at the edges before they’re done in the middle. Gugelhupf pans eliminate the part in the middle that would otherwise be most isolated from the heat. The hot air of the oven flows through the opening in the middle, providing fairly even heat throughout the dough.

But while the shape of the gugelhupf seems logical upon closer inspection, the origin of the name remains mysterious. The Middle High German word gugele means hood or cowl, opening the way to speculation about a possible connection to the habit of Capuchin monks, who, fact, used to call their cowl a gugel. According to other theories, however, the name of Austria’s popular coffee cake may derive from the spherical headgear worn by Austrian market women (Kugel in modern German means ball or sphere). Or the answer may be far more mundane: perhaps a cook with a sense of humour watched her dough rising into a sphere, and remarked that like a ball (Kugel) it was hopping up (aufhupfen), thus giving her cake the name Gugelhupf.

Text: Martin Hablesreiter