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A culinary tour of Austria & Germany

4 January 2018

As winter continues biting, many of us (those less resolved this new year anyway), are working on our winter layers. By which I don't mean draping ourselves in attractive shawls and woolly cardigans, but rather finding our way to the bottom of the biscuit barrel or loading up on cheese and crackers. This makes it the perfect time to take gastronomic inspiration from our European neighbours, the undisputed champions of comfort food, Germany and Austria.

Both destinations, cities and countryside alike, get cold in winter. And we don't mean the kind of cold that results in hour or two of snow that's disintegrated to slush by the afternoon; in January the Austrian capital enjoys an average temperature that doesn't climb out of the minuses. To combat these chills, the Austrians and Germans have a number of specialties they cook up - we've all heard of schnitzel and apple straddle of course - but there's plenty of less well known treats that some cynics might suggest locals have been trying to keep all to themselves!

So following plenty of festive splurging, don't slow down now with our hunger-inducing list of must try dishes from this delectable region.

1) Käsekrainer. Visit any Christmas market across the UK and you'll see plenty of people munching on oversized Bratwurst, but you'll need to travel to rural Upper Austria for a taste of a sausage and cheese combo that puts even the popular and tasty bratwurst to shame. Käsekrainer derives from Slovakia but has become a staple of street food in Vienna as well as migrating to Berlin, simply take one traditionally smoked pork sausage and fill with nutty Emmental cheese, serve in a soft bread bun and top with a condiment of your choice (horseradish or mustard are both popular) et voilà! Easy yet very effective.

2) Kaiserscharrm. In English this tempting desert translates as Emperor's Mess, and is a great seasonal alternative to summer's requisite Eton mess. Pastoral in origin, it was unleashed on Viennese aristocracy after Emperor Franz Joseph I supposedly stopped at an Alpine farm for a quick bite to eat (unannounced and uninvited of course). The poor family he dropped in on quickly had to rustle up something worthy of royalty, and decided on the humble yet charming pancake. However, in their panic they made a hash of the presentation so to try and disguise its less appealing appearance, smothered it with a sweet winter berry compote. It was an unmitigated success, and the fact the recipe has barely changed over the last 100 years or is testament to that.

3) Rindsrouladen. Germany is known as a land of meat lovers, and Rindsrouladen has got to be the ultimate carnivores dream. This fare takes time and effort to make though, as slow cooking helps the beef, pork or veal to become extra succulent. For the perfect melt in the mouth experience, bacons, onions mustard and pickles are delicately wrapped in a tenderised blanket of your chosen meat, then lovingly braised and cooked in a thick gravy, served alongside pickled red cabbage and traditional Kartoffelknödel. Worthy of an entry of their own, these little light as air dumplings are a labour of love as boiled potatoes then have to be puréed, mixed with eggs, breadcrumbs and potato flour before being shaped into balls for another round in hot water. 

4) Spätzle. In this part of the world cuisine is infamous for being rather stodge heavy but carbohydrates are not evil, in fact far from it when you consider our next entry, Spätzle. Beginning life in southern Germany the name literally means little sparrows, (Something that came about, we can assume, from the shape of the pasta that forms its main component.) and when it comes down to it, the best way to describe Spätzle is as the extravagant cousin of macaroni and cheese. Adopting a slightly Italian twist, the dough is nearly always made by hand before being mixed with a creamy cheese sauce then ladled with a generous helping of fried onions. There are few things more appealing to curl up with on a cold day. 

5) And to top off this five-course gastronomic undertaking, we have Austrian Linzer Torte. In an area where there's an abundance of lip-lickingly appetising and historically lauded pastries on offer, the Linzer Torte is a bit of mystery. As the name suggests it was born of the city of Linz and is said to be the 'oldest cake in the world.' Indeed, it features in documents that date back to 1653, but whoever invented it remains unknown. And where there's ambiguity, myths and rumours are bound to surface. But what we do know is that Linzer Torte is a heady mix of spiced, flaky pastry, sticky fruit jam, and almonds - a perfect holiday treat.

We hope we haven't ruined any well-intentioned diets, but a great way of travelling is via the taste buds, and if you're not already heading out the front door on your way to the airport, then all these concoctions have easily accessible online recipes, so adventure forth from the comfort of your own kitchen!