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U.S. Melting Pot Culture - Austrian Cuisine

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Recipes and History - Try This at Home

The ingredients for Austrian food come from different cultures, a result of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that extended over several European countries, comprised of different ethnic groups before the end of World War I. Before then, the Habsburger Empire ruled over many parts of Europe, assimilating the regional types of cooking that eventually ended up in Austria, the relatively small Alpine country in the heart of Europe. The country is probably most famous for her desserts, including Apfelstrudel and Sacher Torte, many of them created in Vienna for the emperor. Each time I visit Vienna, I tour the bakeries and the charming coffee houses, tasting new desserts whose flavors and smells will linger in my memory for a long time.

Have you ever heard of Germknödel? The last time I ate one was in the Austrian Alps on a ski slope after a morning of skiing. The dish was served on a big platter that was filled with a delicious vanilla cream-sauce, and the Germknödel sat in the middle like a king on a throne. It is essentially a fist-size bun made of yeast dough, filled with puree of prunes to which you add sugar, cinnamon and rum. Once the filling is trapped and the bun is shaped like a ball, it is boiled in water, then rolled in sugar, butter, poppy seeds and eventually baked in the oven.

Here’s the basic recipe:

500 grams (a little bit over a pound) flour
30 grams yeast (1 packet)
1 teaspoon sugar
2.5 deciliter (a little bit over a cup or ½ a pint) lukewarm milk
30 grams sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
30 grams melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon lemon zest
plum preserves
Rum
Ground Cinnamon, sugar
Butter, sugar and poppy seeds

As always when baking, make sure all ingredients are at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge about an hour before starting the process.

Sift the flower into a bowl and make a depression in the middle. Add the teaspoon of sugar, the yeast and 5 tablespoons of the lukewarm milk into the depression and gently mix it with a fork, using some of the flour surrounding the mound. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest at a warm place for about 30 minutes. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, butter, salt and lemon zest to the edge of the mound, then, starting from the center, slowly mix the yeast with the flour and the other ingredients with your hands. Add as much milk as necessary; the goal is to get a non-sticky, rather dry dough. Again, cover the bowl with the towel and let rest for another 60 minutes in a warm place.

For the plum puree, use pureed plums or buy plum preserves and blend them in a food processor, adding some sugar, cinnamon and rum to your liking.

Knead the dough and form into balls the size of an apple. Insert the plum puree with a cake or decorating syringe with a long, thin tip (a turkey baster might work as well, but is somewhat wide) into the dough balls. Let the balls rest for another 15 minutes.

Put the balls into boiling salt-water for about 20 minutes, keep the pot covered at all times.

Roll balls in browned butter, sugar and poppy seeds and put in the oven at 400° Fahrenheit (200° Celsius) until golden brown.

Heavenly!

For other typical Austrian recipes, go to Sally’s place, a great resource for international cuisine, food history and book tips.

As mentioned before, various other cultures have influenced the Austrian cuisine. Depending where you are in Austria, you will find different specialties specific to the region. Austria is divided into nine states or "Bundeslaender," and each one has its characteristic dishes. If you live in the southern, alpine part that borders northern Italy and Switzerland to the west, you will find down-to-earth, simple dishes like “Gröstl” or “Tiroler Leber mit Polenta” on the menu, typical dishes for this mountainous area. Further east, next to Hungary, the soil is more fertile and the topography flat, an ideal climate for free roaming chicken and geese, and also great wines. In Vienna, you will find the famous “Wiener Schnitzel,” a breaded veal or pork cutlet that has made its way into most European kitchens. For an authentic Wiener Schnitzel experience, go to the “Schnitzelwirt,” an old restaurant in the 7th circuit of Vienna, located at Neubaugasse 52, phone# 523 37 71. Make sure you’re hungry if you go there, the cutlets are the size and weight of a baseball mitt.

You don’t have to go all the way to Austria for their food. Austrian chefs have brought their cuisine to the U.S., including Wolfgang Puck, well-known from his TV cooking shows and his food- and restaurant-chain by the same name. Movie star and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger owns a restaurant in Santa Monica named “Schatzi on Main” that serves typical Austrian dishes, labeled “Arnold’s Specialties.” To learn more about this famous Austrian, read the feature on Arnold.

Peter

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