Friday, October 14, 2005

Vienna: sweet thoughts

My very fist pastry book, purchased more than thirty years ago, was this:

Vienna Oct 05 001

Whatever gripes I had with Vienna, I truly believed that in terms of baked goods it ruled the world. If I was going to take on the task of becoming a pastry expert (I had such exaggerated visions for myself once) I should learn from books that tracked the greats and the greats were all in Vienna.

And so I begin the process of teaching myself to bake.

I really truly (my family will verify this) started with Sachertorte. Dense chocolate, a layer of apricot preserves, all topped with a dark glaze – what could be more satisfying? I can follow instructions. I can grate, melt, mix, temper. I can do this. I can do anything!

The Sachertorte is the only cake I ever completely botched (my family will verify this as well). Blame it on inexperience, blame it on excessive bravado, blame it on the chocolate – I did – but the fact is, that first Sacher of mine was putrid. Dry, too dry, way way way too dry.

So what is the first thing I do when I arrive in Vienna? (Besides breathe great sighs of relief as I almost missed my connecting flight. Almost. I run fast across airports. It helps.)

Of course I get a slice of the original, the one deemed by the Austrian court in 1965 to be the only true Sachertorte, as presented at the Café Sacher.

It was also my first shot of Austrian coffee. There I have to play around a little. Because if I continue in this vein, I will truly need to develop a habit of chomping sausages after my afternoon pastry hits. Too much sweetness! The superb whipped cream, mounded on both cake and coffee truly causes your sweet tooth to collapse under the weight of it all.

So, there are other foods to admire, other pastries that will most certainly appear here on Ocean, but this post is devoted to the king of tortes, the Sachertorte. My introduction to Vienna today, to baking many decades ago.

Vienna Oct 05 006 perfect. not a thing wrong with it.

Vienna Oct 05 003 when people see me taking photos, inevitably they ask: do you want one with you in it? This one was taken by an old, beautifully dressed Viennese woman. Obviously she has a steady hand.

Vienna Oct 05 009why stop at one Sachertorte when you can order...four more.

Vienna almost almost but not quite

Irritating O’Hare Airport. Get rid of O’Hare. Raise it, graze it, bury it. It is not a place of happiness and joy. It is a place of inefficiencies and frustrations. I say start from scratch.

Hark! A computer with internet access in the Air France Lounge. I pick up some troubling emails but I cannot respond. I cannot cannot cannot. What goes in does not go out. Boil, what else can I do… Boil and steam and then say who the hell cares and board the flight.

The French crack lots of champagne bottles before take off. If we plunge into the ocean, we’ll all be giggling and singing songs from Gigi.

I hear Polish from passengers on the plane. Oh damn! Here comes the guilt, can’t stop it now. I am traveling within a stone’s throw of Poland and I am not entering my homeland. Hello Poland, there, just over the horizon. Sorry. (It’s like going to New Jersey as your kinfolk sit huddled in New York waiting for your gracious return. True, my kinfolk are not huddling nor waiting at the moment, but you get the point.)


Going home to Europe. So that I can take in a breath of this small, wee little continent before I return to my regular lofty existence.