Think of Austria and you probably think of ‘The Sound of Music’, mountains, Wienerschnitzel and Sachertorte. Or maybe that’s just me, but mountains and cake make a great basis for most things, and especially a skiing holiday. I have a love-hate relationship with skiing. I love the mountains, the snow, the exercise and being outside. I hate the steep slopes and no matter how hard I try I can’t truly believe that strapping slidey things to your feet and pointing them straight down a sheer, snow-covered mountain slope is a good idea. I get vertigo and panic attacks and can get stuck on a slope, unable to look up or down. Sometimes I can’t physically make myself turn on a steep bit because I am convinced that I will fall and fall and fall until I reach the bottom of the mountain. And I’m talking blue slopes here. I know that all of these problems only exist in my mind and that they are irrational fears: everyone else can – and is – doing it, there really is only one way down and I need to control the fear and trust in the reality. Some days it works better than others. The mind is a very powerful thing and my ‘issues’ seem to get worse each time I go although I have no idea why: I used to be able to do red slopes without too much effort (so I’m told, it was a long time ago!).
I had sworn off skiing completely, probably about seven years ago, but there really is something about it that draws me back despite myself. So as soon as I agreed to a week’s skiing holiday last year I immediately put it out of my mind. To the point where it was almost a surprise when it came round a couple of weeks ago and about two days before we left I realised I was in complete denial about the whole thing and felt sick just thinking about it. Not ideal! The first couple of days were particularly tough (and not just for me, obviously!) but luckily I was with an expert skier who could teach me technique as well as knowing me well enough to know when to be nice and when to tell me to just get over myself. And when he went off to do some proper skiing with the rest of our group I did some slopes on my own. Mainly because I knew I would have no option but to get myself to the bottom: mind over matter. And when I could control my mind and my skis at the same time it was absolutely amazing being out in the mountains.
So thank goodness for lunch and après-ski. If you like coffee and cake then Austria is a great place to be: Sachertorte, Linzertorte, apfelstrudel, and something I had never heard of before called Kaiserschmarrn, a sort of shredded pancake dish with plum compôte, which I need to make at some point. Sachertorte is probably best described as the Austrian equivalent of the British Victoria Sponge. However, unlike the Victoria sponge, there is more than one recipe. The two main producers of Sachertorte, the Hotel Sacher and the Demel Cafe, have fought over the right to the name and who is better for years. The Sacher Hotel’s recipe is still secret but there are numerous variations on the theme of a dense chocolate cake, either filled with a layer of apricot jam or with apricot jam under the chocolate glaze. I decided to go with a recipe on an Austrian tourist website on the basis that it would be as authentic as any other and you can find their original here: I’ve re-written it below to make it clearer and easier to follow as I found it quite confusing. Baking is so much easier than skiing, don’t you agree?
200g dark chocolate
125g caster sugar
130g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g plain flour
Filling and Glaze
100-200g apricot jam
200g dark chocolate
250g caster sugar
A small amount of milk chocolate (optional)
Set the oven to 170°C. Butter and flour the base and sides of an 8″ springform cake tin.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or over a saucepan of hot water. Take care not to over heat.
Separate the eggs.
Whisk the eggs white to soft peaks and slowly add the caster sugar. Set aside.
Cream the butter with the icing sugar and add the vanilla essence. Slowly add the egg yolks so that the mixture is well combined.
Add the melted chocolate to the butter mixture and mix in.
Then add a couple of large tablespoons of egg whites to the chocolate mixture to loosen it a little. Alternate adding flour and egg whites and fold in. You may find you need to add quite a lot of the egg whites before the mixture is loose enough to fold in the flour: it will partly depend on the temperatures of the ingredients and the surroundings.
Pour the mixture into your prepared tin:
Bake for around 50 minutes – 1 hour, until it is well risen, firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Remove the cake carefully from the tin and turn upside down on a wire rack to cool.
After about 25 minutes turn the right way up. The top should have flattened.
Allow to cool completely and then cut carefully cut into two equal layers.
Spread a thin layer of apricot jam over one of the layers and top with the other. I didn’t sieve this jam.
Sieve the rest of your jam and use to spread a thin layer all over the top and sides of the cake. This is a good way to level up any dips or cracks still in your cake.
Put the caster sugar for the glaze into a saucepan and add the water. Bring to boil making sure that all the sugar has dissolved and then boil for a couple of minutes. Allow to cool for a minute or two.
Tip the chocolate into the hot sugar syrup and whisk until completely melted. Allow to cool and thicken up slightly. Then pour quickly and carefully over the cake, making sure to get all the sides. The glaze that drips off can be reused.
Allow to cool and set before moving.
If you wish you can add ‘Sacher’. I didn’t have any milk chocolate so melted a little dark with a little white chocolate and then made an attempt at writing, having had a couple of quick practices beforehand: