Between June and September, I packed up all my things (in June, one giant suitcaseful, and in September, one hatchback-sized-carful) and moved from Austria to Appalachia, with stops in Croatia and New Jersey in between. Austria, a place of skiiers and singing nuns, the sophisticated Viennese and Mozart…to Appalachia, which is seen as backwards by most of the U.S.
As I was riding my bike on one of the few sunny days we’ve had recently, I was struck by the similarities between Austria and Appalachia. A fellow history major once mentioned her fascination with Appalachian coal culture when we were discussing research interests, and said “Mountains breed such interesting things.” And it’s so true.
Austria has the Alps, and many smaller mountain ranges, which divide up the countryside into so many different dialects you almost don’t know what the person from the next village over is saying. Appalachia, too, has it’s own distinct dialect–a lilting or twangy speech that cannot be found anywhere else in the U.S.
And both have strong folk culture traditions. Those same little villages in Austria whose speech is discernible to the Viennese each have their own way of celebrating the holidays, based in pagan traditions and isolation from outsiders. In Appalachia, or at least in West Virginia, every town has at least one unique festival.
And speaking of festivals, lots of West Virginia towns celebrate ramp season big time. Now, I had never had ramps until this past spring in Austria, when everyone went crazy for Bärlauch (ramps). For the most part in both places, you don’t have many eating out options. In Austria it’s Austrian, Italian, or Turkish (if you’re in a city), and in rural West Virginia it’s “American” or plain ol’ fast food.
There’s the history, too. When I told some friends I was moving to West Virginia, one of them commented on how I always end up in places with complicated histories of ownership–Washington D.C. (north or south, Maryland or Virginia?), Berlin (communist or free?), Austria (also divided post-WWII), and now West Virginia (the Union or Confederate thing still thrives). Huh.
Moving on to this month’s semi-appropriate Daring Bakers challenge: Sachertorte. Sachertorte is an Austrian cake invented by Franz Sacher, who later went on to open the Hotel Sacher. The cake itself is a dense, dark chocolate cake topped with apricot jam and chocolate glaze. Sound familiar? My favorite gelato flavor is Sachertorte.
Because the Sachertorte is so unique and such a specific dessert, we were asked to make no variations in the recipe. I may have slightly broken this rule. While I kept the ingredients and proportions exactly as those that were given, I scaled back the recipe to make Sachertorte cupcakes. Austrians, while a rather traditional bunch, aren’t against innovating their beloved sweets (see again, Sachertorte gelato).
I was, however, a bit disappointed with this bake. It didn’t scream SACHERTORTE to me. Also, the cupcake thing didn’t totally work out. More on that in a minute. The flavors were trending in the direction of Sachertorte–chocolate, with a bright, slightly sour flavor from the apricot jam. The chocolate glaze was more like a doughnut glaze, thin and sweet, rather than the rich, thick, dark chocolate frosting I was expecting. Overall, I found the cake a bit too sweet, which I have never found with an Austrian dessert. I suppose I could’ve used chocolate that wasn’t dark enough, as I used a combination of 72% and 56%. Next time, if there is one, I will be using all 72% for sure.
Now, the cupcake thing. I chose to make cupcakes because it would 1. make a finite number of servings and 2. be cuter. It probably would be really cute if you took a lot of time and were extremely neat. I have been wanting to learn more about cake decorating and plating to make my food look prettier, but at the moment I’m still bumbling along and learning as I go. Turns out you need a lot of glaze to pour over eight cupcakes, and I did not have enough, or enough chocolate to make more. Oops.
Daring Bakers is about challenging yourself in the kitchen, maybe trying some things you wouldn’t have made otherwise. It’s always interesting to see the results, even if they don’t turn out quite how you wanted!
makes 8 cupcakes
The October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Korena of Korena in the Kitchen. She took us to Austria and introduced us to the wonders of the Sachertorte.
For the cake
- 1/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
- 3 T butter, room temperature
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 2 T + 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup flour
- pinch salt
For the apricot glaze
- heaping 1/3 cup apricot preserves or jam
- about 2/3 T water
For the chocolate glaze*
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
For the cake: Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease and flour a muffin tin–it should make 8.
Melt chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat. Set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until light and creamy. Add in egg yolks, one at a time, and continue beating. Beat in chocolate and vanilla, until the color of the mixture lightens and full incorporated.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to the soft peak stage. Begin by beating the egg whites, and once they begin to foam, gradually add the granulated sugar. The soft peak stage is reached when the egg whites hold their shape but the tips curl. Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture vigorously, then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites. Sift flour and salt together over the batter, and gently fold in.
Gently spoon into the tin, dividing it evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then remove and invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Once cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cupcakes in half along the equator.
For the apricot glaze: Place the cooling rack with cakes still on it over a cookie sheet to catch any drips. Boil jam and water in a small saucepan. Let cook 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens slightly. Strain (for the smoothest effect). Brush over the top of the bottom half of each cupcake and let sit for a few minutes, then replace the top. Spread remaining glaze on the top of each cupcake. Let cool completely before covering with chocolate. *If you want to cover your cupcakes fully in glaze, you will need more than the amount suggested above.
For the chocolate glaze: Boil water and sugar until the mixture reaches 234ºF, about 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Use a candy thermometer, or familiarize yourself with how to test the stages of boiled sugar using a glass of cold water. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate. If it thickens, add a few drops of water and return to low heat until the mixture thins. It should be very runny. Pour over the cakes, using an offset spatula to smooth as needed. Let the glaze set before serving. Leftover glaze can be stored in the fridge and mixed with hot milk to make hot chocolate. *In the above instructions, I’ve included the original amount since I was seriously short on glaze. You can 1/3 this amount, as I did, if you don’t want to coat the cakes completely.
Traditionally, Sachertorte (and most Austrian cakes) are served with whipped cream, either unsweetened or only very lightly sweetened, and a small cup of strong coffee, at 4:00 in the afternoon.
Posted to Show & Share Wednesday!