Floating Viennese Patisserie
The French tell us that they have the best food in the world. The Italians say the French learnt from them. The Germans have, in my opinion, some totally underestimated dishes; and we all remember the delights of paella in sunny Spain. But when it comes to cake-and-café culture then you can’t beat Austria and Hungary and Esterházy Torta.
In truth, much of Austrian patisserie originated in Hungary but they were partners in the Austro-Hungarian Empire so there was plenty of cultural and culinary cross-fertilisation. AmaWaterways offers river cruises where one is able to enjoy the finest and most iconic of cakes both on-board and in those romantic capital cities of Vienna and Budapest. Vienna is a sophisticated city. High-end international boutiques, galleries and design outlets line the streets, as well as cafés which remind one of gentler times. A food-lover’s sweet dream.
Temptations of the lands through which we floated
AmaWaterways has a modern fleet of river cruisers and we enjoyed a stay on AmaViola. I am a travel writer, so I appreciated the opportunity to visit those cities along the banks of the Danube. I am a food writer so I eagerly anticipated some fine dishes along the way and I wasn’t disappointed. Breakfast was welcomed heartily; morning coffee was the occasion for cookie sampling; lunch was always a tapestry of colour and good taste; every dinner was worthy. But before dinner there was afternoon tea (or coffee). A nice cuppa was always accompanied by cakes which reflected the temptations of the lands through which we floated.
There are a couple of memorable cakes to try ashore in Vienna. Sachertorte is perhaps the most celebrated cake in the city. You can eat it in cafés or purchase for travel as a gastronomic souvenir. It’s a dark chocolate cake with a mirror glaze. It’s delicious, rich and refined, and exemplifies all that is Viennese café culture. This would traditionally be taken with cup of coffee. It’s said that coffee was discovered here after the Turkish Siege of Vienna in 1683, when the retreating army left bags of those beans. Wiener Melange or Viennese Blend is black coffee with steamed milk, and perfect for chilly afternoons.
Buttercream flavoured with cognac
Esterházy Torta is a round Hungarian cake or torta and can be enjoyed on AmaViola or in one of the numerous aforementioned cafés in Vienna. It’s named after Prince Paul III Anton Esterházy de Galántha (1786–1866), a member of the celebrated Esterházy family and diplomat of the Austrian Empire. A Budapest patissier invented it in the late 19th century; it consists of buttercream flavoured with cognac or vanilla, sandwiched between five layers of almond meringue. The cake is finished with a fondant glaze and decorated with a chocolate pattern. In Hungary they often replace the almonds with walnuts. Esterházy Schnitten is much the same confection but made in a square shape.
The AmaViola chefs offered whole gateaux, small cakes and tray-bakes, tarts, cheesecakes and sponges. Esterházy torta was just one of the items on their extensive sweet repertoire. Chocolate lovers were never forgotten, with chocolate brownies, cookies or muffins on hand for those craving a choc-laced treat. This is international patisserie equal to that found in many celebrated cafés.
Note: AmaWaterways cruises offer included excursions to all cities visited in the itinerary. They provide guided tours and plenty of time to explore independently.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018