Vienna is delightful Christmas destination [with gallery]

Published 2:54 am Saturday, December 23, 2017

We decided to spend my husband’s December birthday (St. Nicholas Tag) in a cold, wintery climate. While it snowed here in the Deep South while we were gone, we had no snow in Austria. But Vienna was definitely cold and Christmassy. The Christmas markets are a must in the German-speaking world and Vienna has one of the best. They are, it seems, in all the plazas, but the big one is at the grounds in front of the city hall. It is full of stalls selling hand blown glass ornaments (we bought a couple), everything for Christmas and loads of food and drink stalls. The thing to get is Glühwein (a spiced mulled wine). We used to get them while skiing in the Alps and we had a couple in Vienna with their souvenir cups to boot. Besides the stalls there is a skating rink and a carnival for the kids. So many people every night I could hardly move.



¾ cup water (or orange juice)

¾ cup white sugar (or less to taste)

1 cinnamon stick

1 orange

10 whole cloves

1 (750 ml) bottle red wine


In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer. Cut the orange in half, and squeeze the juice into the simmering water. Push the cloves into the outside of the orange peel and place peel in the simmering water. Continue simmering for 30 minutes until thick and syrupy.

Pour in the wine, and heat until steaming but not simmering. Remove the clove-studded orange halves. Serve hot in mugs or glasses that have been preheated in warm water (cold glasses will break.)

We did tour the opera for which Vienna is world famous. Opera ticket costs are very expensive (though standing room can be had for a few Euros) and I don’t particularly like opera, so I thought the tour sufficient. It was quite informative and we saw the public spaces as well as back stage and the Emperor’s lounge. We also took in the Spanish Riding School. The Lipizzaner horses are quite a show. The show takes place in the stately 300-year-old Baroque hall at the Hofburg Palace.

We also searched out the art of Gustav Klimt. You may remember a recent film (2015), ‘The Woman in Gold,’ about the famous Klimt portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy Jewish lady in fin de siècle Vienna. The portrait was stolen by the Nazis and wound up in the Austrian government’s art collection. Maria Altmann, Adele’s niece, had fled Vienna 60 years earlier and lives in the U.S. She sued the Austrian government to get what some called the Mona Lisa of Austria—-and won. The painting was transferred to the United States and Mrs. Altmann sold it at auction. It brought a then record price for a painting, $135 million, and is now on display in New York at the Neue Gallery. See the movie if you haven’t. It is a good story.

We saw perhaps Klimt’s most famous work, ‘The Kiss’, at the Belvedere Palace where it is on display along with many of his other works. The portrait of Bloch-Bauer was previously at the Belvedere.

Klimt was one of several architects and artists that made Vienna an avant garde city for the Jugendstil (the German term for Art Nouveau). We searched the old city for some of the architecture of the Jugendstil and found a jewel box—Loos’ American Bar. It is tiny and serves an amazing number of American cocktails. I even found my favorite on the menu—the Vieux Carrè.

Another iconic place that did not disappoint was the Sacher Stube. The Sacher Café had a longer line but the Stube was just as elegant. There we had to have the famous Sacher Torte (invented in 1832 by Franz Sacher, dessert chef to Prince Metternich). It is reported to be a dry chocolate cake, but had with Slagobers (whipped cream), it goes down well. My husband had a strudel with Slagobers which he thought was even better.


Sacher Torte

There are many recipes for Sacher Torte since the real recipe is a secret. I thought it rather dry but some recipes add jam to make it moist. Here is a recipe from King Arthur flour which I would like to try when I have time. But it is a beautiful cake any way you try it.

Sacher cake:

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

8 large eggs, separated

½ cup unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar, superfine preferred

1 cup King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend

½ cup apricot jam

Chocolate Glaze

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

½ cup boiling water

1 cup sugar


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray one 9” by 2” round cake pan with cooking spray and line with parchment. Spritz the parchment lightly as well. If your pan isn’t at least 2” deep, use two pans instead of one.

Over low heat or in the microwave melt the chocolate slowly, stirring well.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Add the melted chocolate, melted butter, and vanilla. Blend until smooth and satiny, with no lumps or unincorporated yolks.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they begin to foam. Slowly add the sugar, then beat on high speed until the whites hold a stiff peak but are still glossy.

Using a wide rubber spatula, mix about 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate/yolk mixture to lighten it. Now, pour the lightened chocolate mixture over the rest of the whites in the bowl. Fold gently, using about 20 to 30 strokes.

Sprinkle the cake flour over the chocolate batter and continue to fold gently until there are no traces of egg white remaining.

Pour the batter into the pan(s). Bake until the cake is puffed and dry looking on top, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean: 40 to 45 minutes for a single pan, 20 to 25 minutes for two pans. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Be sure to peel off the parchment circle while the cake is still warm.

While the cake is cooling, strain the apricot jam through a fine sieve to remove any bits of fruit and make a smooth filling.

Filling the cake: If you used one cake pan, you will need to split the layer before filling. Use a long, sharp serrated knife to split the cake into two even layers. If you used two pans, simply spread the apricot jam between the layers, leaving ½ inch around the border so that the jam does not squeeze out over the sides of the cake.

For the chocolate Glaze: Place the filled cake on a wire rack over a parchment lined baking sheet.

Place the chocolate, water and sugar in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring frequently until the glaze is smooth, shiny and slightly thickened, about 4 to 5 minutes.

As soon as the glaze is smooth, immediately pour over the cake. The excess glaze will drip off of the cake onto the parchment paper. You can scoop up the excess glaze to cover any bare spots on the cake. Use a flexible spatula to help spread the glaze on the top and sides of the cake, but do not overwork or the glaze will not remain smooth and sleek.

Allow the glaze to set up at room temperature for a few hours before serving. This cake is best served the day it is made. Store any leftovers at room temperature for one day.

Don’t forget the Slagobers!