The world’s most famous cake: A trip to Vienna’s Sacher Cafe

Note: better pictures of cake and cafe will be uploaded as soon as I get home and/or can access a piece of technology that is not my iPhone. Snagging wireless from a could-be-a-scam free harbourfront wifi zone in Copenhagen.

The recipient of occasional OCD panic attacks, I decided to create a list of things I wanted to do in each place I was visiting. For all the cities I’ve travelled to so far, my list was always topped by some traditional tourist site – the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, etc. etc.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that, although food recommendations have weighed heavily into my city agendas thus far (especially with Paris and macarons), these places have never been the crowning glory of my to-dos.

Vienna, however, was a different story.

When I started researching what I wanted to do in Austria’s capital city, I stumbled upon a sensational Internet claim: “In Vienna, try the world’s most famous cake,” the websites declared.

Well, well, who am I to resist trying such a thing?

This famed cake is called the Sachertorte, and is not for those who consider chocolate anything other than their absolute favourite thing. Extensive research told me that the cake was chocolate and, in between the layer of cake and rich top-secret chocolate icing, there was a layer of apricot marmalade.

The cake originated as a specialty dessert at the Sacher Hotel, and has since spawned many a knock-off cake.

Anyways, at this point it isn’t too hard to guess the location of Gord and I’s first Vienna stop.

After an exhausting 12 hour overnight train ride from Florence to Vienna, we decided to fight off our sleepy stupor with a piece of this cake for breakfast. There’s nothing like a chocolate and cappuccino fix to start the day.

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Thanks to Gord’s masterful navigational skills (minus the time he got us devastatingly lost in Pisa..), we got to the cafe quickly and, before I knew, were presented with a generously-sized piece of cake and mountain of whipped cream.

Pictures were taken, cake was admired. Time for the first bite.

Gord and I quickly found out that the title of world’s most famous cake is not synonymous with the title of world’s best cake.

Maybe the Austrians like their chocolate torte dry (update: the ever-reliable Wikipedia informs me that the whipping cream is served with the cake because the Viennese find it too dry otherwise), but we Canadians found the cake too crumbly for it’s own good. Yes, the top-secret chocolate icing was good (perhaps they keep that part of the recipe a secret because they realize it’s the best part) and the apricot marmalade added another dimension to the dessert, but the cake was the make-it-of-break it factor for me. Thank heavens there was enough whipping cream to smother a small town. Much joyous dipping and spreading occurred.

Important note: I had another piece of Sachertorte at the airport today for SCIENTIFIC PURPOSES to see if it would be any more moist. Admittedly, it was a knock-off airport cafe piece, but it was still dry as a bone. Such a shame.

Back-at-home goal: recreate Sachertorte using a postcard recipe I bought at the Albertina museum of graphic arts. Concoct a fudgy icing recipe. MAKE CAKE MOIST. Die a happy camper.

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Tales of the gelato monster (AKA me)

I know, I haven’t updated in forever. Trust me, it is NOT because I haven’t been eating. What an outrageous thought. Nope, rather my absence can be attributed to the fact that I haven’t had access to a real computer since my last Santorini post. As a result, I haven’t been able to upload the (hopefully) b-e-a-utiful photos that I’ve been taking of every meal and snack (to Gord’s occasional embarrassment and disapproval).

I’ve decided, however, to write a few posts anyways, otherwise things will never get done. Until I can upload my actual pictures to a computer, you will just have to deal with my semi-okay iPhone photos. I shall replace them with the real thing shortly (maybe tomorrow in Copenhagen).

Positive: perhaps the mediocre quality of the photos will make you less tempted to drool!

On our first full day in Rome, Gord and I separated for the afternoon to do some independent sight-seeing.

Clearly, the phrase independent sight-seeing did, and always will, translate to mean that I had the opportunity to find more food.

So what if I had just eaten lunch? It’s not everyday a girl’s in Italy.

After making a hastily thought up wish at the Trevi Fountain whilst trying my best not to be pick pocketed, I started off in search of what I thought was one of my many Twitter food recommendations. My endpoint was a mysterious location that I had, for some reason, saved in my iPhone’s Google Maps the day before.

My afternoon motto quickly became “I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I’m sure it’s nearby.”

After sadly discovering my map destination to be an empty alleyway, I decided to console my lost self with strawberry and lemon gelato across from the Trevi Fountain, before starting the long walk back to meet Gord at the place where we were staying.

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Now at this point I really did have every intention of returning back in order to make our pre-arranged 5:15 meeting time.

But then I saw it: the sign for Giolitti gelato, the specialty shop my friend Elisa had recommended to me. Well that was that, meeting time or not, I had to get more gelato.

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Nestled beside the Italian parliament buildings on Via degli Uffici del Vicario, Giolitti is to Italian gelato as Laduree is to French macarons. I found the shop just as I was finishing up my first gelato cone. Slightly embarrassing? Perhaps. Judge not, dessert lovers.

Despite the shop being packed, I went forth anyways, for good gelato is always worth the wait. Pushing my way up to the glass display case, my eyes went wide with the sight of more than 30 different types of gelati.

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Put on the spot, I settled on a small cup of orange and, what I thought was raspberry, but actually turned out to be watermelon (in hindsight, it was a beautiful mistake).

The orange gelato had real zest in it and, combined with the tiny chocolate “seeds” of the watermelon, I felt like I was eating a luxurious Terry’s chocolate orange. The watermelon was also perfectly refreshing.

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Thanks to my little gelato delay as well as a complicated route back that saw me accidentally find the Colosseum, I finally got back to the bed and breakfast at 6 p.m., 45 minutes after our original meeting time.

All in the name of gelato.

PS: here’s a final list of the gelato flavours I tried while in Rome and Florence: lemon (x2), strawberry, orange, watermelon, mascarpone cheese (my favourite!) and a generous spoonful of Gord’s creme caramel.

Some traditional and non-traditional Greek cuisine, featuring two meals in the beautiful city of Oia

Tonight is our last night in Santorini. Tomorrow, we bid farewell to the land of feta cheese, moussaka and the best gosh darn tzatziki dip I’ve ever eaten.

Below, a small look at what Gord and I have eaten recently.

Oia is the perfect Greek island city. Rows upon rows of white plaster houses line the cliffs and domed blue roofs sparkle on the horizon. Oia is on the other side of the island from where we’re staying, but we got the chance to wine and dine (minus the wine) in the city on our second night in Santorini. Our dinner followed a super exhausting, all-day excursion that saw us climb cliffs, hike up a volcano and swim in stinky, sulfurous hot springs. This dinner was our reward for our adventurous day.

This seems like the most un-cultured and un-foodie thing ever, but I really, really love European Fanta. As far as I know, they don’t have the plain old orange stuff in Canada (I think it is some tangerine nonsense), so I always load up when I come to any European country. The Europeans know their fizzy drinks.

Gord was a little more sophisticated and went for the standard bubbly water.

As for the meal itself, we decided to get a mix-up of different, classic Greek appetizers.  The first was my personal favourite (and I think Gord would agree). It was a BAKED FETA DIP. Note to everyone reading this: baked cheese is normally extraordinary, but baked feta is all together outstanding. There were tomatoes, green peppers and red onions mixed in. We piled it on top of bread and gorged shamelessly. This is definitely on top of my “will recreate once back in Ottawa” list.

Our other appetizer platter was a combination of several other wonderful traditional Greek things: fava beans, an eggplant salad (the Greeks love their eggplant!), stuffed grape leaves, fried cheese (yes, this is actually exactly what it sounds like) and some other Greek food that was so traditional there wasn’t even an English name for it on the menu. There were way too many consonants in the word for it to make any sense.

I returned to Oia this afternoon in hopes of turning all my window shopping that happened the other day into real life purchases. Turns out that everything was ridiculously overpriced, so I only came away with a magnet and a few postcards. I did, however, manage to get some lunch in, including a delicious (albeit probably not very traditional) cheese and vegetable tart and a piece of cream puff cake. The latter was actually a bunch of chocolate eclairs stuffed into cake form. Creamy and delicious. Exactly what I did not need, but delicious nonetheless.

Alright, well that was all for our Oia dining.

Next stop on this crazy adventure? After a night in Athens we’re off to Italy where I hope to eat my body weight (and more) in pasta, pizza and gelato.

The rest of Paris, including a semi-fancy French dinner out, lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens and pizza with friends

Believe it or not, I did eat a few things other than Ladurée pastry/macarons while in France. While I’ll admit that sweets did make up the majority of my trip, there were a few non-sugary gems that must be highlighted.

The first, is the semi-fancy, semi-traditional (I’m big on the fusion, as you can see) French meal that I had with my new friend Kaitlynne from the US. It was the last night in Paris for both of us, so we decided to wander over to the St-Michel/Notre Dame area and find a cute place for dinner. We settled on Bistro 30, a cute little French restaurant that thankfully had a very affordable, three-course menu.

To start, Kaitlynne and I both went with salads. I think hers was a traditional garden salad with walnuts and some other flourishes. Mine was a salad with baked goat cheese rounds. As you can imagine, I was sold the second the ingredient “goat cheese” was included in the dish. It was awesome.

Kaitlynne and her salad

Delicious as it was, I felt like I really psyched myself out of trying some real French cuisine… ahem…

I was so close (I swear I’m not lying) to getting escargot, but in the end I chickened out. This photo was courtesy of our kind restaurant neighbours, a Russian couple who were also taking photographs of their food. You can find kindred spirits everywhere, apparently.

For my main course, I decided to try duck for the first time. Also having chickened (ducked?) out of trying foie gras, I went for something a little more safe and just got duck confit, which was absolutely incredible. They served it with some sort of amazing sauce that just made it so moist and salty.

OH NO, being kicked off the computer in the hostel. No more details for you…

I went to a cafe in Luxembourg Gardens (it replaced the one that Ernest Hemingway used to go to!) and got the house quiche with chicken, mushrooms and mesclun. Obviously I got more Fanta.

My visit in France ended with a short trip north to Arras to visit Natalie at Vimy Ridge. The night I arrived we had delicious pizza and I was in good company.

Some of the Vimy crew and I

And because it’s so pretty, here! Have a picture of the Eiffel Tower. Until next time. Gotta run!

The magic of French pastry: two extremely purposeful run-ins with Paris’ famous Ladurée bakery

I will never be able to eat a Canadian dessert ever again. Not after stuffing my face with the amazingly decorated, gourmet pastries from Paris. I guess I can try to scarf down the occasional half a dozen cupcakes here and there, but it just won’t be the same. Not after two trips to Ladurée, arguably Paris’ most famous bakery chain.

Me in front of the Laduree shop window

This wasn’t just any old bakery, so don’t even start shaking your head at me. Ladurée invented the macaron, those tiny, round double-decker desserts you see, with a cookie top/bottom and a creamy ganache filling in the middle. They are like nothing you’ve ever had before – delicate (the cookie shell can be broken with the least bit of effort), yet somehow satisfyingly filling. Could be the ground almonds baked into them. Who knows. Anyways, since I like the Canadian version of these desserts, I knew I was bound to simply adore the Parisian version.

List of seasonal and regular flavours

Sidenote: please do not confused macarons with macaroons. I too once confused these two desserts (before Brittany set me straight). The latter often contains coconut, which I am not a fan of one bit.

But back to Ladurée. When I spoke with my Parisian baker friend, he recommended that I go to the original Ladurée location, found at 16 rue Royale, just a short walk from the Place de la Concorde in front of the Tuileries (Louvre gardens).

My first, overly-excited trip to the café took place last Saturday when my old roommate Natalie came to visit me in Paris. You can see details of that trip as well as pictures of the pastries that we ate in this post.

Natalie and the Laduree menu (so expensive)

Yesterday, I took my second trip to my new favourite place. Even though I had eaten five out of the six macarons that Natalie and I had bought (chocolate, vanilla, raspberry, salted caramel and lemon), I wanted more. There are more than a dozen different flavours of macarons, some seasonal and some permanent. I bought four more: a strawberry mint, orange blossom, rose and chuao chocolate. They were just as delicious as my five other ones.

Since it was not enough for me to just get (seriously) overpriced macarons, I also needed to buy another pastry. I chose one that I saw someone eating when Natalie and I were in the Ladurée tea salon. It was a rose Ladurée Religieuse, which in English, non-fancy talk, is basically a decadently iced pastry with a rose whipped cream and fresh raspberry centre. It was delicious and messy, but probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.

Before my pastry picnic occurred I, of course, needed to have a mini photo shoot with all my dessert. I sat myself down on a shaded park bench across from the Concorde’s obelisk and snapped away.

After dessert, I wandered about the city, Ladurée bag in hand. I couldn’t just throw it out anywhere, after all. I felt like it was a sacred token of my time spent in Paris. Instead, it was disposed of just a few steps away from Napoleon’s grave. An appropriate burial for such gourmet wrappings.

There’s a Ladurée shop in the Charles de Gaulle airport, where I’m heading tonight. Oh god.

PS: non-edited pictures courtesy of my actual camera. Thank you to Natalie’s computer and its uploading abilities.
PPS: gotta run and catch my train! Don’t mind of zero edited grammar/spelling. Yikes.