Austrian baking and cooking frustrations
Since I was a child, I have always liked to bake and I even have a recipe book that used to belong to my American grandmother and next to the Oatmeal Hermits recipe, written in pencil and in my own handwriting, is the translation of the ingredients into Spanish! My Peruvian grandmother liked to bake too, but the cooking she left to Merino to do for her. Dear Merino was with my grandmother for many years, she liked to cook and taught me many tricks!
I tried Sacher Torte the first time I was in Vienna and loved it! I wanted to buy Austrian recipe books, as I had heard a lot about Viennese pastries, so I was looking forward to preparing them myself! I have recipe books in English published in the USA, but also some I have collected while living in Australia, or that my mother got me from Canada. I was used to working with pounds, ounces and cups, as well as tablespoons and teaspoons, but when I came to live in Austria I realised that they don’t measure ingredients here, but weigh them instead and that really threw me off, as I had nothing to weigh my ingredients with! I have since got a weighing machine and I use it for all sorts of things in addition to baking, like weighing books to sell on Amazon, for example!
Baking utensils and ingredients
So I was glad to have brought along my glass measuring cup, as it has ounces and mililitres; plastic cups to measure one, half, a third and a quarter of a cup; plastic measuring spoons to measure a full, half and a quarter teaspoon. I must say though, that after having weighed instead of measured ingredients, I find that weighing is more practical, but I still use cups, especially if I am using one of the recipes from my recipe book collection.
The first recipe book I got in Austria was given to me, it was in English and I used it to prepare apple strudel, which was really the first Austrian recipe that I tried here. One time while baking an apple strudel in our weekend house, I made the mistake of adding paprika instead of cinnamon, as the spices are a similar in colour and my spice containers were not labelled at all!
Bakingpans were another frustration, as there was no such a thing as an 8-inch square pan! I was lucky that my mother came to my rescue and brought me a metal 8-inch square pan, which she reckoned was better for making chocolate brownies. In recipes Austrians also never mention pan sizes; so one is left to guess.
Bicarbonate of soda
Besides pans, ingredients seemed to be different in Austria too! It took me years to discover that Baking Soda was none other than Natrium (Na)!
Cream of tartar
When I find very ripe bananas I like to prepare banana bread, but one also needs cream of tartar and I could never find that in the supermarkets here, so my mother used to have to bring it for me all the way from Canada! It was after many years that I discovered that the name for it was Weinstein, even though it has nothing to do with either wine or stones! I found that out when I asked the father of one of my daughter’s friends, who happens to be a chemistry teacher!
I had seen Vanilla sugar in supermarkets, but I did not like the idea of using it, as the vanilla flavour might be there, but one would be adding extra sugar to the recipe. I never saw any liquid Vanilla, so again, I got it whenever I went overseas, or my mother brought me some from Canada. One time when we were in town we went to a shop that sold spices and condiments, so I asked them whether they had any vanilla and they said yes! I had finally found it, I thought to myself! I asked about the price and they told me it was 990 shillings, so I thought it would be all right to pay about ten dollars for that big bottle, as it would last me for a long time. But I was doing my mental calculations wrong! 990 shillings was closer to 99 dollars! My head of course just started spinning the minute I realised my mistake, so I was out of that shop in a big hurry! So I have had to continue bringing my liquid vanilla from Australia, Spain, France and the Dominican Republic!
They do sell Nestle’s condensed milk in Austria, but it only comes in plastic tubes and not in tins, like I was used to. The problem is that I can boil the tins of condensed milk to turn them into dulce de leche, blanc mange or caramel, but it is difficult to do that with plastic tubes! They do sell those tins in other European countries, so we have to wait until somebody (us, or one of our friends) goes to Italy, France, Spain, or Portugal to get our supply! Actually, another good source for dulce de leche is Brazil, or Argentina.
Something else that I could never find here was flavoured gelatine! No Jello anywhere around, only the unflavoured variety! Once again we have to wait until we make a trip outside the country to get our supply of orange, lemon, strawberry, raspberry or lime gelatine, which we love to have cold on a hot summer day!
Dark sugar turned out to be another big problem, as the one they sell here is usually granulated and not the type that one can press into a cup when measuring it. Even though the consistency is different, I think by now I have become used to the brown sugar they sell here, as at least it tastes like it is supposed to.
Austrians love to make beautiful biscuits, but they only seem to bake them at Christmas time. Absolutely everybody bakes them, but only at that time of the year! Unlike Australian or British people, Austrians don’t usually serve biscuits with their tea or coffee, only pastries, if anything. The most common biscuit here at Xmas time is what they call a Vanilla Kipferl, which you can also find in my recipe books, except that there they are called Mexican wedding cakes, if you look in one recipe book, or Russian teacakes, if you look in another! Take your pick, but they all taste exactly the same and they all have powdered sugar on top!
As far as meat, Austrians are very proud of their Wiener Schnitzel, which is famous all over the world, but my grandmother used to prepare exactly the same dish, except that she used to call it Bistec Apanado, or Milanesa de Pollo, if it was chicken! They also have another dish, which they call Tafelspitz and we used to prepare something similar, but we used to call itSancochado and I always liked to eat it with lots of onions (washed with salt), something Austrians of course, would never even dream of doing!
Time and measurement
I have noticed that Austrian recipe books don’t usually specify oven temperatures, cookingor baking times. They are just content to say cook, or bake, but don’t say for how long or at what temperature either!
But the problem is not only with the temperature, as I have also come across measurement problems. One recipe said to cut something with a 2mm circumference, when they really meant 2 cm, which is something completely different!
Talking about baking, one of the things that used to bother my mother when she came to visit was the plastic foil they sell here, as there was no way one could cover anything with it! For that reason she used to come with the largest Cling Wrap container she could find in that big country where she used to live! To this day we still wrap things with the pathetic plastic foil, while we wait anxiously for somebody to go to Canada for a visit!