Deposed royal families, world wars, and communist occupation have all left their mark on the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, but there, in the middle of Europe, the culture of cake still reigns supreme. Citizens of Vienna and Budapest think no more of having their afternoon coffee and pastry (jause, which simply means snack) served on china with real silverware than most Americans think about grabbing a doughnut and coffee to go.
Pastry traditions that are centuries old are still part of daily life behind the doors of the grand cafés of central Europe. Glass cases are filled with beautiful cakes and pastries, including Sachertorte, Dobos torte, and all manner of schnitten, the precise cuts exposing what’s inside: the practical artistry and craft that binds the past to the present and brings the flavours together in those beautiful layers.
There’s not a lot of florid, nonsensical decoration on these cakes. Instead, they display the careful construction that plays out in eating them: nut meringue layers, buttercream, sponge cakes, whipped cream, thin chocolate glazes, crumbly, buttery pastry layers.
Not to be outshone by their multilayered siblings are the beautiful fruit-topped pastries, streusel-covered kuchen and linzer tortes. This is the kind of baking that I love best and want to see a resurgence of. I say, make the cake you want and the occasion will happen!
Baking at the 20th Century Cafe by Michelle Polzine, published by Artisan Books, is out on 20 October (£27.99)