Hungry in Hungary
By DARCY DOUGHERTY MAULSBY
CENTRAL EUROPE – Is there anything more intrinsic to a place than its food? It’s a question I savored when I wrote my “Culinary History of Iowa” book, and it’s a thought that inspires many of my adventures, including a mid-March trip with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation for a Danube River cruise through Germany, Austria and Hungary.
For travelers like me, food conveys the essence of a place. Since I have German heritage, I was particularly interested in the foods of Bavaria. The meals here didn’t disappoint. From racks of huge pretzels on every dinner table to roast pork with German spaetzle (hearty noodles), I felt right at home. I was even impressed by an odd-sounding concoction called pancake soup. With its beefy broth and pinwheels of cooked dough that are a hybrid of a pancake and crepe, the soup is not only surprisingly appetizing, but it’s fun to eat, too.
The feast continued as we cruised along the Danube into Austria. I made sure I sampled the wienerschnitzel at dinner on the ship. I have no doubt this mealtime mainstay inspired Iowa’s iconic breaded pork tenderloins after European immigrants emigrated to the Midwest. With its crisp coating and thin, meaty center (served without a bun), I felt like I was enjoying a taste of home with each bite of my wienerschnitzel.
Fruits, sweets and more
I’ll also never forget the robust, sweet, smooth taste of the incredible apricots we sampled in the Wachau Valley northwest of Vienna. Perhaps it’s because some of these apricot varieties were introduced to the region thousands of years ago by the Romans. Maybe it’s because the family at the apricot farm we visited are craftsmen of the finest order when it comes to making jams, nectar, brandy and more.
In any case, apricots are a key ingredient for sachertorte, which is the standard when it comes chocolate cake in Vienna. Sachertorte (chocolate apricot cake with dark chocolate ganache) is to Austria what apple pie is to America – an edible national treasure. As I sat in the luxurious, plush, red dining room of the Hotel Sacher in the heart of Vienna, savoring my own elegant slice of sachertorte, I knew why this is the ultimate special-occasion dessert in Austria.
As if apricots and chocolate cake weren’t enough, fruit and sweets work their magic in apfelstrudel (apple strudel), another signature Austrian dessert made with locally-grown fruit. When we toured Salzburg on a chilly, overcast, snowy, day, I had two goals – visit Mozart’s birthplace and stop by a coffee shop to indulge a slice of luscious apple strudel. When mine was served with a rich cream sauce, it couldn’t get any better.
On the hunt for paprika
All that dessert didn’t mean I had no room for the culinary delights of our next destination – Budapest, Hungary. Dieting is not recommended when traveling in Hungary, which is a dream for foodies. This is a land of meat and vegetables, a place that’s remarkably similar to Iowa in many aspects of its agriculture, including cattle production.
When we toured the Central Market in Budapest, my senses shifted into overdrive in this magnificent cathedral to food. Surrounded by a riot of color, my husband and I flowed with the endless crowds milling about the enticing displays of meats, spices, fresh produce and more. I was on a mission – find sweet paprika that I could bring home to recreate a taste of Hungary.
Not only was I happy to spend some of my last euros on a precious packet of paprika, but I was even more delighted when I added this famous red spice to my own version of Hungarian goulash soup back in my Iowa farm kitchen.
When I sat down with my family to taste my creation, I relished once again the history, culture and food of central Europe and found myself pondering intriguing destinations for my next culinary adventure.
Hungarian goulash soup
In Hungary, goulash is not a pasta/tomato/ground beef dish. It’s a hearty soup or stew defined by caraway seeds and paprika.
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1.5 pounds beef chuck roast, fat trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
10 cups beef broth
2 to 3 potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 parsnip, peeled, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tomatoes, chopped, or one 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and caraway seeds, and sautee until onion begins to soften, about 8 minutes. Add beef and paprika; sautee until meat is brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. Add broth. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits at bottom of pot. Reduce heat to low; simmer until meat is just tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Add potatoes, parsnip, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, celery and bell pepper. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Cool slightly. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.
Optional step for thicker soup: transfer 3 1/2 cups soup to blender. Blend until smooth. Add to soup in pot. Stir in parsley. (Note: soup can be made two days ahead.)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup milk
1 gallon hot water
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley
Mix together flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, beat eggs well; add alternately with the milk to the dry ingredients. Mix until smooth.
Press dough through a spaetzle maker, or through a large-holed sieve or metal grater.
Drop a few noodles at a time into simmering water. Cook 5 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
Spaetzle can be used in soups or as a side dish. If using as a side dish, saute cooked spaetzle in butter or margarine. Spinkle chopped fresh parsley on top, and serve. It can also be served with melted cheese and bacon.
Sachertorte (chocolate apricot cake with dark chocolate ganache)
While the original recipe for sachertorte is served at the high-end Hotel Sacher and is a closely-guarded secret, knock-off recipes abound online, like this one from Hilary Merzbacher, a former New York City food editor who now lives in Austria.
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (about 65-70 percent cacao), divided
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided and softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Pinch kosher salt
8 large eggs at room temperature and separated
1 cup all-purpose flour well sifted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons aged rum
3/4 cup heavy cream plus more whipped cream for serving
1 tablespoon honey
Coarsely chop half of the chocolate; melt the chocolate using the microwave or a double-boiler. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper; butter and flour the pan. and Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, using a paddle attachment, beat together 10 tablespoons (5 ounces) of the butter, all the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt on medium speed until mixture is creamy and well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one by one, and beat the mixture on medium-high speed until batter is pale yellow and very light in texture, about 2 minutes more. Reduce mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. Add the flour, and blend on low speed until just combined. (The batter should be thick.)
In a second bowl using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites on low until a lot of small bubbles appear, about 1 minute. Increase mixer speed to medium, and add the sugar, tablespoon by tablespoon until glossy, soft peaks form, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Using a spatula, gently stir a about one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate base to lighten the batter. When the first addition is combined, carefully add the rest of the whites. Fold gently until no streaks of white remain.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs and the top is set, about 50 to 55 minutes. Remove pan from oven, run a knife around the inside edge to separate the cake from the pan. Set aside to cool completely. (Note: the cake center will sink.)
When the cake is cool, make the apricot glaze. Combine the apricot preserves and rum in a small saucepan and heat, stirring, until mixture is thinner in consistency and hot, about 2 to 3 minutes. Strain glaze through a sieve, using a spatula to push on the solids. Let cool slightly.
Remove the sides from the springform cake pan. Invert the cake and place back on the springform base, so that the parchment paper is facing up (this is now the top of the cake).
Discard the paper, and cut the cake into two equal, horizontal layers. Spread about half of the apricot glaze between the two layers, replace the top, then brush remaining glaze on the top and sides of the cake. Place the cake on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.
For the ganache, place the remaining 5 ounces of chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, mix together the cream, honey, butter and salt over medium heat until just simmering and combined. Pour the cream mixture over chocolate and allow to stand, about 2 minutes.
Using a rubber spatula, gently stir together the chocolate mixture until glossy and smooth. Allow mixture to cool until no longer warm to the touch, stirring often, about 20 minutes.
Working quickly, pour the ganache over the glazed cake, allowing the chocolate to run over the edges. If necessary, use a small offset spatula to cover any bare spots. Transfer the cake to the refrigerator to allow glaze to set, about 30 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.
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