Vienna is a city that knows how to satisfy a sweet tooth. If you’re headed there, stop in at any café and you’ll be able to try these traditional Viennese desserts – or any other number of mouth-watering goodies.
Here they are, in order of deliciousness.
Punschkrapfen (Punch Cake)
I’m leading with one of my favorite traditional Viennese desserts and not just because it’s the prettiest! This tasty gem is a sponge cake layered with nougat and apricot jam and soaked in rum or brandy. It comes in little cubes, similar to a French petit four and is covered in a beautiful pink icing that also tastes delicious.
The liquor in the cake is really the kicker here. If you don’t like the taste of alcohol it may be a bit strong for you but otherwise it delivers a delightful punch and takes some of the sweet edge off. Guess that’s why they call it punch cake!
We had a punschkrapfen from Anker, a large bakery chain, and we had a more bespoke one from Julius Meinl, a very upscale supermarket near St. Stephen’s Square that is well worth a visit in its own right. Both were quite good. It seems you can’t go wrong with a cake soaked in rum.
Apple strudel is to Vienna what apple pie is to America. It’s ubiquitous, delicious, and comes in many variations.
Strudel was inspired by the Ottoman Empire when the Turks brought their flaky baklava and other desserts as far as Vienna. There, the Viennese built on the idea, eventually creating a flaky dough filled with apples, nuts, and raisins, topped with powdered sugar and often served with a thick, sweet cream for topping.
I had the best apple strudel at Gerstner K.u.K. Hofzuckerbäcker across from the Opera house. It was flaky, not too sweet, and accompanied by the perfect cup of cappuccino.
There are three levels to this wonderful café: the first is the shop where you can purchase items to take away, and the second two are for whiling away the hours. There is a bar here as well so you can equally enjoy your strudel with coffee or an apéritif. I recommend sitting on the second floor as the ambiance is more quaint than on the third level. I went by myself around 2:30pm and waited about ten minutes for a nice second story window seat.
Sachertorte is one of the more famous traditional Viennese desserts. It’s named for Franz Sacher who apprenticed under the chef for the Austrian State Chancellor. On the night of a big dinner party, the Chancellor requested a new dessert to be served and as luck would have it, the chef was sick and 16 year old Franz Sacher had to pick up the slack!
Sacher came through in spades, creating a rich chocolate cake thinly layered with apricot jam, and covered in a thick chocolate ganache frosting. There are several variations on that story, and a couple of variations in the recipe too – the “Original” Sachertorte purportedly has two layers of apricot jam while other variations have only one!
We tried an “Original” sachertorte, served by the Sacher Hotel in Vienna and Salzburg. (The Sacher Hotel has the exclusive right to call it the “Original.”) We also tried a normal, “un-Original” sachertorte at Vanillas Café in Vienna. Both were equally rich, although the “Original” sachertorte’s icing was darker and thicker. It was like eating a slice of cake with a piece of dark chocolate stuck to it with jam. Brian and I both thought it was a little too “thick.”
If you can’t make it to the Sacher Hotel for the “Original” you can’t go wrong grabbing a nice looking slice from any café you’d like. I had a delicious piece at Vanillas Café in Vienna that went perfectly with my glass of Schlumberger Ice Secco, a sparkling wine that could easily be considered another staple Viennese dessert!
Aka, pancakes with applesauce – for dessert! Kaiserschmarrn is named for Emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I who enjoyed eating the fluffy, chopped up, or “schmarren” pancakes. This dish is basically sweet pancakes, cut up and dusted with powdered sugar.
Kaiserschmarrn is almost always served with applesauce for dipping. However, if you get it at the Café Mozart you’ll also receive a side of delicious plum jam. You can get Kaiserschmarrn with or without raisins. But many folks swear that kaiserschmarrn isn’t kaiserschmarrn if you don’t include the raisins!
On a side note, Café Mozart is next door to the Sacher Hotel. So if you are feeling up to a dessert tour, stop in for an Original Sachertorte after polishing off your kaiserschmarrn. Then, burn off those excess calories by joining the Vienna City Marathon, which is a lot more fun than it sounds.
Not a Traditional Viennese Dessert But…
I would be remiss if I didn’t send you to Parémi while you’re in Vienna. This is a French style boulangerie that serves the most wonderful desserts and the best baguette this side of Paris. An added bonus is the quaint little alleyway seating, perfect for relaxing in the shadows on a warm afternoon.
Speaking of Alleys
If you are feeling more homesick than traditional (admittedly, this recommendation depends on where your home is), there is a little alley where you can find the absolute best cold brew coffee, to-go even!
Truth Coffee is an unassuming walk up stand that also happens to sell the actual most delicious cheesecake I have ever had in my life. (Please don’t tell my mom.) It is a real gem in Vienna and the perfect way to fuel up for a day of sightseeing.
Are there any traditional Viennese desserts that I missed? I ate as much as I could in Vienna, but alas, there is never enough space in my belly for all the food my eyes want to consume. 🙂 Comment below and let me know!