How could I ever forget my one-and-only visit to this beautiful land-locked country?
Three of us on the obligatory rite-of-passage backpacking trip around Europe found ourselves in Salzburg at Christmas in 1974.
Mozart, the Sound of Music, golden cakes and tortes and strudels that reached out from shop windows to embrace us and our first ever White Christmas.
But then life got in the way and I forgot all about the country and its delicious pastries until a few years ago when I was gifted a small slice of an Austrian Panama Torte, baked by my elderly Austrian neighbour Martha and kindly brought over by her husband Joe, as a thank you for the spare eggs I’d given them.
I was told this was a special-occasion cake, complex to make and based on a precious recipe they’d brought with them from their home country to Australia after the War.
Clearly this was a very special offering and after the first bite, it was obvious why. It was melt-in-the-mouth chocolate and almond nirvana. The future was now clear for me:
#52 Bake an Authentic Austrian Torte
I asked for the recipe a few times over the years, but with our busy lives, it never quite happened so I resigned myself to the memory of that cake rather than ever tasting the reality of it again.
Until one day, three months ago, Joe brought frail Martha over to my place – together with her handwritten recipe, translated from the original German, for the famous Austrian Panama Torte!
We sat in the garden as Martha haltingly talked me through the Byzantine instructions and I faithfully took notes and tried to make sense of the sometimes confusing translation.
2 ½ ribs of chocolate? Who measures chocolate in ribs?
Austrian cooks, that’s who and they mean horizontal ribs, not vertical
The almonds and the chocolate, I was instructed, MUST BE carefully hand grated. No food processor should go anywhere near them or this whole light and fluffy flourless concoction would come crashing down.
And the egg whites have to be beaten to within an inch of their lives but their folding into the almond/chocolate/egg yolk mix must be done with the tenderness of wrapping a newborn.
The oven door has to be propped ajar for the first 15 minutes of baking or the mixture might just refuse to rise.
this was serious baking
And yet it worked, and a newly minted, pleasingly light and fluffy cake came out of the oven:
Martha’s had a lifetime of practice slicing it horizontally to perfection – two cuts, do you mind – before spreading the chocolate butter icing between the layers, but my skills doing this tricky manoeuvre with such a mercurial cake were untested.
Enter, the ever helpful YouTube with instructions on how to measure the cutting lines before marking them with toothpicks…
… then gliding a fresh piece of dental floss through the cake just so…
… creating three (almost) perfectly cut horizontal slices.
This only left the chocolate butter icing to prepare and spread between layers and all over, before garnishing with lightly toasted almond flakes…
…and cutting into slices to share with family and friends
And the taste?