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Saturday, December 13, 2014

German Foodie Field Trip: Day Two - Salzburg

German Foodie Field Trip

Days Two - Salzburg

The hunt for Salzburger Nockerl...

Taste memories can be pretty enduring. Those special Christmas cookies your grandmother used to make. Rocket Pops served from an ice cream truck in summer. That first fistful of Play-doh (oh, the salty horror!)

I've found that limited availability only strengthens the yearning.

So after I had sampled my first Salzburger Knockerl, a mind-blowing dessert souffle for a young diner at a 'grown up' German restaurant with his parents, what followed were years of disappointment as I never again saw it on the menu.

If I had made a 4,000 mile trip from New York to Munich, another 50 miles into Austria to satisfy a 20-year craving was a small price to pay.

... and the city of Salzburg isn't too shabby, either. 

Mountain View in Austria

Salzburg Fortress: Hohensalzburg

View of Salzburg from Hohensalzburg

Geh ma!

Best intentions notwithstanding, an early rise was thwarted by jet lag and the excesses of the previous evening (two beer lightweight!)

Germany may impress at nearly every turn, but the coffee situation.... not so much. Starbucks has yet to infiltrate the quiet hamlets of Bavaria, so a predictably consistent cup of Joe is not to be found on every street corner. 

Desperation and a growing caffeine headache led me into a local supermarket, and a small corner cafe provided a quick (and small... oh, the cup was so small!) Kaffee mit Milch.

While the coffee had just barely addressed my junkie needs, the stop did bring one unexpected delight. Bread vending machines! Could it be? 

I would never have believed it had I not seen this marvel with my own gluten-loving eyes. But sure enough... insert a couple of Euros and out falls a loaf of whole wheat. Now that is innovation!

Bread Vending Machine

Taking to the road, it seemed as though night were already falling. The permanently overcast skies did not help, but dusk was settling upon Bavaria by mid-afternoon.

Driving along the densely forested countryside, it was easy to see how a folklore replete with tales of the dangers that lurked in the black forests came to be

...And then, a 1950's American diner on the Austrian border. 

Out of place? Undoubtedly. Infinitely cleaner and more welcoming than any rest stop dotting the U.S. Interstate System? Absolutely. 

American Style 1950s Diner on Austrian Border


Take everything that makes Munich an almost impossibly perfect city, fill it with seemingly endless winding streets and corridors designed for people and not cars, and add some Italian cultural flourishes... and you have Salzburg. 

Mozart's birthplace. The city that tried to solve a problem like Maria. And, yes, the home of my long-sought-after dessert. 

Streets of Salzburg at Night

Old City Streets of Salzburg at Night

Not to be outdone by Munich, the Christkindlmarkt in Salzburg seemed to consume the entire city. There were literally hundreds of stalls (I know this for a fact because they were numbered) filled every open courtyard and corridor.

Christmas Ornaments in Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg

In New York, a street fair typically includes several vendors selling sausages, a few guys with tube socks and bed sheets, the mozzarella arepa ladies... and maybe a booth for the NYPost. In Salzburg, there was no shortage of variety. Each stall was clearly uniquely owned an operated.

Various Pretzels at the Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg

Petits Fours at the Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg

Throughout the wandering, Kaiserschmarren were among the more impressive offerings to catch my eye. "Shredded Pancakes" - these treats looked like thick crepes that were sliced into ribbons as they cooked. I could only think of them as "elevated drunk food" as they filled the air with the smell of warm butter and vanilla.

Kaiserschmarren (Shredded Pancakes) at the Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg

And even in Austria, there's always money in the banana stand (or rather, Es gibt immer Gelt in der Bananestand!)

Chocolate Covered Bananas at the Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg

More Treats at the Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg

On the not-so-charming front, a stall selling "Handcrafted Dolls" stands as one of the creepiest things I have ever seen. Describing the dolls as "Real Live" Babies only amplified the sense of unease. I envisioned a Geppetto-like old man encasing children in porcelain. *Shiver*

Creepy Dolls at the Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg

Concubine's Dessert...

As often occurs with a food that rises to even a modest amount of fame and notoriety, many restaurants and hotels throughout Salzburg claim to serve "The Original Salzburger Nockerl". 

The dessert was supposedly created by a concubine of Wolf Dietrich Raitenau, a Prince-Bishop of Salzburg in the early 17th century. So unless you find a brothel serving souffle, I am not certain that any of the current claims to "The Original" can be fully trusted.

But as a simple souffle, the recipe for Salzburger Nockerl is no secret: several eggs, sugar and vanilla whipped into a meringue and folded with a little flour. The challenge is in the execution and presentation!

After some research, Restaurant Elefant seemed to be a solid bet for an authentic Nockerl. After all, an image of the dessert is etched into the front glass window. 

Restaurant Elefant in Salzburg

While I have no problem with the idea of eating dessert first, this souffle did have a half-hour prep time requirement. It would seem that dinner would occur according to its long-established sequence of courses. Damn tradition!

Having consumed the obligatory Wiener Schnitzel the night prior, I settled on Goulash - a rich beef stew that, in retrospect, was not the "smaller dinner" option I had originally intended to order. My eyes (and stomach) were on the prize of dessert. 

As for the Salzburger Nockerl, we tried to order two. Dessert is a single-person affair. Sharing requires too much effort to be equitable. "Oh, you have the last piece," everyone says, desperately hoping that their dining partners will rebuff the offer. Besides, even shared desserts are usually manageable for someone with as elastic of a capacity as me.

The server denied the request. "You will only need one."

"Eh, you've not seen me eat dessert," I playfully replied.

Her expression was unchanged. So was her disapproving tone. "You will only need one!"

"I guess we'll only need one," I dissembled. I felt more than a little disappointed that we were going to be shortchanged on our dessert.

Goulash with Dumplings at Restaurant Elefant in Salzburg

We only needed one...

This was indeed a large dessert. 

With three meringue peaks formed to look like mountains covered in a snow of powdered sugar, the sweet vanilla souffle was baked over a bed of raspberries and cream, rising to tremendous heights.

Salzburger Knockerl at Restaurant Elefant in Salzburg

The volume is tremendous, but it is mostly air. It feels good to remind yourself of that fact as you shovel a second portion on to your plate. Eggs, sugar and air... just lots and lots of air...

Devouring a Salzburger Knockerl at Restaurant Elefant in Salzburg

When you get to your third portion, you realize that even air can fill a stomach and, oh god, you could pop at any moment. 

We only needed one.

Tomorrow - Restaurant Uberfahrt! (Post Coming Soon)

Remains of a Salzburger Knockerl at Restaurant Elefant in Salzburg

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