Wednesday, 27 February 2013

chinese pork omelette with onions

Whew. I have been (still am) ludicrously busy these past weeks trying to get some results for this coming Sunday when I am to wing over to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is situated. I shall be donning an abaya for the transit between the airport and the campus, but things are meant to be more relaxed and 'westernized' on campus. It shall be an interesting experience certainly. Much as I ought to be ecstatic over their lovely pristine (and woefully unused) equipment, I have to admit that I am slightly more interested in the food. It is unlikely that I will have the time to taste proper Saudi fare and nigh on impossible for me to venture about their markets (time constraints as well as it being a big no no culturally...unless I have a male escort), but I am still looking forward to experiencing new things. Hopefully, I'll be able snap some photos, given permission of course.

But, in the prelude to all this, my samples are being rather uncooperative and I have developed a severe addiction to the computer game 'don't starve'. Of the three samples I was hedging my hopes on, two exploded themselves, laying to waste 4 precious days of furnace time and the remaining one was perfect! But, the most foolish of mistakes: I made it too small. I fairly ripped my hair out when this revelation dawned. So now's the race to prepare (from scratch may I add) a larger version but everything seems conniving against .

In the mean while, Chinese New Year draws nigh and tonight will see its last celebration in the form of a pot luck with my Tae Kwon Do family (club). My contribution will be these porky omelets (a sure fire for Chinese: we love pork and we love egg). I am not sure if this is a typical Cantonese dish as I've certainly never had it in any other home or restaurant. However, it is a specialty of my dad's and a firm household favorite. I'd definitely recommend trying it.

As with all the savory cooking I know, and in the face of the precision I am accustomed to for patisseries, this trundles by the 'aga aga' mentality. If you want to firm up the omelets, reduce the egg. Also adjust how fine your mince is to your liking, which incidentally also affects the egg ratio you might want to use. I have used a 1:1 by weight of egg to pork as I like them quite meaty. However my dad uses a higher egg proportion. I have also used the tenderloin as I rather cut down on the oil (there is enough of that in the frying). But feel free to use a fattier cut or just to throw in some rinds. The fat will render out of the omelet and make it more tender. I have also used lots of onions to make the dish nice and sweet by simmering to oblivion. Again, if you prefer your onions with a bit more bite (in taste and texture), don't let it boil for too long. Grinding the mince is probably the hardest part of the recipe. If it is too chunky, it will be felt as coarse little nuggets in the omelet; too fine and you lose the porkiness and bite and it goes a little too smooth and spongey. It all depends on what you want. Feel free to adjust the quantities of the condiments you use too. This tastes better after wallowing in its own sauce for a day.

I have included what is practically a step by step photo-guide of the entire cooking process, which can be divided into the following tasks: making porky batter and chopping onions; frying porky batter; frying onions and simmering porky omelettes with onions. As you can see, I made quite a lot this time round. Pot luck pot luck!!!

(makes enough for 4 as a side dish)
200g pork (tenderloin) 200g eggs
4 large onions
soy sauce

white pepperoil
  • Mince the pork until it is only slightly chunk- if you smear it between your fingers, it should have a little bit of texture.
  • Beat the eggs together.
  • Pour a bit of the egg into the pork and mix until homogenous (don't do as I have depicted in my photo which is to tip all the eggs in with the pork at once- it will take an age to mix them together properly).
  • Once the egg is fully incorporated into the meat, add a little more and beat, and on and on until there is no more egg left. The batter should be reasonably thick and gobby.
  • Season with salt (you may want to use soy sauce/white pepper as well, but I prefer to reserve that for the sauce only).
  • Pour some high smoking point oil into a hot pan and spread by tipping pan until the base of the pan is covered in oil (best not to use a non-stick pan for better fried results but then you will need to use more oil).
  • When the oil is hot, ladle a tablespoon of batter into the pan. Each tablespoon makes one mini omelette. Fry up as many as you can at a time without overcrowding the pan BUT it is a good idea to fry a tiny blob of batter off first and taste it to ensure the texture and season is as intended. If not, you can always add more egg/pork/seasoning. Only once you are happy with it, fry off the rest of the batter as follows.
  • When the edges have firmed up and the base nicely browned, fold the omelette into two to create a half moon effect. Alternatively, you can flip the omelette at this point. Flipping will increase the yummy fried surface area BUT folding means you have a thicker pillowy omelette to chomp into. 
  • Brown both sides of the omelette. It doesn't matter if the omelettes are fully cooked through at this point as you will be simmering it again later.
  • Set the fried mini omelette aside in a bowl lined with kitchen towels to absorb excess oil, and continue to fry off the batter. You will need to add a little more oil with every now and then. Don't pour in a huge glug at the beginning but keep oil levels constant throughout. The oil is also quite useful in lowering the temperature of the pan if it gets too hot.
  • Peel and chop onions into fairly chunky rings (I know, I am not cutting along the onion but this is what my dad has always done and what I shall do too).
  • Pour a little oil into a hot pan (the same that you used for the frying so you keep all the taste and wonderful burnt bits)
  • When the oil is hot, throw in the onions and give them a quick toss.
  • Season with a fair amount of salt for the sweating of the onions.
  • Once the onions are faintly translucent, add in the fried off mini porky omelettes and give them a good mix (though don't be too vigorous and break up your omelettes)
  • Pour in quite a lot of soy sauce, add a little white pepper (white pls!!! not black) and some sugar and simmer for as long as you linke. Simmering the soy sauce will remove its harshness and sweeten it so if you chose to add more soy sauce later on, make sure to boil it out. White pepper and egg is favourite Chinese combination. The sugar is for a little additional sweetness (don't use too much!) and is my dad's tricksie ingredient.

Dinner hasn't happened yet (rawr!!! can't wait) but here are some toothsome photos of my reunion dinner some two weeks ago. My Lord has really blessed me by making these wonderful people a part of my life.

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Friday, 22 February 2013

kuih kapit

Kuih kapit, or loveletters, are my favourite Chinese New Year cookie. They are super thin and delicate wafer-like sheets that are either rolled into a cigar or folded into quarters like pancakes. I rather the pancake version for then I can take a stack from the jar, taking care to seal the jar back carefully after to prevent the kuih kapit from softening, cosy down in a chair and snap the biscuit into quarters by carefully unfolding it. Awesome! Suddenly I have quadrupled my biscuit stash XD. This means I won't get the multiple crunch as I bite down, but happiness is extended four-fold nonetheless.

Sitting in the UK, CNY time can be mildly frustrating as Chinatown does churn out cookies for the occasion but they are a paltry substitute to what is had in Malaysia. I want to share the wonderful food from home but can't bring myself to gift these as they just aren't to the standard. Kuih kapit, for example, is available here but much thicker than would be acceptable at home, nor is it 'heong.' I'm not sure how to describe it but it lacks the coconutty aroma and feels a little stale. For sure, if transported to Malaysia, it 'wouldn't survive.' Market forces are very responsive with regards to local food products thanks to the rapid information transfer.

So naturally when I went home over summer this was one of the recipes I pestered my aunt to show me to make, it being one of the kuihs my grandma used to make. My grandma would dig out a trough and fill it with charcoal. Then, perched on a stool with a bowl of batter and some 8 kuih kapit moulds, she would bake the biscuits. It was a laborious process, not to mention fiddly. The biscuits would need to be poured on, flipped, and peeled off, as well as the charcoal occasionally prodded, and worst of all was the heat. The cooked biscuits would then be frisbee-ed to the children crouching close at hand, ready to fold them. My dad and aunt seemed to have a long standing joke over the shock of having a fresh-from-mould kuih kapit plap upon their thighs.

Initially my parents weren't too impressed by quest to make these. The heat and general mess created cropped up a few times. However, my aunt quickly pacified them, having learnt a more kitchen friendly method. Instead of using charcoal, oil would be used as a heat source. Thus, the kuih kapit moulds would be dipped into vats of boiling oil rather than held over charcoal. The oil would ensure a greater and more even heat flux through the mould, so no more speckled or partially burn kuih kapits, they would all be uniformly browned and everything would be speeded up.

Using this new method, the kuih kapit aren't crazily oily. The oil is just the heating medium and the majority of the biscuit is protected in the mould. The edges do fry up nicely, but that gets scraped off (chefs perks!!!) before the biscuit is peeled from the mould. However, having said that, I did find the kuih kapit made this way had a slight oily sheen to them and were marginally crisper but could only remain so for no more than 3 days even if stored in an air tight container. After that they started to soften. It must be to do with the shorter cooking times meaning that there is still some moisture within the core of the biscuit (to anyone making this, I would recommend using a lower fire!). Made the original way over a flame or charcoal, the kuih kapit remain pristine for weeks.

Nothing beats the texture of the traditionally made kuih kapit from Malaysia. However, for me, this at least makes an acceptable substitute and is far better than store bought versions in the UK.

150g rice flour        150g castor sugar
250g coconut milk625g water
350g eggs20g flour
  • Dilute the coconut milk with the water and add a pinch of salt.
  • Beat the eggs and add to the coconut milk along with the sugar, making sure it is a homogenous mix.
  • Sift the flour and rice flour together.
  • Make a well in the flour, pour in a third of the liquid mix and whisk to a smooth batter before whisking the remainder until you get a thin batter. Hold some coconut milk back.
  • Fill a deep pot half full with oil (any cheap kind will do as long as it has a high smoking point)
  • Immerse the closed (!!!) kuih kapit mould in the oil to heat it up.
  • Once the mould is very hot, hold it open over your bowl of batter and pour a ladle across its surface. 
  • Clamp the mould shut as tightly as possible and put it into the hot oil. Be careful with the clamping as it will pressurize the steam from the batter (which is significant), and similarly be careful when placing in the oil.
  • When the batter has calmed down to a fizz, lift mould from the oil and scrape the extruding edges of the kuih kapit off as quickly as possible.
  • Again, working as fast as you can, open the mould, peel off the kuih kapit and fold it.
  • Ladle the batter over the mould and repeat a gadzillion times. The batter will get progressively thicker, and you will need to top up with more coconut milk to maintain the same consistency.

This is not something for the faint hearted to attempt. Instead of getting sooty with charcoal, this method spits oil everywhere. I would definitely recommend cloaking everything with newspaper before beginning. Also, the manic steaming and hot furious oil is a rather lethal combination in itself, not to mention having to play with the long kuih kapit moulds so please be careful.You need to work frantically quick to peel and fold the kuih kapit before it hardens. There is no time to faff with knife and fork, you really need to use your fingers so a little immunity to heat is necessary. I lined my 'folding area' with greaseproof paper so I could just scratch it out to fold as fast as possible. Lastly, it is all 'aga aga'. The quantity of coconut milk and water  given is the total amount used in the making of the kuih kapits. So you need to look at the texture of the batter, taste the kuih kapit and adjust accordingly. If it is too thick, thin it out with more coconut milk; if you want it harder with a more substantial crunch, add more plain flour, and if you want more 'aroma,' add more undiluted coconut milk.The cooking times will vary with the batter and the temperature of the oil, so play around until you get the coloration  you want.

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Monday, 18 February 2013

nian gao

Half way through Chinese New Year!

Nian gao (or ti kuih, or leen gao) is the ubiquitous New Year food. It is a dense cake of glutinous rice flour and sugar, traditionally steamed for a day over a low heat until the sugar caramelizes and turns a rich dark brown then dried in the sun until completely solid. It may be hacked into slices, steamed and dipped in salted fresh shredded coconut then gobbled. It may also be dipped in egg and fried, or sandwiched between a slice of yam and sweet potato, covered in batter and fried. Though, be careful with your choice of yam and sweet potato. More on yam selection to be covered in a later post on yam cake, but pick one that is starchy, not crunchy. Also, the sweet potato needs to be of a fairly firm, again starchy, variety. The commonly found orange fleshed sweet potatoes easily found here in the UK simply won't do as they are too soft and wet. In fact, to fry up my nian gao, my dad actually brought the yellow sweet potato with him when he flew over from Malaysia last Christmas. The photos I have put up are of him lovingly frying up a batch of my homemade nian gao for his eager kids. =)

Traditionally, steaming up a batch of nian gao can take from 8hr to day. Rather than waiting the age it requires for sugar to caramelize under these relatively low heating conditions, you can just caramelize the sugar first, as I have done, and shorten the steaming time. Other typical modifications includes: using a sugar mix of white and brown sugar for the taste, which I have decided not to do; or the (probably non traditional) addition of a tablespoon of honey for stickiness.

The pictures littered about this post are different nian gao batches. I made the nian gao wrapped in banana leaves back in Malaysia using the standard ratio of 1:1:1 by weight of glutinous rice, sugar and water (this is the Malaysian Cantonese style nian gao, other versions includes interesting things like coconut milk and Chinese dates). You can see the change in texture as the raw batter is first steamed then dried. However, I found the nian gao not sweet nor sticky enough. Also, I'm not sure how the drying pans out in the UK for when my parents brought this nian gao over during Christmas, after a few days sitting in London's drier air (heaters were also turned up then), the poor thing cracked.

The photos following this paragraph are a fraction of my nian gao attempts here in London. No matter how much I upped the sugar content, they never turned out sweet enough. Browning sugar takes off a lot of its sweetness. In the end I had to tip in quite a lot of sugar (uncaramelized) to make it sweet enough.

On a slightly separate topic, my dad tells of the most fascinating stories (to me at least) of his childhood when he used to have the grind the rice flour to help my grandma as she made these and many other Malaysian kuihs and hawker snacks to peddle. And what amazing eats they were too!!! But these skills and recipes aren't being handed down and, truly, it upsets me when I think of all that knowledge and experience passing on. But it is a common tale. In Malaysia, hardly will you find a person manning a kopitiam stall under 40. I'm not talking about those biggish places that source all their ingredients from a king supplier. I'm referring to the small little steamy stalls that needs to make their own cheong fun and siew yok to serve in order to make a profit. Have a chat with them and you will find that this is a secret family recipe they are dishing out, tweaked over the years to perfection (in case you are unfamiliar, these stalls often cooks only one or two dishes, but so so well). A loiter longer and you find out that this one recipe has satisfied the needs of the family and that the children are doing well in college. Will your son take over, you may ask, and you will receive an ever so slightly 'as if' laugh. No- the children have bigger plans and will do better things. But what about the recipe? Oh well... and a noncommittal shrug. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!

It doesn't help that these vendors don't have set 'recipes' either, but go by the 'aga-aga' methodology. Basically, that means guesstimation by look, taste, smell and texture. No matter what, the food must be consistent (true then and now). However the ingredients were not, and they had to learn to rely on their own senses to ensure uniformity. So, even if you manage to coax a recipe out of a vendor, it will hardly been in a replicable form. You can't quantify senses and the years of experience that went with it. Meh.

150g sugar100g glutinous rice flour
100g water            (banana leaves)
  • Caramelize 100g of the sugar.
  • Dissolve caramelized sugar in 100g water, stir an additional 50g sugar into the syrup (top up with water if too much evaporates away) and allow to cool
  • While syrup is cooling, trim banana leaves, wash, and pat dry. Soften the leaves by fanning over a fire or immersing in boiling water.
  • Line container with banana leaves. Alternatively, as I have done in the UK although this does not impart the nice fragrance banana leaves does, douse a sheet of greaseproof paper in water and scrunch it up. Unfold the greaseproof paper ball and use to line the container (it peels off the nian gao very nicely)
  • Whisk the glutinous rice flour into the cooled syrup; there should be no lumps (pass through a sieve if there are).
  • Steam nian gao over a high heat for 90min. At the end of the steaming, its surface will look crazily bubbled up, but it will sink back down as it cools. (Or, to prevent this, you can steam over a low heat...for a long time)
Good luck!

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Tuesday, 12 February 2013


That's right, pancakes! My nian gao recipe didn't turn out as sweet or sticky as hoped and while I chew my way through various modifications, a post on pancakes seems appropriate given today is the eve of the Lenten season: Shrove Tuesday aka Pancake Tuesday.

These are the best English pancake recipe I know. They are thin and stretchy with wonderful crisp edges. Look how thin they are!!! For the remainder of this post I shall be throwing you photo after photo of these beauties. Also, look at Peter Rabbit! XD! Besides tasting wonderful, they also carry a goodly wodge of history to me that makes them taste all the better.

When I was younger, we often frequented a catered bungalow up on the slopes of Cameron Highland, Malaysia. It is a relic from colonial times, of a Tudor style and complete with white French doors. As if the house were not picture perfect enough, it was perched atop a hill with a marvelous view of the highlands and an immaculate garden. In the morning, it really was a sight to behold the mist slowly lifting to reveal little specks of other households in the distance. There were also precipitous slopes all around the house and I would spend much of my time there plummeting down them on cardboard boxes that invariably disintegrated leaving a muddy being in its wake. Eventually, once I had accumulated enough mud on me, I could slide down those slopes quite easily without the need for the boxes.

There was one last key element that commended this place to me: Uncle Wong's cooking. He was trained in France and sent forth from his kitchen a volley of absolutely delicious food. Food played a large part in these holidays. Breakfast was standard, and would begin with pancakes (the pancakes!!!), followed by crust-less toast, eggs, bacon and sausage. Lunch and dinner were open to the guests requests and always followed by a dessert and an offering of tea and coffee. Dinner was a slightly more proper affair for which the table clothes would be taken out and additionally came with a soupy starter. And there was tea too- his famous scones and curry puffs featured regularly.

Few words can describe the admiration I had for this unassuming man. Between racing around and playing games with my sister and his daughter in the splendid outdoors, I would tramp back in to watch him make the desserts I was so fond of. He had an astonishing sense of weight, and measured everything by a few quick hefts in his hand. Later on, when I grew wise enough to ask him for the recipe, I cross checked what he weighed out, and they were bang on the weight instructed. It was his apply crumble that became the first thing I ever made. To him and my grandma I owe my love of cooking.

Sadly, our holidays at that enchanting place are a thing of the past. When I last went there it was for but a brief visit. Despite the short time, Uncle and Aunty Wong were kind enough to make us these pancakes and a quick cup of tea. Just to return to this place after so long had me extremely nostalgic. Then, to be presented with a plate of hot pancakes and the smell of that ever so familiar brew of tea, I had to gulp back the tears. Truly, this is my happy place, and possibly my aim in life is to eventually own it. Then I could have Uncle Wong and family securely homed to do as they like, and I can sit and smell the beautiful highland air.

Anyway, so this is Uncle Wong's pancake recipe. As always, he measured everything by feel and I had to replicate as best as I could (I almost gave up when he started tipping the liquids in). This makes about 10 pancakes, which does me nicely for lunch. Mr. Pepperpot was not adverse to pancakes for a meal, and neither am I, especially when served up on my favorite plate of all time.

50g egg 100g semi skimmed milk
75g flour
125g water                            
5g sugar
1g salt

15g oil

  • Whisk together the egg, milk, sugar, salt and water.
  • Whisk in the flour and lastly the oil.
  • Lightly grease a pan with oil and heat over a medium-high flame.
  • When the oil just starts to smoke, start pouring out just enough batter to make a thin pancake.
  • Flip the pancake when the surface has dried up and is just starting to steam. The edges should be tinged with brown and just starting to curl up in crispiness. The underside of the pancake should be a lovely pale mottled brown.
  • Continue to cook the flipped pancake until its surface starts steaming and you can hear the popping fizzle down.

Don't use full fat milk or substitute the water for milk or the batter with be too thick. If you only have whole milk, as is the case for me, then just dilute it at a 1:1 ratio of whole milk to water to get the equivalent milk fats in the pancakae. Otherwise the pancakes end up a little too soft and won't have any springiness (I guess it depends what you look for in a pancake). For the oil, I normally use sunflower oil, or any other neutral tasting oils with a high smoke point. Or, you could use melted butter to make the pancakes richer, but I personally prefer not to, in keeping with my childhood memories of this pancake. The butter also makes the pancake brown a little too much.

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Saturday, 9 February 2013

Chinese New Year Eve

It is Chinese New Year Eve!!! Times to gather the family and to sit them around a table laden with good things to feast! However, as the better part of my family are residing in Malaysia, there shall be no visiting of relatives' households to recount the year's events, no continuous nibble of New Year offerings at each home, nor collecting of angpaos (red packets) and delighting in their monetary contents. Instead, celebrations will be limited to a simple and cosy hotpot with my brother and sister. Even then, this small affair may turn out to be quite a formidable task if the queues outside the supermarkets in Chinatown persist. My brother even spotted bouncers stationed at their entrances yesterday, strictly regulating the flow of frantic shoppers. Well, we may not have fish balls for our hotpot but we shall have nian gao (steaming as I type and updates of which I will present tomorrow)!

As a child I used to get a little manic this time of the year, cutting and folding up angpaos into lanterns of all sorts, cranes and fishes to decorate the house and garden with. I don't know where to find angpaos here in London, so it was but a solitary red fishy that I made with the angpao that my mum gave me for Christmas. I know that it is the year of the snake that we are entering but little red fish are the best!

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Monday, 4 February 2013

omnomnom@Cafe Sacher

So, it wasn't Hotel Sacher, the birthplace of the iconic Sacher-Torte, but Cafe Sacher we went to: a little branch of Hotel Sacher sitting in Innsbruck and serving up this delectable chocolate cake. For the sadly deprived who have not yet managed to sink their teeth into a Sacher-Torte, it is a dense chocolate sponge with apricot jam and encased in a thick pristine chocolate glaze. There are many variations floating about, but "the recipe of the Original Sacher-Torte has remained a well-kept secret of the Hotel Sacher to this day." Thus, I present to you, the 180 year old original as "made as they used to be in the 19th Century."

 According to the very informative menu provided at Cafe Sacher:
"The success story of the Original Sacher-Torte began purely by chance: one day in 1832 the chef de cuisine at the court of Prince Metternich had fallen ill just when high-ranking guests were e were expected. And so it was up to the young apprentice cook Franz Sacher to create a dessert thatwould satisfy discerning palates- and the Orginal Sacher-Torte was born. Wihin a few years it had conquered the world and pastry lovers from the countries of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the rest of Europe and across the ocean in America treated themselves to the sweet delight fromAustria. even Empress Elisabeth could not resist the cake of Eduard Sacher, purveyour to the Imperial and Royal Court. An original bill issued by the Hotel Sacher to the empress is stil being kept at the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv." (court and state archives) in Vienna.

Every once in a while the Hotel Sacher receives letters addressed "To Hotel Chocolate Cake". The recipe for the world famous Orginal Sacher-Torte has been handed down from generation to generation since its creation in 1832 and only very few staff members have ever seen the original, which is locked away in a safe. Following a legal dispute with competitors a decision oin 1962 that the cake produced at the Sacher is the only one that may be called "Original".

It is not only the perfect mixture of the ingredients and the right temperature and humidity in the bakehouse but also the exact sequence of the 36 individual steps right up to the packaging of the cake in exclusive wooden boxes that are crucial for the success of an Original Sacher-Torte.

Carefully packed in these elegant wooden boxes, the Original Sacher-Torte can be dispatched to your friends or dispatched to your friends or business partners all over the world. The Viennese, by the way, love their Original Sacher-Torte with unsweetened whipped cream and Original Sacher Cafe."

It goes on to give a little history, and a little more propaganda, of the illustrious Hotel Sacher:
"After several years in the service of Prince Metternich and other employers, Franz Sacher opened his own delicatessen shop in Vienna. His son Eduard enjoyed the reputationi of being "Vienna's finest palate pleaser". He was purveyor to the court when he opened the Hotel Sacher in 1876. In 1880 he married Anna Fuchs, the daughter of a wealthy butcher. Anna started work at the hotel right after the wedding. She immensely enjoyed the work and, given her husband's poor health, gradually took over the reigns at the hotel. Following Eduard's death in 1892 she ran the Hotel Sacher alone.

It was under her "regime" that the Sacher acquired its legendary reputation. And it owed this reputation not least to its "chambres separees" that were shrouded in mystery and the sources of many rumours.

The Sacher was a meeting place for the intire aristocracy right up to the sons of the imperial family who greeted "Madame Sacher" in her realm with a kiss on the hand. Anna Sacher had steered the course of the hotel for forty years and had turned it into a glamorous stage for leading figures of society, politics and arts. The Hotel Sacher then passed into the possession of the Gurtler and Siller families and is being run to this day as a family business by the Gurtler family. Much has changed at the Sacher over all these years and has yet remained true to its original style and ambition. "Everything that is new", says Sacher manager Elisabeth Gurtler, "is usually nothing but the promising child of time-tested older achievements, an ideal continuation of tradition."

After two years of renovation and expansion from 2004 to 2006, the Sacher team have successfully combined the house's well-known and cherished Viennese tradition with a unique lifestyle. On a total of seven floors the luxurious hotel now offers its guests 152 rooms, exceptional architecture, innovative design and holistic treatments at its exclusive new spa.

The Hotel Sacher is as much part of the city as the State Opera, the Giant Ferris Wheel at the Prater amusement park and the Lipizzaner horses. The Sacher, as it is often called for short, combines modern Viennese comfort and luxury with the charm and atmosphere of imperial times.

As you may have gathered from the rather effusive and disjointed bit of history given in the menu, Hotel Sacher is very keen to emphasize its originality. In fact, at the back of the menu they even provide a very explicit manual that you may be able to discern a true original from imposters. But regardless, the more important issue at hand is the taste of this wondrous original cake.

Actually, it was a little drier than I expected- possibly because I have been fed too much of the wrong type of moist chocolatey cake (or is there something wrong with meee??). The apricot jam running through and atop the cake was very welcome indeed. But I now know the measure against which all Sacher-Tortes should stand. What was a bit disappointing was finding those giant bubbles running through the cake. Some busy one has clearly forgotten the gentle but crucial tapping of the cake pan to release those big bubbles before popping the cake into the oven. Also, I am sure they could and should have made a tidier cut than that, what with the disc of Hotel Sacher approval smugly stuck on.

Besides ordering the "Original Sacher-Torte mit Schlag," we also had "Original Sacher Gerwurzgugelhupf (mit Ingwer und kandierten Orangen)- Vienese ring cake with sweet spices (with ginger and candied oranges)," and "Hausgemachter Wiener Apfelstrudel- homemade Viennese apple strudel." My favourite by a long way running was the gerwurzgugelhupf. On this spoonful I could wax lyrical. I know, that is a pretty shameful admission given we are talking about Cafe Sacher after all. But truly, the not too rich yet wonderfully moist cake (I feel an substantial lot of simple syrup went over this gugelhupf to make it so) was so good and refreshing. I even ate my bits of candied oranges and it was all in yummy.

Lastly, the Apfelstrudel! Hmm, so I'm still thinking about the gugelhupf.. the apfelstrudel was nice. The slices of apple of were nicely balanced between being mushily overbaked and crunchy rawness. It's all in the dimensions of the slices! There was a good level of sweetness (I don't think there was much added sugar) too. However, I found the pastry a little doughy. Strudel dough has less butter than puff pastry and rather than rolling and folding the dough to create laminations of butter, it is stretched to awesome dimensions and melted butter painted on (in fact, this great site depicts it all- I must try making it someday). So I was expecting a soft, not too buttery but flaky and delicate dough. What I did receive seemed to sit a little on the clumped-together stodgy side. Anyway, it was also here that I first encountered vanilla sauce.

(sorry for poopy photos- I felt a little conspicuous with my camera, even though it is only a point and shoot)

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