Saturday, September 26, 2009

Viennese Shortbread Cookies & Salzburg

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I realized, more than a year after my trip, that I still haven't told you about Salzburg. It was one of those places, like Buenos Aires or Santorini, that I've always wanted to visit just because I had the inescapable feeling that I would find a little magic among its old, winding streets. Everyone told us not to go; they said there was "nothing to do there" (how I hate that trite, useless phrase!). We went anyway, and we fell in love.

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It's hard to describe all the charm, all the gentle loveliness of Salzburg. Beyond the Mozart chocolates and the bright, colorful bustle of its plazas and markets, we found that magic I always knew was there. We found it everywhere, just underneath the surface - in the call of a half-familiar song that always seemed just around the corner, the ancient fortress watching over the stately buildings, the quick splash of the fountains and the flowers in unexpected places.

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The past rulers of Salzburg seemed like people after my own heart. They encouraged commerce; built a fortress which could hold and protect all the people in a pinch; one of their palaces has sparkly chandeliers and delicious nooks and crannies, and the other, just down the street, a most magnificent garden with flower-lined paths and mysterious, shaded corners. There was a torture tower where, so it is claimed, no one was ever tortured, and though I am not naive enough to believe that all was happy all the time, I'd like to think that bad times passed by quickly in this beautiful, charmed place.

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There are many stories my sister and I took away from our time in Salzburg. Disproportionately many, really, when you consider the short time we spent there. It started from the very beginning, as if the city was trying to show up all those nay-sayers who tried to prevent us from coming here. We were wandering around the 1000-year old fortress that stands on a hill above Salzburg - a mini city in itself - when we heard chanting voices. Naturally, we followed the sound, we could not resist. It was the first of many times when we would follow the sound of music in Salzburg and discover something completely unexpected. We came to a low door with red and blue stained glass. We opened it a tiny chink. It was really like a scene out of a movie - a small stone chamber with an altar and about twenty or thirty men, kneeling and chanting a prayer we did not recognize. We snuck away quietly, and then watched the men - in business suits and with briefcases - emerge from the room and leave their separate ways. Was it a meeting of a secret society? A cult? Mysterious choir practice? We never found out; in fact, we never asked. It was part of the magic that we should continue guessing.

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The one thing you cannot escape while in Salzburg (and why would you want to?) is chocolate. There is chocolate everywhere, dark and light, wrapped in the most enticing array of Christmas-colored wrappers; chocolate bars and chocolate liqueurs, chocolate truffles, tarts and macarons; and of course, we brought some back with us (though *ehem* not all of it actually made it back... sorry, mom). There was a whole aisle of chocolate at the supermarket - a whole aisle! - my sister had to stage an intervention to drag me away. And everywhere we went after Salzburg, my carefully-wrapped chocolate liqueurs were unwrapped, inspected, and put back into my suitcase most reluctantly. I believe that if they hadn't been exactly compliant with airplane policies, there would have been at least a few slightly squiffy Air France employees bumping into each other at the Charles de Gaulle airport.

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For people who like to "do" things, I suppose I should tell you to make your travel plans in a different place because we didn't climb any mountains or do any special activities while there (unless one considers shopping and eating chocolate an acceptable form of special activity, in which case, hey, you found your spot). We sat on benches underneath overhanging flowers, ate ridiculously good pizza, chocolate and cookies, took long walks down streets that ended in small churches and listened to a piano player play Brahms' Hungarian dances in the main plaza. We lost our hearts to this city, absolutely and without reservations, because we found music there, just when we needed it most.

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*And the winner of the giveaway is:* if you've stuck with this long post this far, you're probably wondering who won the book featured two posts ago. The random number generator picked no. 6, and I was very excited to learn that it is my very good friend, Brentwood Kitchen Shopper! She loves food and I just know she is going to love this book! Congrats, BK!

Viennese Lemon Cookies

Why Viennese, you ask, if this post is about Salzburg? Well - we ate cookies just like that while there - tender shortbread piped into shapes with a star tip and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Their elegant simplicity reminded me so much of the city that I wanted to share them with you. The recipe comes from the always beautiful blog Fragrante Delicia, and the only thing I would change next time is to swap the whole wheat flour for all purpose flour because I think shortbread should be as sinful as possible. I substituted orange zest for lemon zest because I had oranges on hand.

Viennese Shortbread Cookies
via Leonor at Flagrante Delicia

makes 12 [I got about 16]:

50 g powdered sugar
125 g butter, room temperature
1 g salt
Zest of 1/4 lemon [I used orange]
20 g egg white
150 g wheat flour [or all purpose flour]
Powdered sugar to sprinkle

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add lemon zest and salt and beat for another minute to incorporate. Add the egg whites and whip for a minute or two, until the egg whites are fully incorporated. Gently mix in the flour.

Fit a pastry bag with a star nozzle and, over a siplat or a lined baking sheet, pipe "W"s or "S"s, about 2 inch height. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until cookies are golden around the edges [it took me a little longer, about 15 minutes). Cool and sprinkle with icing sugar. Best served the same day as made, but will keep in an airtight container for at least a few days.

28 comments:

VeggieGirl said...

I haven't been to Salzburg since the summer of 2003 - your photos just reminded me how much I loved (and now miss) it!!

Lovely cookies as well!

Elra said...

How beautiful Irene, lovely to see your photographs as well. I love Viennese cookies, although I haven't been to Vienna myself. I'd love to visit one day.
Cheers,
elra

Parita said...

beautiful pictures, salzburg is on my list :)

♥peachkins♥ said...

your photos are magnificent!

Happy cook said...

I would love to go to salzvurg once, my daughter and hubby went there but have not gone .
Love the pictures.

Junglefrog said...

I love your photo story of Salzburg! And you're so right; people often think "you have to be able to DO something somewhere" in order to enjoy a place but it's mainly the atmosphere and the surroundings that make something memorable!

Nutmeg Nanny said...

What beautiful pictures! I love that story about the men chanting....I wonder what it could have been? These cookies look great too....delicious!!!

Helene said...

All these beautiful pictures makes me want to go.

Denise said...

You've brought back such wonderful memories for me, I visited Salzburg many years ago, and it's one of my favorite cities. My best memory is visiting the cathedral where Maria married Capt. von Trapp and pretending I was her, walking down the aisle :)

Anonymous said...

These look fab, Irene! Yum!

Btw, planning on making your strawberry scones this week. Hopefully they'll turn out as good as yours!

Amy J

Manggy said...

As you no doubt already know, I love love love love love travel-food posts. There's not a lot of food here but the pictures just take my breath away (um... about the shackles one... hehe). People are crazy to say there's nothing to do!

Y said...

Beautiful photos! I would go just for the Mozart chocolates ;P

The Caked Crusader said...

I've just come back from Salzburg and did my best to sample every cake and chocolate! Beautiful place. Did you go to St Peter's? Far more impressive than the cathedral - particularly early evening when it's quiet and the chandeliers are the only light

Irene said...

We did visit St. Peter's! It was beautiful. We almost entered through the wrong door and crashed a mass there by mistake (whoops). Good thing disaster was averted!

Manggy - we snapped the shackles photo when the tour guide was out of the room. They *said* no one was ever tortured in that tower, but I have evidence to the contrary! ;)

Irene said...

Amy, I'm sure the scones will turn out for you - I've gotten lots of emails from different readers that it's a full-proof recipe!

Ingrid said...

And you're just NOW telling us about your glorious visit there?! :) Sounds like you guys had a perfect visit!
~ingrid

Peabody said...

It's so beautiful there.

willowbirdbaking said...

What a lovely post! Thanks; it was a joy to read.

zenchef said...

What an enchanting place. Thanks for sharing the pictures. You make me want to go!

À Chacun Ses Goûts said...

Oh those cookies look delicious and what a beautiful town Salzburg is! Shall definitely aim to visit there one day. Thanks for sharing :-)

Juliana said...

Really nice pictures! And the cookies must be so yummie ;-) Thanks for sharing.

veron said...

How gorgeous, it does have a magical feel to it doesn't it?

Irene said...

It certainly does. Even a year later, I still cannot help but smile when I remember the days we spent there.

Eileen @ Passions to Pastry said...

Beautiful photos! Viewing these reminds me -- I NEED A VACATION! It's not to be; not right now anyway. The cookies look wonderful, too.

onesilentwinter said...

something about this post has made me think of ny grandmother- she would have loved this!

Peg said...

Beautiful photos, Irene -- you made an excellent destination decision. I've missed reading your blog for a few months - there's so much to catch up on. (BTW, I now own the book "Tartine," at your suggestion -- mmmm!)Am very glad to see that Confessions is also on Facebook.

Chocolate Shavings said...

Those photos are beautiful - makes me want to hop on a plane right this second!

Anonymous said...

These pictures are amazing! Reminds me of my time in Bonn in Germany...all I want to know is what make is your camera!?