The world is full of great desserts. Cannoli. Crème brûlée. Galaktobureko. Gulab jamun. Hong Kong-style egg custard tarts. And in the mountains of Austria, a land already renowned for its sweeter offerings, I discovered another great dessert: kaiserschmarrn.
Literally translated, kaiserschmarrn is “the Emperor’s mess.” The Emperor in question is Franz Joseph I, who, according to legend, greatly approved of the dessert which had been futilely concocted for his waistline-obsessed wife as a diet option. (Though, to Elisabeth’s credit, there is absolutely, positively nothing light about this dish.)
The mess, that magical mess, is, according to Wikipedia, a “light, caramelized pancake made from a sweet batter using flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and milk, baked in butter.” While frying, it is split into pieces and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. When it is made especially well, as at the dining room of the Hotel Gasthof Post in beautiful Lech am Arlberg, there is lots and lots of butter involved, and the bottoms of the pancake pieces become a rich, crispy caramel.
At its finest, the dish is plated tableside out of an enormous copper pan by men in tracht jackets and women in dirndls who, as soon as you have finished one helping, will swiftly refill your plate with another. Even in the height of winter, it is lovely eaten al fresco on a sunny patio overlooking a ridge of Alps.
The dish is accompanied by a particularly luscious plum compote called Zwetschkenröster. I am convinced there are no more beautiful words in Austrian-lilted English than, “More plum sauce?” There is never enough plum sauce.
There is no schlag, but schlag, I imagine, would be, as it almost always is, a wonderful addition.
Most magnificent of all, this dessert is not just eaten as dessert. Rather, in the tourist towns and ski resorts of western Austria, kaiserschmarrn the dessert is also kaiserschmarrn the beautifully decadent lunch. At the Post, I observed in great admiration as a trio of hungry skiers, still in their snow-covered ski boots, downed two large copper pans of kaiserschmarrn in quick succession, each containing several portions each. I hope someday to have the tremendous appetite for kaiserschmarrn of a trio of hungry skiers.