Updated: February 10, 2013 2:03AM
An Austrian city, relatively small in size but exceptionally rich in history, is the birthplace to many notable people and ideas — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, being one of them, of course. The other is a fluffy culinary delight that remains unknown on our side of the globe — the Salzburger nockerl.
With roots in the early 18th century, nockerl is a large, baked meringue custard erected into three large peaks that represent three of the five mountains surrounding Salzburg: the Nonnberg, Mönchsberg and Gaisberg. A legend surrounds the treat that names its creator as one of Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raintenau’s chefs, who first made it for the prince-bishop.
After his approval, nockerl became popular among the Salzburgers on the narrow cobblestone roads, getting its name top-billed at the little gasthauses and bierstubes for locals and visitors to enjoy as a sweet snack or an after-dinner delight.
The next two centuries solidified nockerl’s popularity. In a 1938 operetta by Austrian composer Fred Raymond, he called the dessert “as sweet as love and as tender as a kiss ... a greeting from heaven.”
Both Salzburgers and visitors to this ancient yet charming city agree. You can’t walk the same path that Mozart walked as a young composer without passing a little cafe or bierstube that plugs its own original Salzburger nockerl on a little chalkboard outside of its fat wooden doorway that dates back to 300 or 400 years.
Salzburg’s Christmas markets, or Christkindlmarkts, have opened to the public for the season, selling mulled wine and pünsch. The small groups of wooden huts peddling original Austrian creations settle in each square or “platz” of the old city, drawing in visitors with their old-time charm and handmade trinkets. But after a cold afternoon of shopping, a sweet treat and a warm cup of Viennese coffee is on the menu.
Most, including me, seek out nockerl. Probably every restaurant in the city has its own “original” nockerl, but an excellent find is in the basement of the S’Nockerl Restaurant on Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse — only a stone’s throw away from Mozart’s birth house and some of the Christmas markets.
Is it really “die original Salzburger nockerl”? Who knows. But it can’t be far off — none of them can.
The recipe has such simple flavors, it is best to leave it alone in its purity. Stiff, sugary meringue is folded in with creamy egg yolks, vanilla, a little lemon rind and flour. Out of the fluffy medley, three mountains are formed onto a ceramic plate pooled with a little berry sauce and cream. From the oven, the meringue is dusted with more powdered sugar to represent the snow-capped mountains.
Beautiful in its rusticity, a plate of nockerl won’t last long. The hot dessert cuts with a spoon like pudding. Smooth and custardy, the foamy dessert seems rich and heavy, but is really just full of air. If prepared with the base of berry sauce, the acidity of the berries will help cut through some of the sweetness.
Nockerl is not a dessert for one. Each of the billowing mounds is estimated to feed one person. If you’re traveling alone in Salzburg, be sure to ask for a single portion. They are prepared on the spot, so accommodating a solo diner would not be a difficult task.
Shamefully, nockerl holds no place in our American culture; but perhaps that’s just a part of its charm.
This Salzburg specialty is a delight for tourists eager to experience an Austrian Christmas. Here, when prepared during the early holiday season, it can bring just a little bit of the old city’s splendor and history to our tables.
5 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons icing sugar (or
1 teaspoon flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon vanilla extract or
one-half of a vanilla pod, scraped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup frozen raspberries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons kirsch or raspberry liqueur
Cook the raspberries, liqueur and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir about 5 to 7 minutes, or until raspberries are soft and mixture is runny. Set raspberry sauce aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Whisk 5 egg whites together with 3 tablespoons of icing sugar until the mixture is stiff. Add in the flour.
In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks, vanilla and lemon zest. Fold the yolk mixture into the meringue very carefully until all is incorporated.
Place an ovenproof dish over a stove burner on medium heat. Melt the butter, remaining icing sugar and cream, stirring well. Top cream with raspberry sauce, then form three large “Nockerl” from the meringue mixture over the sauce.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.