Seeing apricots in the shops over the last week or so reminded me to try a cake that I fell in love with while on holiday in Austria, a rich, plain coffee cake called ‘Obstfleck’, or ‘fruit stain’ cake. While I am generally ambivalent about apricots, I really love the slightly cooked apricots in this, which are plump and sweet and slightly sour and work really well against the plain, buttery richness of the cake, making a dessert or morning coffee treat that is much more than sum of its parts.
Although Austrians love their fancy cakes (Linzertorte, Sachertorte), this is a homely sort of cake that a neighbour might bring over, made with apricots from their own garden. The apricot and the apricot season hold a fairly important place in the Austrian psyche, and especially so where were staying, the Wachau Valley, which is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been to. Apparently the Austrian word for apricots, marillen, is one of the few words that Austrians use their own word for rather than the German word (aprikosen) and they duly have a whole host of recipes to showcase their favourite fruit. Some of these marillen recipes include a lovely apricot schnapps, called Bailoni, as well as the faintly frightening Marillenknödel, which is a bizarrely popular and curiously leaden apricot breadcrumb dumpling.
It wasn’t just the apricots that made an impression though – all of the food and produce that we tried in the Wachau Valley was fairly exceptional – amazing fruit from roadside trees and hedges; cold Grüner Veltliner wines (sampled in cliffside heurigers, open for only a few weeks each year to showcase the new season’s wine) and odd, excellent village festival snacks, such as Romerchips, which essentially was a bowl of just-fried, hot potato crisps, served with a cold sour cream dip, and it was exactly as good as that sounds. I think the most memorable thing about the food was that everyone we met seemed to be growing or making or cooking something that was specifically linked to the region, and everyone we met displayed kindness and generosity through the medium of food: several neighbours wordlessly left this apricot cake at our front door when we arrived. Another neighbour, who didn’t speak any English, shyly, proudly invited us in to try his own Grüner Veltliner wine, which he had made in the garage.
Obstfleck – Austrian Apricot Cake
200g self-raising flour
200g caster sugar
5 eggs at room temperature
200g butter at room temperature
300g apricots, halved and stone removed
2tbsp apricot or strawberry jam
Icing sugar to dust
Line a very large baking dish with parchment and pre-heat oven to 180°c. Separate the egg yolks and whites into different bowls and beat the whites until soft peaks start to form. Add half the caster sugar and continue to beat until firm peaks form. Beat the egg yolks with the butter, vanilla and the rest of the sugar until pale and fluffy. Stir in the flour and incorporate the egg whites fully. Spread over the large baking dish to a depth of around half an inch and place the apricot halves on top (without pressing them in) stoned-side up, at regular intervals. Bake for around 25 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean all over, with no gooey bits (mine had a few gooey bits because my baking dish wasn’t quite big enough). Remove from the tin and place on a cooling tray. Warm the jam and brush a little over each apricot. When fully cool, dust with icing sugar and serve with hot, black coffee.
Cycling in the Wachau Valley in July 2008