For my über-manager Vanessa’s birthday this week I had two challenges.
First, she made everyone promise not to do anything for her birthday. I got around that issue by planning the celebration for three days before her birthday, leaving her actual birthday celebration-free.
The second challenge was figuring out how to do something meaningful for her, considering she’s not really a pop culture person who would appreciate a Chuck Norris or Joshua Jackson cake the way some of my coworkers did.
I decided the best solution would be to trade in kitsch for culture. Vanessa grew up in Austria, and I just happened to have an old Viennese cookbook that I’ve been meaning to try out, so it was time for Viennese pastries.
I had all day Sunday to bake so I made three different treats:
Apfelstrudel (Apple strudel) – I remember having fresh apple strudel at a market in Salzburg a couple of years ago and thought this would be the easiest authentic dessert to create. I cheated a little by buying the puff pastry dough, but it did save a lot of time and was still very tasty. (Get the apple strudel recipe.)
Tascherln (Jam Pockets) – If you want proof that I have terrible baking disasters, here it is:
I’ve never made a dough like this before. It calls for the yolk of two hard boiled eggs, which you push through a sieve, like this:
That part was easy enough but once I had the dough all mixed up and chilled it was almost impossible to roll out without having it crumble into pieces. As a result, every time I tried to fold the dough to make the triangle I wound up with cracks that let the jam out.
After making the messy triangles above I tried just cutting out two triangles and sandwiching them together. It didn’t look quite the same, but the dough stayed together better when it wasn’t being folded, and I was able to get 10 decent-looking pastries. (Get the tascherln recipe.)
Vanillekipfel (Vanilla Crescents) – These cookies were very simple to whip up. They reminded me a lot of the Russian Tea cookies I make at Christmas, but using ground almonds instead of walnuts. (Get the vanillekipfel recipe.)
To set the scene at work I brought in a light blue tablecloth and my fanciest thrift store plates (because my feelings get much less hurt when people break or lose things I only paid a quarter for).
I called it Vanessa’s Cafe Vienna, but just to assure her that this was not a birthday celebration, which was clearly verboden, I sent out this email:
Guten Morgen, meine Damen und Herren,
Just because it’s Montag (Monday), and for no other possible reason – certainly not because of any birthdays – there are some completely authentic* Viennese pastries over by Vanessa’s desk. Please stop by and partake in some strudel, vanillekipfel or tascherln.
And if you see Vanessa while you’re there you can ignore her completely, because this has nothing to do with her.
*Authenticity not guaranteed.