A lot of food likes to find some association with the grander aspects of Austrian history. Particularly, for some reason, the desserts.
And so it is with Kaiserschmarrn (or Kaiserschmarren), a somewhat rustical word to describe a rather sweet and pleasant pancake-like dish with an Imperial connection.
Inevitably in our complicated world, there are numerous variations, but the classic version of the dish is essentially a thick pancake that’s chopped into pieces, mixed with plum jam, and topped with icing sugar. Raisins are a common addition.
You’ll find it on many local restaurant menus. Here’s a fairly traditional version:
And here’s Wolfgang Puck’s “advanced” version with strawberries:
There are various stories around the origins, all of which relate to the name. Kaiser is German for Emperor and Schmarrn is a colloquial expression for a mess or nonsense, often uttered in exasperation at some unfortunate situation. Ironically, I tend to make a Schmarrn of making Kaiserschmarren.
Anyway, the most common story is that Emperor Franz Joseph was out and about in the Alps and dropped into a farmhouse feeling a bit peckish…much to the surprise (and consternation) of the farmer.
The presence of his Imperial Majesty sent the household into a bit of a panic. The farmer attempted to create a luxurious pancake for his guest but made a mess of it in his nervousness. He then applied a little Alpine cunning to save the day, shredding the remains of the would-be pancake, slapping some plum jam over it, and presenting it as the finished article.
The Emperor loved it. And so a dish, legend, and name were born.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s widely accepted that Kaiserschmarren does date back to the days of Franz Joseph (most likely a little earlier), even if the Kaiser part of the name probably stems from some other meaning. All that really matters is that it’s another fine addition to the choice of dessert when in Vienna.