Instantly recognisable thanks to its unique shape, the unobtrusive Gugelhupf enjoys an aristocratic history and a special place in Viennese hearts.
- Sponge-like cake, usually marbled in the Viennese version
- Apparently much loved by Emperor Franz Joseph (though, frankly, he spread his love of food around a lot of dishes)
- Known for the indented surface and characteristic ring-shaped baking tray
- See also: Vienna cakes
What is it?
Various recipes exist for this sponge-like cake. But the Gugelhupf’s distinctive characteristics are its shape, colour and texture.
In Vienna, nearly every Gugelhupf you find has two colours (traditional sponge yellow and chocolate brown), giving it the appearance of a marble cake. Most bakers add a dusting of icing sugar; a coffee house or Konditorei (confectionery) may serve it with whipped cream to take the edge off the relatively dry consistency.
The baking tin (similar to the Bundt mould popular in the USA) is circular with angled grooves on the outside and a Schornstein (“chimney”) in the middle. This gives the Gugelhupf its characteristic outer texture and tall, ring-like shape.
Although a firm favourite on coffee tables throughout Vienna, the cake’s origins go so far back in history that we cannot say for sure if it’s an Austrian original.
What we can say is that the Gugelhupf’s true home is in Central Europe in general, the lands of the former Austro-Hungarian empire in particular, and the city of Vienna most of all (though places like the Alsace might argue otherwise).
The presence of the classic baking mould throughout history certainly hints at the cake’s age; archaeologists found similar moulds in Roman excavations at Carnuntum, for example, just down the river from Vienna.
Another imperial connection
The defining era, however, for the Gugelhupf was the 19th century, when it migrated from a banal cake to a sort of status symbol, served at breakfast or with your mid-morning (or mid-afternoon) coffee or tea. A further boost to the cake’s social credentials allegedly came from the influence of Kaiser Franz Joseph (1830 – 1916).
Scholars associate the reign of Franz Joseph with many great moments of history. The establishment of Austria-Hungary, for example, or the start of the First World War. But in the streets of Vienna, people tend to remember the well-moustachioed monarch through his connection to such dishes as Kaiserschmarrn or Tafelspitz. Gugelhupf appears to be another food that enjoyed a thumbs up from the Kaiser.
The actress, Katharina Schratt (1853-1940), enjoyed a (very) close friendship with Franz Joseph. He regularly visited her at home in Vienna or in the country, where (so the story goes) she would serve him Gugelhupf. Hence the association.
True or not, we do know that Gugelhupf was particularly popular during the 1800s, especially in Vienna, and it’s from this time that the cake has likely inherited the somewhat aristocratic aura that continues today.
Where to get a Gugelhupf in Vienna
It won’t be hard to find. The last one I ate came from a standard bakery chain. If you do want to try a Gugelhupf, most coffee houses and your local Konditorei should have one. And, if you happen to be around at Christmas, there’s often a stand at the Schönbrunn Christmas market that sells lovely miniature Gugelhupf in cellophane wrapping.
As always, bon appétit.