Coffee and cake, anyone?
This Europe-wide tradition transcends age divides, and is a fall-back for almost any occasion. From bright young snowboarders taking a break from the piste, to otogenarians meeting for a cuppa; from people in ‘informal’ job interviews to romantics on a tentative first date; people understand the universal language of coffee and cake. It’s a treat, a delicacy, a pit-stop in a hectic world.
And, of course, one of the beauties of travel in Europe is trying out the different traditions in coffee and cake. Here are five of my favourites.
In September 2002, kvæfjordkake was named Norway’s national cake. Traditionally eaten on the country’s Constitution Day, May 17, kvæfjordkake features layers of sweet meringue, buttery cake, vanilla cream and wholesome chopped almonds. Nicknamed ‘the world’s best cake’ by the patriotic Norwegians, this is a energy-boosting treat, perfect for an outdoorsy nation that take their exercise very seriously and like nothing more than a long walk in the forest.
This speciality of Finistère, the westernmost part of France’s northern region, is translated as ‘Brittany Butter Cake’. That’s an apt description. More like a shortbread than a traditional cake, this gateau is made with oodles of butter, which is unsurprising given that the region is famous for its salty butter. With a hidden filling of prunes or other fruit, gateau breton keeps for a long time and is the perfect snack for a picnic on the Breton coast, or on one of the region’s spectacular islands.
This Viennese speciality is dense with velvety chocolate and features a layer of apricot jam to add a little piquancy. The original recipe, developed by the famous Viennese Hotel Sacher, is a closely guarded secret. As well as being on sale in the hotel itself, the original version, containing three types of chocolate sourced from different countries, is also on sale in Graz and the ski resort of Innsbruck, where it fuels people against the cold and helps power their ski muscles.
The Vendée region of France is known for being traditional. Flan maraîchin, or fion, forms part of its Easter rituals and traditionally comes from the western part of the region. It’s not the most eye-catching of cakes – it looks a bit like an oversized custard tart – but it was described by my son as ‘the yummiest cake I’ve ever tasted’ on our recent trip to France. The flan is made using scalded dough, which is dried for two days then baked with a sweetened egg mixture inside. It’s traditionally served with raspberries or strawberries.
If you visit the Netherlands in Winter, you won’t escape the stands selling poffertjes, or mini-pancakes made with yeast and buckwheat flour. For a nation that is renowned for its pancakes, these little mini-puffs are the Dutch sweet takeaway equivalent of New York hot dogs, or British fish and chips. Poffertjes are served with butter, a dusting of icing sugar, and sometimes syrup. They’re a pleasing, filling bite that can be savoured at length, or eaten on the go.
What is your favourite cake to accompany your coffee?