A Mess for the Emperor | Posted: 28 September 2015
Winter holidays in the snow in Austria
Winter holidays in the snow in Austria
Winter holidays in the snow in Austria

If you’re tempted by dessert while in the German-speaking Alpine regions this winter, one to look out for is the intriguingly named Kaiserschmarrn (‘Emperor’s Mess’).

Intensely rich in flavour, yet deceptively light and fluffy to eat, it’s essentially a shredded, caramelised pancake that is served with fruit and a generous sprinkling of icing sugar.

Where the name came from is subject to some debate. One story is that it comes from a comment made by Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I (1830-1916) to his wife over dinner one night. He was married to Elisabeth, affectionately called ‘Sisi’ (the daughter of Duke Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria), who was a great beauty of the age and very self-conscious about her figure. It is said that in 1860, at the age of 23, her waist measured 16 inches, in part due to diet, but also through the fashionable practice of ‘tight-lacing’.

On the occasion in question, she ordered her chef to make her a light dessert that would not pile on the pounds (or cause her corsets to burst!), and he created for her the aforementioned dish of shredded pancakes. However, Sisi immediately rejected the dish, calling it 'a mess' – the word Schmarren means ‘shredded pancake’, though it is also a colloquial term in Austria and Bavaria meaning a ‘mishmash’, ‘mess’, or 'nonsense’ – at which the Emperor (who rather enjoyed his food) demanded to sample this dish that his wife had turned her nose up at. Of course, he loved the messy Schmarren – and the name has stuck ever since.

Another story is that when Franz Josef and Sisi were travelling through the Alps one day, they stopped at a remote farmstead for lunch. In a panic, the farmer’s wife threw what she considered to be all her fanciest ingredients into a pan to make a delicious pancake for her royal visitors. Needless to say, everything that could go wrong did go wrong with the pancake, so she ripped it up and smothered it in plum jam, hoping the Emperor wouldn’t notice. He didn’t and enjoyed it so much that he asked her for the recipe – and all was well.

Related Holidays

Holidays in the snow in Austria

You don't have to be superfit to enjoy following cross-country skiing trails through snowy landscapes and the tremendous sense of freedom they bring – a perfect way to spend a glorious winter's day with plenty of time to stop at a welcoming wayside chalet for refreshments, before heading back to your cosy and comfortable hotel for some top-class cuisine.

More about our holidays in the snow in Austria >

Whichever you prefer to believe, the resulting dessert is now a firm favourite in Austria and if you would like to make Kaiserschmarrn at home, it’s really easy to do…

6 eggs, separated
350-400ml milk
180-200g finely ground flour
3 tbsp crystal sugar for the topping
2 tbsp raisins
8g vanilla sugar
Dash of rum
Grated lemon rind
Pinch of salt
50g butter for frying
1 tbsp butter shavings & crystal sugar for caramelising
Icing sugar & cinnamon for dusting

1) Soak raisins in rum for 15mins.
2) Mix egg yolks with milk, grated lemon rind, vanilla sugar and flour to a smooth dough.
3) Beat egg whites with sugar and pinch of salt to a firm peak, & fold into dough mix.
4) Pre-heat oven to 180°C and melt butter in heatproof dish.
5) Pour in mixture and sprinkle soaked raisins on top.
6) Cook underside until light brown, then turn over & bake for 6–8mins in oven until golden brown.
7) Tear into small pieces & sprinkle butter shavings on top.
8) Add crystal sugar & caramelise under high heat.
9) To serve, dust with icing sugar & cinnamon, and serve with fruit.

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