Anyone out there who dreads baking and dessert making to the extent that even a thought of preparing something sweet to serve with tea or coffee sends you into an anxious state of panic? Rejoice! There is a ‘cake’, which – since its creation by Oscar Pischinger in the second half of the 19th century Vienna – has been a go-to treat for many housewives in Galicia, and still is to this day.
It’s pischinger, sometimes also called andrut – a cake consisting of layers of thin wafers and chocolate filling. Ingenious in its simplicity, it’s a wonderful quick fix for when we have unexpected guests or when we crave something sweet to go with our afternoon tea.
Robert Makłowicz, Polish journalist, historian and chef, famous for his charming TV show Robert Makłowicz Culinary Travels (that I grew up watching with awe), in his book C.K. Kuchnia (K.u.K. Cuisine) describes the invention of pischinger in such words:
‘To come up with something simple, one needs a vast imagination. And they shouldn’t count on gratitude for their invention, either. Humanity glorifies almost exclusively the creators of complicated things. (…) Real geniuses, creators of flavours perfect in their simplicity, dishes that are easy and extraordinary, are left in the shadow. It’s about time to light up this darkness.’Robert Makłowicz, C.K Kuchnia (2019)
Apparently, Oscar Pischinger was unsure at first if such a simple dessert would meet with any interest from the customers of his patisserie. The cake proved to be a hit, attracting many cake aficionados to Pischinger’s shop, and hence kick-starting cake’s brilliant career in Vienna and beyond. As Krakow once belonged to Galicia, it is no surprise that pischinger became popular here, too. To this day, this humble chocolate-layered wafer cake is a staple in many Galician households, loved for both: its flavour and simplicity.
Below recipe is my Mum’s version of pischinger, lovingly made by her over the years for countless family gatherings and impromptu afternoon teas.
1 pack of thin wafers (round or square)
7tbsp dark cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
finely chopped walnuts or hazelnuts (optional)
How to make?
1. Add butter, sugar, cocoa powder and water into a saucepan and cook on low heat (stirring often) until it thickens.
2. If you like, you can add chopped walnuts and hazelnuts to the mixture.
3. Spread the (still warm) chocolate sauce on the first wafer sheet, and repeat until you run out of wafers.
4. Wrap in tin foil, place something heavy on top (to press the layers together, my Mum’s tip) and set aside for an hour or two.
5. Cut into squares and done. Enjoy!