Austria knows how to do Christmas. In winter the whole country looks like a snowy Christmas card with wooden chalets, sleighs and bells, and the carol Silent Night was written in a small village outside Salzburg.

On a recent visit I met the Von Trapp family, of Sound of Music fame, at their castle, listened to yodelling, and drank mulled wine while enjoying typically festive recipes such as Linzer cookies.

Even the younger generation, still wear on a daily basis, traditional picture-book outfits such as dirndls and lederhosen.

"We never wash our lederhosen," declared one cheerful local, who possesses ten pairs of the suede shorts.Ham & High: Sacher Torte is a great alternative to Christmas cakeSacher Torte is a great alternative to Christmas cake (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

Elisabeth Gürtler, whose family runs the Sacher Hotel in Vienna, home of the celebrated Sacher Torte, a chocolate and apricot jam cake, always wears a dirndl. 

I stayed at Elisabeth's magical pine-scented Alpine hotel in Seefeld part of the Tyrol region, which boasts mountain views, stags heads and painted furniture. It's like living in a fairytale, populated by adult versions of Hansel and Gretel.

Austrian celebrations start on Christmas Eve so celebrate Christmas by baking these typical recipes - Sacher Torte makes a perfect alternative to fruit cake.Ham & High: A Sacher Torte makes a great alternative to Christmas cakeA Sacher Torte makes a great alternative to Christmas cake (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

Ilse's Sachertorte (Serves 10)

My guide to Vienna gave me this fool-proof recipe for this delicious chocolate cake. There are two ways to melt chocolate: either Chopped up in a 'bain-marie', which is a basin set over a pan of boiling water, the bottom of which should not touch the water. Or in a microwave, in short 30 second blasts. Do not be tempted to go longer than 30 seconds. Chocolate is expensive and you do not want to seize it.


150 g butter room temperature
230 g caster sugar
5 eggs separated
150 g dark chocolate melted
230 g flour
12 g baking powder
Pinch salt
180 ml whole milk
300 g of apricot jam no bits

For the mirror glaze:
40 g caster sugar
40 ml water
170 ml double cream
200 g dark chocolate
25 g butter

Beat the butter with the sugar and egg yolks in the mixer until creamy
Add the melted chocolate and beat again till creamy. Grease a 24 to 26 cm springform cake tin with butter and sprinkle with flour.
Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very stiff.
Then add the flour (mixed with baking powder) to the butter-chocolate cream alternating with the milk.
Finally fold in the whipped egg whites gently with a whisk.
Pour into cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes.
After removing the cake from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for about 5 mins, then turn around onto a flat plate.
Heat the apricot jam gently until smooth.
Cut the cake in half crosswise, cover the base with jam and set the other half gently on top. Coat the top and around the edges with the rest of the jam.
When cool, cover with chocolate frosting (ideal is dark couverture melted with butter in a bain-marie).
Serve with whipped cream!
For the glaze:
In a small saucepan over a medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the water. Remove from the heat.
Add 2 tablespoons of the double cream to the sugar syrup
Melt the chocolate, adding the butter.
Add the rest of the double cream
Mix the syrup and chocolate mix together
Place the sandwiched cake on a wire rack placed over a plate to catch the drips
Pour over the cake, tipping it this way and that, to cover the top and sides. Do not smooth over, you want an unblemished shiny glaze.
Any extra can be scraped off the plate and kept in the fridge for other treats.
Ham & High: Linzer cookiesLinzer cookies (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)
Linzer cookies with quince jelly (serves 10)

You will need a flat baking tray, parchment paper or silat and two biscuit cutters one round and a smaller one for the insert


150 g plain flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
90 g butter, room temperature
60 g ground almonds
100 g caster sugar
1 egg
150 g jam (I used quince jelly)
icing sugar to dust


Stir together the flour, cinnamon and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs
Add the ground almonds and sugar then gradually stir in the egg, kneading slightly until you have a firm dough.
Flour a clean surface and roll out the biscuit dough to 3mm thick.
Cut out 20 biscuits and then using the smaller cutter, cut out the centres of 10.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Lay on the parchment or silat on a flat baking tray and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
Bake the biscuits for 30 minutes or until slightly golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Spread the jam on half of the biscuits then sandwich them. Dust with icing sugar.