Fifty kilometers distance from the southern border with Slovenia lies Graz, an Austrian city oozing of art and history. Every corner in Altstadt (the "old city" center) is a postcard from 16th century revealing architecture true to Italian Renaissance style. Every so often you are greeted by Baroque facades where angels, flower blooms or fruit baskets are playing together in a "trompe l‘oeil". Pastel colours, wood carpentry and onion helmet „campanile“ , elements which depict a city with a mixed identity - sometimes Italian, sometimes slavic with roots in lands for which it was a capital once: Northern parts of Italy - Trieste, Carniola, Goritz and Slovenia along with southern Austrian territories - Styria and Carinthia were ruled by Habsburgs from Graz during 13-17th century. After Ferdinand I Holy Roman Emperor died, Graz, Innsbruck and Vienna became residences for his sons reigns - the power of a triumvirate: Karl II (Inner Austria), Ferdinand II (Outer Austria) and Maximilan (Austria proper). Karl II (1540 - 1590) became ruler of Inner Austria at 24 years old. His main mission was to defend the southern Austrian borders from the rising Turkish empire threat. Just to place him in a global context he was one of the candidates to the hand of Elisabeth I of England. Like for many others his intentions were granted with failure. After all Elisabeth did not marry during her life and remained in history as The Virgin Queen.
History made Graz the home of Austrian Baroque and not because of its architecture but because the most acclaimed Austrian Baroque architect was a "Grazer", Johann Bernhard Fischer (1656-1723). His father was a Grazer too, a sculptor and an artisan. He contributed to the interior sculptures of Landhaus in Graz a Renaissance masterpiece (see below). At the age of sixteen Johann became the disciple to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the "Father" of Italian Baroque sculpture. He studied and worked mostly in Italy until 1687. In 1691 emperor Josef I moved the capital from Graz to Vienna. Johann Bernhard Fischer was commissioned with the occasion of the coronation of Josef I in 1690 and won the heart of the king with his works, becoming the Habsburg court architect; even receiving a nobility title: von Erlach. Among his great works: Schoenbrunn Palace and Karlskirche from Vienna. Before living to Vienna, he designed the interiors of Ferdinand II Mausoleum, an impressive Romanesque edifice built in 17th century (see below 1)
With six universities and a simple statistic: "every 5th resident is a student" Graz is definitely a major centre of education. Almost 60.000 students live and study in the Graz each year, “forcing” the city to reinvent itself, to reinterpret the past and incorporate new elements, new flavours, to harness freshness. And talking about flavours the city is labeled as the Austrian capital of culinary delights. My short visit just confirmed: Graz does not fail its guests. Every street is hosting restaurants, bars, confiseries or bakeries for every budget competing for deliciousness and diversity. Few of them caught my eye, delightful moments of enjoyment, day-dreaming after each bite, among them: Frankowitsch (est.1932), Edegger & Tax (est. 1569) and Cafe Konig (est. 1918).
When talking of desserts in a city with royal bloodline, we expect well preserved technique and historic recognition. Still could not find any Grazer representative sweet dish like Salzburger Nockerl or Linzer torte. So I had to imagine. Graz blends ethnic influence, royalty and fusion elements in a very unique way building authenticity. I had to create a dessert that would incorporate at least few of the elements previously mentioned. Tough mission. I thought of a royal stiff laced collar (thereofore the "baiser"), the pink salmon hue of the buildings in Hauptplatz and the fresh vibes of the city (therefore the pink tart queen of spring : the rhubarb). I started my documentation with the Ribisel Baiser Kuchen recipe. I happily recommend the outcome - a perfect match of flavours tart / sweet.
Few words about "baiser" (literally meaning "kiss" in French). Baiser stands for meringue. There are few stories telling how this delightful sugar and egg white mixture made its way to our tables. And there are few recipes: Italian, French and Swiss meringue. As you saw also in my previous Schaumrolle article I prefer to use the Swiss meringue - because the egg whites are semi cooked and stable ensuring really stiff peaks.