Late June and July is the best time to explore the Dolomites. This magnificent mountain area epitomizes the Best of Italy; stunning vistas, fascinating history and blend of cultures, and amazing and unique cuisine. Our Dolomite hiking tours and cycling adventures allow us a week to immerse ourselves in all of these as we explore the area. Rustic mountain rifugi nestled in these peaks provide ample opportunity to refuel on regional dishes as we travel.
One of my favorite local dishes that reflects the areas Austrian roots is Kaiserschmarren. Kaiserschmarren is a light, eggy caramelized pancake, baked in butter. The pancake is split with two forks into pieces while frying, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and served hot with apples or plums or various fruit compotes. It can be enjoyed as a dessert, or it can also be eaten for lunch or an afternoon snack at most mountain rifugi in the Dolomites.
The name Kaiserschmarrn or Kaiserschmarren takes its name from the Austrian emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I, who was reportedly very fond this treat, and served with jam was his favorite dessert. Schmarren refers to a scrambled or shredded dish, but is also slang for trifle, mess, or nonsense.
While it is generally agreed that the dish was first prepared for Kaiser Francis Joseph I, there are several anecdotes around its invention. One involves the Emperor and his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria. Obsessed with her figure, the Empress directed the kitchen staff to prepare only light desserts, much to the consternation of her husband. Upon being presented with the chef’s confection, she found it too rich and refused to eat it. The exasperated Francis Joseph quipped, “Now let me see what ‘Schmarren’ our chef has cooked up.” It apparently met his approval as he reputedly finished both his and his wife’s serving.
Another story is that Francis Joseph and his wife were traveling the Alps and stopped by a farmer’s home for lunch. The farmer was so nervous that he threw all the fanciest ingredients he had into a pan to make a delicious pancake; worse yet, due to his nervousness and shaky hands he scrambled the pancake. Hoping to cover up the mess he then covered it with plum jam. Luckily, the kaiser thought it was scrumptious.
One last tale is that the Empress was a poor cook and couldn’t flip a pancake efficiently. She decided to play to her strengths and shred the pancakes altogether and would serve them up to the Kaiser on a regular basis. Even as an experienced cook, flipping the pancake is always tricky, so I like that the final product allows for error here!
Kaiserschmarren can be prepared in different ways. Typically the egg whites are separated from the yolk and beaten until stiff; then the flour and the yolks are mixed with sugar, and the other ingredients are added. You can simplfy and just combined all the ingredients without separating the eggs, but the results will not be as fluffy. In the more traditional recipes only raisins are added, but now you can find versions that add nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or pieces of apple.
Kaiserschmarren – Sweet Crumbled Omelet
Makes 1 12” pancake
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon rum
3 egg whites
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup raisins
Mix together the flour, milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and rum until well combined.
Lightly beat the egg whites with the salt, until stiff, then gently fold them into the flour mixture.
Heat the butter in a large frying pan, pour the schmarren batter in the pan, sprinkle with raisins and fry until cooked on the bottom and the top is beginning to set.
Flip the pancake, add a bit more butter and continue to cook until the other side is crisp. Break up the pancake with two forks. Continue cooking briefly.
Serve, dusted with powdered sugar.