When I was back in Austria recently, I discovered a piece of paper in one of the kitchen drawers. It contained a recipe for Kuechelchen (meaning something like “little cake”) in the handwriting of my late Tante Liesl.
Tante Liesl was not an aunt by blood, but she played a highly influential role during my childhood. She was from Vienna, a retired kindergarten teacher, and rented a room in our house during the summer (I grew up in a beautiful village on a lake in the South of Austria) when me and my sister where little. She was an impressive lady – very composed and disciplined and very old school when dealing with children (she for example never gave us kids presents not wanting to spoil us and make us only come to see her expecting a surprise).
She adored me however and I loved her like a grandmother. She could be very warm-hearted (when she liked someone) and she was hilarious with a very wicked sense of humour. The only time she got really mad was when her daily afternoon nap was disturbed. My sister and I took piano lessons and sometimes, forgetting about her quiet hour around 2pm, practised the piano when she was sleeping. You didn’t want to cross her path then (her foul mood at these occasions may have also had to do with the fact that she loved classical music and we were about the most unmusical children ever, absolutely slaughtering every Mozart, Hayden or Beethoven that came our way).
She used to say one of the biggest advantages of getting old was the fact that you could say what you wanted. And this is what she did, being honest to the point of cruelty sometimes, not minding when she made enemies. She particularly hated “fat people” and the way they lost their ability to move and care for themselves when they got older.
She herself kept a strict diet, and did daily exercise in the mornings until high in her eighties. The last 15 years of her life she spent in a residence for elderly, where she lived in a studio flat with her own furniture in a lovely part of Vienna. When I visited her we went for walks and until her deterioration in the very end in her 89th year, she walked almost as briskly as me. On one of the walks she showed me the house she grew up in, a beautiful villa in the outskirts of Vienna’s 19th district in a huge garden. Her parents were upper middle class and she had a privileged upbringing until the family lost everything in the war.
She was fit in mind and body until shortly before her death. When her health started to deteriorate and she felt she was losing her dignity when her bowels and bladder failed her, she just gave up and died within days. She was a proud woman until the end and I still think of her a lot.
One of the few treats that she indulged in was Küchelchen, which she kept in an airtight box and fed to us children whenever we came to visit. I was so happy to find this recipe and my mum and I went straight away to recreate it, filling the blanks from our memories (the recipe doesn’t give much detail) while reminiscing about Tante Liesl. I should mention at this stage, that this recipe as well as the name Küchelchen are Tante Liesl’s brainchild, so you won’t find them in any Austrian baking manual.
The Küchelchen turned out just as we remembered them, bringing back pleasant childhood memories. I was surprised how much they reminded me of chocolate brownies. Â However, they are less dense (more flour is used) and are lighter too. The important thing is to make them slim (between 0.5-1 cm) and have them ever so slightly undercooked. After you have cut them into squares you can keep them for at least a week but probably longer in an airtight container.
When I made them in Austria, I used the typical Austrian 70% baking chocolate which I found crucial for the Tante Liesl factor. However, when I made the recipe in London using a good quality 70% dark chocolate the result was even more delicious and as you don’t know Tante Liesl and have not tasted the original, I guess this should be fine!
Like many old Austrian/German recipes, the ingredients are measured after the weight of the eggs (“eischwer”) which I will translate with egg-weight equivalent in this recipe. Weigh your whole eggs to find out how much of the other ingredients you need.
KüCHELCHEN or AUSTRIAN BROWNIES
Amount: 1 baking tray of 0.5-1 cm Küchelchen
Time: 30 minutes
- 3 eggs
- 3 egg-weight equivalent caster sugar
- 3 egg-weight equivalent butter
- 3 egg-weight equivalent plain flour
- 2 egg-weight equivalent 70% chocolate
- hazelnuts (I found it better to buy whole ones and cut them yourself getting different sized pieces than using the already grated ones)
1. All ingredients need to be at room temperature. Start by mixing the softened butter and the sugar until you get a smooth mass (use a handmixer or stand mixer).
2. Add the eggs and beat until foamy/ fluffy/ frothy (bakers out there, what is the correct word to use in this context?)
3. While beating on slow speed, incorporate on egg after the other into the dough.
4. Melt chocolate in the microwave or water bath (ber very careful not to burn it) and add to the dough.
5. Finally add the flour and mix, making sure everything is nicely incorporated.
6. Line a baking tray with a baking sheet and evenly distribute dough making a thin layer.
7. Generously sprinkle hazelnut pieces on top
8. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes on 160°C – test with a wooden stick if dough is cooked.
9. Leave to cool before cutting into about 5×5 cm squares.
10. Enjoy and try not to eat all of them at once!