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Vienna’s Best Cookies, Made with Heart and Soul

At her sun-filled workshop in Vienna’s 6th district, Adelheid Horvath invited me to sit down and chat about the cookies laid out before us: dozens of classic Austrian confections tucked inside boxes and a handful of chocolate-dipped Florentines elegantly displayed under a glass cloche. As she settled in to tell me her story—about who she is as a chef—she lovingly poured a bit of dark red liquor into a small cordial glass. She handed it to me and explained (in German), “I make my own brandies from local fruits like cherries and quince. This one is raspberry.”

It didn’t take long for me to understand that everything in her kitchen is handmade with the utmost care, and that if you were to blend together warmth, tradition, and sustainability, you’d get her confection company, Adelheid.

Few pastry chefs are as passionate about ingredients as Horvath. She told me that the German word for love, lieben, has the word “life” in it, and that those two things are the most important items she adds to her cookies.

During our conversation, she went on to describe, in detail, the source of all the tangible products she uses: pure dinkelmehl (spelt) flour grown locally. Caramel-colored crude sugar. Salt harvested by hand from a salt mine and left unprocessed. Natural food colorings extracted from elderberries and turmeric. And Austrian-made chocolate crafted just for her by Zotter. Her milk is raw and comes from cows that still have their horns, not cows that have their horns “burned off without anesthetic.” She said, “It’s not good to drink the milk of this cow. … positive energy is something you can digest.”

Her minimum criteria is organic, but many of her ingredients are classified as demeter, a difficult-to-achieve biodynamic certification.

So why make such an effort? Horvath started her business on the premise that people come to Vienna for pastry, and she wanted to create something special. She said it’s important “to go back to the original taste of everything, which makes us healthy and happy and is good for the soul.” She continued, “We can have sweet things but we have to be conscious of what we eat.” For her, that means buying fair trade, supporting Austrian farmers, and following the seasons.

But that’s not all. Horvath is adamant that you have to honor the circle of life. She said, “We don’t waste any part of the ingredient.” She looked over to a glass container filled with eggshells and said, “These go back into the fields.” She also saves leftover citrus rinds and transforms them into candied treats.

As she finished her story, she gestured toward the Florentines and lifted the glass cloche. I took just one to savor, but then couldn’t resist reaching for another. Without saying a word, she got up and slipped the remaining cookies into a small bag, thoughtfully tied it with a ribbon, and then handed it to me to take home. I considered something she mentioned earlier: that her basic principle in life is to give more back to nature than you take away. Horvath clearly gives back. While grateful for the cookies and time she shared, as a fellow confectioner, I believe her greatest gift of all is inspiration.

Horvath trained at famous Viennese pastry shop Demel more than 30 years ago, and she started Adelheid in 2010. Recently, she won the city-wide prize for the best vanillekipferl (vanilla crescent), Austria’s most-cherished holiday cookie.

While Horvath is looking for a storefront in Vienna’s city center, she currently sells her cookies at her workshop on Mollardgasse 85a/3/1 in the 6th district.

SmarterTravel’s Executive Editor Anne Banas is also a pastry chef. If you have any questions about this story or would like to share your own Vienna pastry experience, please leave a comment below. You can also follow Anne on Google+.

(Cover photo: Adelheid; other photos: Anne Banas)

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