“Has sir or madam chosen yet?” – this is the only place in Vienna where you might hear this question, which seems as if it were from a different century. And somehow, this is true – the female waiting staff — known as the ‘Demelinerinnen’ — have been the good spirits of K.u.K Hofzuckerbäckerei Demel for more than 100 years.
I am curious what else I might discover at the confectioner that was so popular with the Austrian Emperor and make an appointment with Petra Gold, the Head of Marketing, directly at the Kohlmarkt. It is 10 a.m. on a fall day and, even though the confectioner is already quite busy, I can still find a table and am soon served a cup coffee at Demel, which has been situated at Kohlmarkt 14 for exactly 130 years — I found the address on my black/white WIEN PRODUCTS city map.
Petra Gold is a woman who lives in the present – although she loves tradition, as she tells me right at the beginning of our meeting – however, even this institution moves with the times. “Modern marketing is focused mainly on social media and we sell our products to customers abroad via our online shop,” she tells me. This is why we also need younger, trendier people to sell the confectioner’s products in a more modern, contemporary fashion. This seems to work really well: just now, a group of young tourists enters the shop with their trolley bags and stops respectfully in front of the large showcase. I am told that a total of 1,750 cakes, pastries and tarts are sold here at the shop every day.
Wow, this is quite a lot. How many different types of cake are baked and who bakes them? I am curious. “There are 25 bakers and confectioners working at the Demel bakery at Kohlmarkt, who conjure up around 27 different, fresh cakes every day. The most popular are the Anna Demel cake, the Fragilité Schaumrolle, the Punschkrapfen, the Dobos cake, the apple strudel and the milchrahm strudel, the Fächer cake and the Potizzenstollen.
These are quite a few, I think to myself – but Petra Gold is already continuing, explaining that there are also different types of chocolates and up to 40 types of biscuits and cookies on the confectioners‘ to-do list. Although, calling them biscuits or cookies does not really do justice to the little works of art I am presented, and their names sound like something straight out of a fairy tale…
Vanillekipferl, Mailänder, Nougatschifferl, Ischler, Marillenkipferl, Butterbrot (biscuits with a sugar glaze on top), and Himbeerschüsserl are the all-year-round classics – and an additional 30 varieties are made for Christmas. This definitely explains why there are lines of customers flowing into the street around the festive season, waiting patiently to buy their favorite bites. From meringues and finely decorated gingerbreads to divine chocolate creations – this could truly be the land of milk and honey.
How is it possible to produce so many different things, I ask myself – as the shop also offers savory and warm meals, as well as all the sweet cakes and pastries?
Well, of course, there are different posts and positions at the bakery, everyone has a specific task.
The strudel post, tea biscuit post, cake post, decoration and ice cream post – to name but a few. The ice cream post is only filled in the summer – violet and Punschkrapfen ice cream are very popular varieties.
I see – so what does a decorator, for example, do in the bakery?
Demel does special requests – individualized cakes are produced for weddings, christenings and birthdays – this means that a cake can easily have several tiers and sophisticated decorations. A challenge for the bakers – who we often think of as elderly men for some reason, which is completely wrong. There are a large number of young, female bakers and confectioners working at the Demel, all of whom really know their trade and let their imagination run wild for their clients. This is seen best in the shop windows that are a traditional eyecatcher at Kohlmarkt and are redecorated five to six times a year.
This tradition originated with artist Frederico Berczewiczy Pallavicini, who was married to Klara Demel – the niece of Anna Demel – and who began to decorate the shop windows in his own special way.
‘Prince Rehrücken’, a figure made from an oblong cake with chocolate icing, sprang from his imagination; his packaging designs are still used to this day. There is a lot of history and many stories that could be told about the Demel…
When it comes to the ingredients used in cake baking — the Demel does not just stop at eggs and fat, butter and salt, milk and flour and saffron, which gives the cakes that glowing color – the shopping list for a year would include the following: 800,000 eggs, 20 tons of butter, 50,000 liters of milk, 25,000 liters of cream, 30 tons of flour, 1.6 tons of hazelnuts, 1.9 tons of walnuts, 2.5 tons of almonds, 1.8 tons of marzipan, 80 tons of apples, 40 tons of chocolate and 5 tons of jam and marmalade.
What is also totally unbelievable is the skill demonstrated by the confectioners. You can watch them through a window in the rear part of the Demel.
“We are really happy to have such committed employees, who carry out their work with so much passion and love for detail – it’s not only the ingredients that make our quality, it’s also the craftsmanship,” says Petra Gold.
Right now, as we approach the festive season, orders are piling up – the DEMEL sends between 500 and 1,000 shipments around the world every month.
Are there any things that get removed from the product range — I finally ask. That is not an easy thing to do, I am told: “Our customers love the snowball, for example, a rather fatty type of pastry — round, deep-fried and sprinkled with icing sugar. It has been part of our assortment forever and people still keep asking for it – so, it needs to remain part of our range – no matter how many calories it has!”.
I say goodbye and leave the Demel, marveling at the shop windows. ‘Prince Rehrücken’ winks at me. The quality of the Demel is most definitely worth a walk to Kohlmarkt!