Kaiserschmarrn: What are the origins of the delicious dessert?

We explore the culinary and linguistic roots of the unique sweet dish, which is popular across Germany and originated in Austria.

Kaiserschmarrn: What are the origins of the delicious dessert?
Kaiserschmarrn served in the Zugspitze region. Photo: DPA

What is the festive season without delicious treats? It’s probably everyone’s favourite part of Christmas, from the Santas dipped in chocolate to the Marzipankartoffeln and the Stollen. 

And, to add to the list of amazing sweets, there’s the Kaiserschmarrn, also known as Kaiserschmarren. Okay, technically this dessert can be eaten at any time of the year. In fact, maybe at any time of the day…because who doesn’t love shredded bites of spongey pancakes with a delicious dipping sauce?

I had been dreaming of the Kaiserschmarrn for years. Friends who had visited Austria, where the dessert originates from, would regale me with tales of the Kaiserschmarrn arriving on a plate with a serving boat or tub of fruit compote for them to smother their scrambled pancakes in.

As a devotee of the humble pancake (I think it’s a solid meal choice that should be eaten at least once a week), I was intrigued to find out that this European variation of pancakes existed.

Well, reader, my dreams came true. On a pre-Christmas trip to the Altberliner Restaurant in Berlin with my Local Germany colleagues, I spotted the Kaiserschmarrn on the menu. Obviously I ordered it (our editor did too) and scoffed as much as I possibly could. It was one of my favourite food moments of the year.

Kaiserschmarrn with Apfelmus (apple sauce) from the Altberliner Restaurant in Berlin. Photo: Rachel Loxton

What's so special about the Kaiserschmarrn?

So let’s dissect the Kaiserschmarrn in a bit more detail: It comes from the word Schmarrn, a dish that's popular in Bavaria and Swabia in Germany, and Austria.

What’s special about the Schmarrn is that after the ingredients have been cooked together, it is cut into small bits and mixed up.

The Kaiserschmarrn is the most famous examples of this dish. It translates roughly to “the emperor’s mess”. There are endless tales about the origin of the recipe but most people agree that it’s connected to Emperor Franz Josef I, who was ruler of Austria from 1848 to 1916.

Some stories say the dish was originally cooked by a farmer’s wife who was visited by the Kaiser while he sheltered from bad weather during a trip to the Alps.

Another says it was invented by the Kaiser’s cook whose pancakes went awry and he styled it out in the most magnificent fashion by scrambling them up and serving a new creation.

I’ve no idea what to believe but I think the Kaiser must have liked these mushed up pancakes anyway. Who wouldn't?

How's it made?

There are plenty of recipes online and in cookbooks. Perhaps you even have a mouthwatering old family recipe, especially if you come from southern Germany or Austria, that's been handed down through the ages. 

The main component of this delicious treat is a batter mix made using flour, eggs, sugar, salt and milk and then baked in butter. Sometimes raisins are added.

The pancake can be baked either in an oven or fried. It is split into pieces with two forks and usually sprinkled with powdered sugar and grilled to caramelize it.  It's mostly served with Zwetschkenröster (roasted plums) or Apfelmus (apple sauce), and sometimes other fruit compotes.

We can probably all agree that this pudding is no friend to our waistlines but if it’s good enough for a Kaiser then it's good enough for us. 

You could say…

Mir schmeckt Ihr Kaiserschmarrn sehr. Kann ich das Rezept haben?

I really like this Kaiserschmarrn, can I have the recipe?

Ich hätte gerne den Kaiserschmarrn.

I'd like to order the Kaiserschmarrn. 

Let’s also not forget that Schmarrn is used in a colloquial way down in old Bavaria, and refers to silly talk. When someone is talking nonsense, and what they're saying is pointless chatter or gossip, it's Schmarrn. Someone who talks a lot of Schmarrn could be labeled as a Schmarrnbeppi.


Erzähl mich doch keinen solchen Schmarrn.

Don't give me any of that rubbish.

Er hat so lang geredet, kommt aber nur Schmarrn aus seinem Mund.

He spoke for so long, but it was just rubbish coming out of his mouth.


How to make France’s famed Île Flottante dessert

Île flottante, literally 'floating island', is a foaming meringue floating in crème anglaise (custard) sprinkled with caramel and pralines. It has a reputation for being a tricky recipe to master, so here's how you can do it at home.

How to make France's famed Île Flottante dessert
Photo: Paul Oatway

These step by step instructions, from France-based food blogger Laura Tobin, are easy to follow and should help you impress your friends with this tasty dessert.


For the Crème Anglaise (custard):
• 500 ml of milk
• 5 egg yolks (use 2 whites for the meringues; the remaining 3 can be stored in the freezer)
• 1 vanilla pod
• 65 grams sugar

For the Meringue:
• 2 egg whites (at room temperature)
• 115 grams of icing sugar
• Pinch of salt

For the caramel and topping:
• Sprinkle of praline
• 100 grams sugar
• 100 ml water

You will also need a small amount of butter or light vegetable oil for coating.


1. To begin, start making the crème anglaise. Cut the vanilla pod in half and with a knife scrape out all the seeds. Warm up the milk and infuse the vanilla seeds and the pod in the milk for at least 30 minutes, then strain the milk to remove the vanilla pod and any other large pieces.

2. In a bowl whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture turns a lighter colour and starts bubbling.

3. The crème anglaise has to cook at low heat, otherwise it curdles. The best way to achieve this is to cook it au bain-marie: not on direct heat but inside a pan full of water. You can use any small pan inside a larger pan, but make sure the small pan does not touch the bottom of the large pan otherwise the heat will be too strong. Be patient, pour the warm milk into the egg mix, keep the water simmering and stir the custard with a wooden spoon until it thickens. This can take up to 15 minutes.

Make sure the water in the pan does not boil vigorously, but just simmers away. If the heat is too high and the custard curdles, remove the pan from the heat and either strain the custard or mix it with a blender.

4. Once the custard has thickened, let it cool down completely, which you can do by immersing the pan into cold water. You can also cook the custard the day before and let it cool in the fridge overnight.


Making the meringues is not difficult as long as you follow these key rules strictly:

  • The egg whites should be at room temperature
  • There should be no trace of egg yolk
  • Bowl and whisk should be completely clean
  • Add a pinch of salt to the egg white

5. Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites at high speed until they become stiff.

6. Add half of the icing sugar and continue to whisk.

7. Once the mixture becomes firm combine the remaining icing sugar.

8. Butter four small but deep ceramic (or microwave resistant) cups and pour the egg white mix in equal amounts. Make sure there is enough room left at the top of the cups as the meringue will rise while cooking.

9. Cook the meringues in the microwave at medium power (800 watts) for 2 min 30 sec. 


  • For the caramel you need to follow these key rules strictly:
  • Never stir, touch or move the pan while the syrup is cooking otherwise it will crystallize, transforming back into sugar
  • Use a small but heavy and even pan. The heat should distribute evenly as you cannot stir the syrup
  • Keep the heat to medium, as a vigorous boiling can also crystallize the syrup
  • Be patient and be vigilant, caramel can burn in seconds

10. In a pan pour the sugar and the water and bring to boil at medium heat. With a thermometer keep measuring the temperature of the syrup, the caramel will be ready when it reaches 125 C. Don’t get distracted as the caramel, once it is formed, can burn within seconds.

11. Once the temperature is reached, immediately remove the caramel from the heat. Move the pan gently and not too far. Remember, too much shaking can re-crystallize the caramel.

12. Let it rest for a few seconds until the bubbling stops, but not too long otherwise it will solidify.

13. Oil four small bowls with a light vegetable oil or butter and whirl the caramel on the bowl with a spoon making swirls shapes. The caramel will solidify very quickly.

14. Time to assemble the desserts! In a soup bowl pour ¼ of the crème anglaise. Position one of the meringues over the crème anglaise in the centre of the plate to make the island.

15.  Sprinkle with the praline and top the meringues with one of the caramel curls. You can also sprinkle the caramel directly onto the Île Flottante, like in the cover picture of the article. Serve and enjoy!

If you want to save or print the recipe you can find it here on Your Guardian Chef.

All photos: Paul Oatway