London is dark and damp. Walking Barney in Abney Park on Friday morning, the bitter smell of sulphur from the previous night’s fireworks hung in the air.
But all is not dreary. Our local church hall is hosting an evening of Sing Along A Sound of Music to raise money for UNICEF’s Sing for Syria appeal and my friend Liz has signed me up to help decorate the entrance to the hall in a suitably Austria en fête fashion. So last night, in Episode 1127 of my Jill Archer life, Liz came round to discuss the suitability of floral fabrics pulled messily from my craft cupboard and how many fairy lights was too many fairy lights. And by discuss I mean drink, and by fabric I mean wine.
The Sound of Music is the first film I remember seeing, with my dad and my grandmother, aged about five or six, back in the day when small market towns still had cinemas, so it’s always had a special place in my heart.
I also spent part of the summer I was 15 staying with friends of my parents in Vienna. My strongest memory of that trip is seeing women wearing dirndls in an entirely unironic fashion, to go to the office or walk to the post box. But I also remember eating liptauer, the hummus of the Austro-Hungarian empire, as a mid-afternoon snack. This spicy, paprika-spiked spread is terribly easy to make and I thought it would see Liz and I through our important decoration discussions. And it goes well with wine.
You can leave the butter out of this if you like (that’s not something I often say), and just make up the weight with more cream cheese or quark. Or you can substitute some cottage cheese for either. Just make sure it’s mixed until very well blended.
Serves 4 as a snack, or more as part of a selection of starters
100g butter, softened
200g quark (or cottage cheese, if that’s your thing)
180g tub of cream cheese
3-4 cornichons, diced
3 spring onions, white and pale green part only, finely diced
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp capers, rinsed if salted, roughly chopped
2 tsps white wine vinegar, cider vinegar or juice from the cornichon jar
1 tsp caraway seeds
A good pinch of hot paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Rye bread, more cornichons and other pickles, chopped boiled egg
In a mixer or with a wooden spoon, beat the butter until smooth then beat in the quark and cream cheese a little at a time until very smooth. Beat the rest of the ingredients until well combined. Taste and season with more salt, pepper and/or vinegar or cornichon juice if required.
You can make the liptauer up to a couple of days ahead. I suggest you make it at least a couple of hours ahead for the flavours to develop. Seal in a tub or in a bowl with clingfilm and remove from the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it. Give it a good stir, spoon it into a serving bowl and sprinkle over some hot paprika.
Serve with rye bread (you can lightly toast this if you like) and more pickles, and/or some chopped boiled egg.