Friday, June 29, 2018

Rhubarb Vanilla Danube Wave Cake & Cruising the Danube with Ama Waterways

I've said it 1,000 times. I am not a cruise person. Don't get me wrong. I love being on a boat. In the last 25 years, I have vacationed on liveaboard diving boats all over the world and would jump on one right now. The difference is most of those boats carry between 12 -30 divers. But cruising on a big boat filled with nondiving strangers? Doing "touristy" things? No. Thanks. 

Never say never, right? Because two years ago, I found myself on a small cruise ship to the Dominican Republic. The lure? A socially conscious based cruise and a press trip for the unfortunately now-defunct Fathom cruises. Along with my fellow passengers, I planted trees in a rainforest, worked alongside local women in paper and chocolate making cooperatives, and taught English in a middle school and in a remote community. I loved every minute of it. 

So by the time I was invited on an Ama Waterways cruise I had softened a bit on my hardliner "no cruise ships ever" stance. After all, this was a river cruise, not the monster oceanliner of my nightmares filled with the newly wed, nearly dead and overfed. 

The itinerary for this luxurious Ama Viola cruise is called The Romantic Danube.
I lived in Germany full time for 10 years, still have a home there and had been to the majority (some repeatedly) of stops the ship was making on this journey down the Danube River. Despite that, I was somewhat excited and curious to experience a river cruise for the first time. I was also happy to have an excuse to speak German.

Life can surprise you, right?

Invited to join by Vicki Winters, we flew to Prague from Israel where we were attending a travel blogging conference. Unlike the other passengers who had opted for a three-day, pre-cruise extension in Prague, by the time we were able to join the group, we had less than a day in the city. 

I have been to Prague before and had already hit most of the cultural hotspots. So I concentrated on the large outdoor market outside our hotel and wandering the streets to do a bit of shopping. 

Often I find the best thing to do when pressed for time in a destination is to forgo the urge to cram as much sightseeing as possible into a short time frame. Mostly I either pick only one place or spend my time walking around absorbing the local color.

The market visit and a long walk around the city were perfect. The next morning we boarded a bus for the drive to Germany. 

Vicki Winters, Blogger/Travel Agent Extraordinaire
On our way to the ship, the Ama Viola, we stopped at Regensburg, Germany for a city tour.

Of course, once in Regensburg, we had to drop in at the Wurstkuche - the oldest sausage kitchen in Germany to sample the goods. 

The bus continued on to Vilshofen where we boarded the ship to start our cruise. 

To welcome us, an Octoberfest style tent was put up right next to the ship. 

After a Bavarian-style celebration complete with band, beer, and brezeln, we returned to our cabins. 

But let me loop back to boarding the ship. Stunning is an understatement.  The ship is gorgeous, like a small beautifully appointed boutique hotel. 

The staff, service, and cuisine are all top notch. 

I was also seriously impressed with the daily itineraries. Visiting monasteries, churches, and historical sites. Biking and hiking tours. Cooking classes and wine tastings. 

There was much to choose from and definitely something for everyone catering to all fitness levels and interests. I took all the city tours offered and found the guides to be incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.

The ship also carried bicycles so you could easily skip out on guided tours and take off on a bike to experience the day's destination on your own.  

I appreciated all the little touches like the daily gemstone water and the ship's route tracker.

We had a chance the next morning to explore Vilshofen before shoving off to Passau, Germany where I opted for a city tour. 

The day after, we crossed over to Austria and explored the city of Linz.

Weissenkirschen and Durnstein were next on the itinerary. We squeezed both cities into a single day.

Weissenkirchen, a small charming Austrian village surrounded by vineyards. Home of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.

Durnstein is the apricot capital of Austria. 

I participated in an apricot product tasting there and then wound my way around the old beautiful streets, exploring landmarks and shops.

Stunning Vienna was next. 

spent the day on a city tour and then revisiting some of my favorite spots on my own. 

That evening, I met local friends for dinner. 

Our day in Bratislava brought a cooking class where we learned to make the local specialty soup and sweet plum Pirohy.

Afterward, I had some time to explore the city on my own. Feeling nostalgic and fascinated as this is the hometown of my maternal grandfather.

A visit to Cesky Krumlov the next day revealed one of the most beautiful cities I've seen in Europe. 

We wrapped up the cruise in spectacular Budapest. 

I've been there done that in Budapest, so I opted for another prolonged visit to the "Nagyvásárcsarnok" or Great Market Hall to purchase gifts and paprika.

And then a return visit to Buda Castle.

The next day, like all the other guests, I was sad to leave the ship. 

I flew back to our home to Germany where I spent a few days with the family before returning to NYC. 

I cannot say enough good things about Ama Waterways and my cruise on the Ama Viola. Even not being a "cruiser" and traveling an itinerary of places I have been multiple times, I had a fantastic time would book a cruise with them in a heartbeat.  

I've traveled to over 65 countries with many different operators and I give Ama Waterways my highest recommendation. Their ships go to so many other wonderful destinations so I won't say goodbye, I'll say Auf Wiedersehen.

Now onto the Donauwelle kuchen or Danube Wave cake recipe that was inspired by this cruise.   By the way, here is the Danube Wave cake that appeared on the ship when we cruised into Vienna. Gorgeous.

Donauwelle Kuchen in German translates to Danube Wave. The cake gets its name from the wave-like impressions on the top of the cake. It's rhubarb season so I put a seasonal twist on this traditional dessert.

Rhubarb Vanilla Danube Wave Cake
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Chill Time: 2 hours
Bake/Cook Time: 35 minutes
Yield: 16 pieces

For the cake layer:

  • 1+1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons milk
For the rhubarb layer:
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1+1/3 lbs rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
For the top layer:
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1 package (8oz) cream cheese
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
Make the cake layer:
  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  • Grease and flour a 9'x9" pan.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour,  baking powder, and salt.
  • Cream together the butter, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated into the batter before adding the next.
  • Add the dry ingredients and milk and mix until just combined.
  • Spread the batter out onto the prepared pan. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven, let cool and then transfer the cake to a wire cooling rack.
Make the rhubarb layer:
  • Trim the ends off the rhubarb. Wash and pat dry. Cut the stalks into pieces.
  • Place the pieces in a saucepan with the water and 1/2 cup of the sugar and boil for 10 minutes.
  • Let the mixture cool completely.
  • Transfer the cake to a serving platter. Spread the rhubarb mixture on top of the cake layer
  • Place the cake in the refrigerator for one hour.
Make the cream top layer:
  • Beat together the cream cheese, vanilla bean paste and the last 1/4 cup of sugar in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. 
  • Beat the heavy cream separately until stiff peaks form and fold it into the cream cheese mixture.
  • Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread the cream layer on top of the cake. 
  • Use a serrated knife, fork or decorating comb to comb the top of the cake, squiggly lines, creating a wave look.
  • Sprinkle the cocoa powder evenly over the top of the cake. 
  • Let the cake stand one hour in the refrigerator before cutting and serving. 

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