with no-fail peeled soft-boiled eggs technique, recipe
THIS is THE breakfast classic of Viennese coffeehouses. And yes, most Viennese I’ve asked admitted to childishly associating this pair of eggs with the male anatomy. They dismiss it immediately as immature nonsense and never articulated such seemingly puerile thoughts. But, as you will see, the unspoken link with the pair of peeled soft-boiled eggs in a champagne saucer is nonetheless striking.
All subconscious sexual imagery aside the wonderful part about this dish is it’s the egg lover’s way to eat eggs. I’ll share professional tips and tricks adapted for the home cook on how to peel a soft-boiled egg for this Freudian dish.
This breakfast is always exactly two eggs. Never three, like in a classic French omelet, or only one, like the single egg you get in a regular egg-cup. Even stranger is that the dish is often called Ei im Glas, meaning “egg in a glass,” the singular concealing the fact that they usually come as a pair. The name perhaps represses the significance of these two white, soft, warm eggs traditionally served in a glass with a stem. When it’s called Eier im Glas, the plural just indicates that there is more than one, the same way slang refers to balls.
And why this insistence1 on using a glass with a stem? That’s how Eier im Glas is served at the very traditional Café Sacher. The Viennese coffeehouse Cafe Sabarsky, at the Neue Galerie New York, uses a Martini glass instead. Same idea. Some foreigners are quite surprised at the way these soft-boiled eggs are plated. Granted, everybody gets the peeled part. It’s a very practical presentation, with no need to fuss with the peel. You just eat the whole thing. And the shallow bowl of the glass contains the eggs but gives you more room to operate than the restrictive egg cup. The stem, though, has no practical reason (or at least not more than for any other dish).
No one person or place invented this way of serving soft-boiled eggs. With all its cannibalistic and homoerotic innuendos, it must simply be the expression of the collective unconsciousness of the city of Freud.
Now consider the eggs separately. They have always been a symbol of life and rebirth. What could possibly be more fitting than eggs for breakfast after sleep, that experience of near-death? Eggs are considered an aphrodisiac and represent male prowess. Eggs have a Freudian connection too since the man never ate chicken. He held that chickens should be left to lay eggs.
But wait, it gets even better. Soft boiled eggs in a glass are eaten with a buttered Kaiser roll, or Semmel in Vienna. At more refined places one will get toasted brioche. Often bread comes in form of soldiers, those sticks of bread some call fingers, ready to dunk. You can make your soldier as large as you want, you will always be able to dunk it – or a spoon for that matter – into the eggs in the glass because no narrow shell opening is stopping you. (Is this a feminization of the dish? Does the dish get androgynous here? What matters is that the eater has to actually use a phallic symbol, to accomplish the empowerment.)
As a side note, I’ll add that the chives that often garnish the two soft-boiled eggs in a glass, Schnittlauch, are, according to Chinese medicine, supposed to promote virility too. I know, that’s probably overinterpreting things. But coincidentally, “起阳草,” chives in Chinese, translates to “the grass that raises your Yang.” Yang, as in Yin-Yang, is in this instance referring to the male “parts.”
Back to the point, the Viennese Kaffeehaus was in the past a place for men,2 patronized by cliques of like-minded artists, musicians, politicians, writers and free-thinkers. A male refuge, a smoking room filled with newspapers and conversations of a world that only very reluctantly had started to acknowledge the existence of self-determined women.
Sigmund Freud, who was passionate about smoking big cigars, was a regular at Café Landtmann. And even his Wednesday Society met for some time at Café Korb. Ironically, and to complete this picture, before World War II, some of the city’s coffee houses in the 2nd district served as prayer rooms for Jewish men.
The female side of Viennese culture took place at the Konditorei, which are patisseries or confectionery shops, that serve coffee too. In Austria, Germany and Israel it was and still is very popular to have cake and coffee at a Konditorei during mid-afternoon. Indeed, girlish pink is the signature color of a famous Viennese Konditorei chain, Aida. And sure enough, there’s no pair of soft-boiled eggs in a glass with stem to be found on any traditional menu of a Viennese Konditorei.
I rest my case. Make or order Eier im Glas to see and feel for yourself, and leave a comment below.
RECIPE for Viennese Soft Boiled Eggs in a Glass (Eier im Glas)
There’s only one way to eat the absolute tastiest and healthiest eggs, no contest. Get local, organic, non-GMO, pasture-raised eggs. They taste better and are better for you, because they’re from happier and healthier chicken, that actually forage outside in the fresh air! Don’t buy the free-range scam variety. Do the chicken and yourself a favor and don’t fall for grain fed either. Once again, your local farmer’s market will be your best bet.
Cooking time for Eggs in a Glass
There’s no consensus on whether Eggs in a Glass should be à la coque in French, thus coddled like very soft-boiled eggs, cooked between 3 to 5 minutes, with barely solid whites and served in their shell, or more like a regular soft-boiled egg, oeuf mollet, cooked 5 to 6 minutes, with a quite firm white that can be peeled and served whole, quite similar to a poached egg. I follow the practice of the majority of Viennese coffeehouses whole peeled soft-boiled eggs, though on the softer side.
As a variation, you could serve these Florentine-style (on a bed of spinach) or Provençal-style (on a mixture of tomato, eggplant and zucchini), etc.3
2 eggs per serving
bundle of diced chives
fleur de sel
a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
coarsely ground black pepper (optional)
1 Kaiser roll, “Semmel” in Vienna (or 2 slices of bread, toast, toasted brioche or challah)
Glass with a stem, like a Champagne saucer or a Martini glass.
- For convenience, use your eggs straight out of the fridge. And for consistent results, stick to that. Sort your eggs by weight, and thus cooking time (see table below).
- Fill a pot that just fits the amount of eggs you wish to cook with 1/2 inch (1,25 cm) of water. Bring to a boil and quickly add all the eggs. Cover with a lid (or a plate) and lower the heat. Steam them for the appropriate time. No more than:
55 - 60 g .... 4 1/2 min 61 - 65 g ........ 5 min 66 - 70 g .... 5 1/2 min
- Immediately and as quick as possible take them out the pot, because they continue to cook. Don’t put them in cold water. You want warm eggs in your glass! Carefully crack the shell all over and peel them. You can protect your hand from the heat with a napkin (and dip your hands in ice-cold water). If necessary, use a spoon to help you remove the shell. It takes a knack to get the delicate egg out of the shell intact.
- You may wish to prepare the eggs in advance. To do so, promptly drop them in ice-cold water to stop the cooking process. Delicately crack them all over. Put them back into cold water. Reheat them in the water to 140°F (60°C), no more. As they don’t risk continuing to cook at this temperature, you can leave them in this warm water bath for as long as it takes to get the rest of your breakfast ready.
- Serve the peeled soft-boiled eggs in a preheated glass with a stem, like a Champagne saucer or a Martini glass, with soldiers of buttered Kaiser roll (or bread, toast, toasted brioche or challah), accompanied by some finely chopped chives.
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- You’ll find this insistence even in some of the Viennese classic reference cookbooks like Das Franz Ruhm Kochbuch, in popular Viennese cookbooks like Die Gute Küche by Plachutta and Wagner, or in blogger Susanne Zimmel’s Wiener Küche.
Also, there’s a legend that the bowl of the champagne coupe was modeled on the breast of Marie Antoinette. But, according to Wikipedia, the glass was designed especially for sparkling wine in England in 1663.
- Some coffeehouses, like the café Schwarzenberg, had a Damensalon reserved for the ladies.
- For more classic variations, consult your Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia.