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The battle of the cakes in Vienna: the Sachertorte

Sachertorte. It is the world’s sweetest culinary secret, has caused bitter legal entanglements and yet is still considered Vienna’s most recognised hallmark, together with St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Lipizzan horses. 
sachertorte © © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt sachertorte © © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt

Where to find the best Sachertorte

Viennese cake battle

Don’t trust any confectioner who wants you to believe that his Sachertorte was made from the original recipe. The cake may taste heavenly and the chocolate glaze may have a silky lustre, but the master confectioner certainly did not get hold of the original recipe. This, in fact, is safely kept under lock and key by the Sacher family, as securely as the legendary gold treasure in Fort Knox. Not even the Sacher cookbooks disclose the original instructions to the letter, but offer their readers a very similar recipe which was, in fact, at the centre of Vienna’s most embittered cake battle in culinary history. 

Smart apprentice confectioner

At the root of this cake crime was young Franz Sacher, a second-year apprentice at the court of Prince Metternich. In 1832, he faced the daunting task of having to step in for the chef, who had suddenly fallen ill, and conjure up a sweet which would round off an evening soirée at court. So, the bright lad mixed flour, butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate into a compact dough, spread warm jam onto it after baking, and covered the whole thing with a creamy chocolate glaze. So simple and a roaring triumph with Metternich‘s guests!

Sachertorte

  • Sachertorte © © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt Sachertorte © © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt

Marketing à la Sacher

It’s interesting to note that this cake, unlike many other world-famous dishes, is actually named after its creator and not its patron. Whether it would have garnered the same worldwide renown as "Metternichtorte" is another question. It was actually Franz Sacher’s son Eduard who dealt with the refining and marketing of the cake. The venerable Hotel Sacher was right behind the Vienna Opera house – what more could you wish for as a trading base?

Judge and confectioner

It was no surprise that a success story like this had many emulators and chocolate cakes à la Sacher were being baked all over Vienna including in the kitchens of the imperial and royal k. u. k. Hofzuckerbäcker Demel, which, incidentally, was where the young Eduard Sacher was apprenticed. This fact, together with a Sachertorte recipe which Eduard left behind, meant that this legendary pastry shop at Vienna’s Kohlmarkt felt entitled to sell an “original Sachertorte” with a clear conscience. Not for long though! Hotel Sacher raised an objection and thereby started an unrivalled contention that was to last for decades and was finally settled in favour of the family who invented the cake.

Sweet competition

Demel’s Sachertorte“, which the losing competitor’s sweet seduction was to be called from then on, suffered no damage at all. Sumptuous and with the typical apricot jam under the rich chocolate glaze, the version of the famous rival tastes just as delicious. Especially with an imperative dollop of “Obers”, as the sweet whipped cream is known in Vienna. 

A cake goes around the world

Unlike the Demel version, the genuine Sachertorte is halved and also has jam in the middle. Compact in texture and packed into pretty boxes, an overwhelming majority of the 360,000 cakes baked each year are shipped all over the world. It is indeed the chocolate glaze which ensures that this sweet cargo looks so good and retains its rich taste even after shipping. How is the glaze made, you may ask. This, too, is the Sacher family’s well-kept secret. And that is yet another story…

Sachertorte - the recipe

This recipe creates a sumptuous cake that tastes and looks like the original version from Vienna. A tip: get the glaze to the right temperature before pouring it over the cake in one go.
Sachertorte © © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang SchardtSachertorte © © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt

preparation time: 60 minutes

  • 7 egg yolks
  • 150 g softened butter
  • 125 g icing sugar
  • 200 g dark chocolate
  • 1packet (8g) vanilla sugar
  • 7 egg whites
  • 125 g crystal sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 150 g flour
  • Butter and flour for the mould
  • 150 – 200 g apricot jam, for spreading
  • Rum, if desired
  • Whipped cream to garnish
  • For the glaze
  • 200 g dark chocolate coating or cooking chocolate
  • 250 g sugar
  • 150–170 ml water

Melt the chocolate slowly (ideally in a bain-marie). Meanwhile, mix the butter with the icing sugar and vanilla sugar until creamed. Gradually stir in the egg yolks. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C. Grease a cake tin with butter and sprinkle with flour. Whip up the egg whites with a pinch of salt, add the crystal sugar and beat to a stiff peak. Stir the melted chocolate into the paste with the egg yolks and fold in the whipped egg whites alternately with the flour. Fill the dough into the tin and bake for around 1 hour.

Remove the cake and leave to cool off (to achieve a flat surface turn the cake out on to a work surface immediately after baking and turn it again after 25 minutes).

If the apricot jam is too solid, heat it briefly and stir until smooth, before flavouring with a shot of rum. Cut the cake in half crosswise. Cover the base with jam, set the other half on top, and coat the upper surface and around the edges with apricot jam.

For the glaze, break the chocolate into small pieces. Heat up the water with the sugar for a few minutes. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool down until just warm to the taste (if the glaze is too hot it will become dull in appearance, but if too cold it will become too viscous). Add the chocolate and dissolve in the sugar solution.

Pour the glaze quickly, i.e. in a single action, over the cake and immediately spread it out and smooth it over the surface, using a palate knife or other broad-bladed knife. Leave the cake to dry at room temperature.

Serve with a garnish of whipped cream. If possible, do not store the Sacher Torte in the fridge, as it will “sweat”.

Sachertorte: How to... courtesy of the Vienna Tourist Board

For the full recipe featured in the video by the Vienna Tourist Board please visit vienna.info

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