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The Great Viennese Bake Off

Imagine a chocolate cake so decadent that it incites a 25-year long legal battle. Vienna’s famous Sachertorte provoked a lengthy dispute between two imperial confectioners.

Don’t trust any old confectioner who wants you to believe that his Sachertorte is the real deal. The cake might taste amazing and the chocolate glaze could have the signature silky sheen, but family Sacher keeps its secret recipe under lock and key. Even the official Sacher cookbooks don’t disclose the precise instructions, but offer a similar recipe.

It’s no surprise that the Sachers became so protective of their cake. One Viennese pastry maker in particular posed a serious threat to their dessert monopoly.

Created at the court

Franz Sacher was in his second year as an apprentice in the kitchen of Prince Metternich, when he unwittingly made culinary history. One night in 1832, the court’s head chef fell ill, and it was up to 16 year old Sacher to create a dessert for Metternich and his guests. He baked flour, butter, sugar, eggs, and chocolate into a fluffy cake, spread warm jam on top, and covered the whole thing in a rich chocolate glaze.

It took another generation of Sachers for this creation to make waves: Franz Sacher’s oldest son Eduard followed in his father’s footsteps and became an apprentice with the imperial k. u. k. Hofzuckerbäcker Demel. At the courtly patisserie on Vienna’s Kohlmarkt, Eduard perfected his father’s Sachertorte, and created the dessert as we know it. As a result, the pastry shop felt entitled to brand their cakes as the “original Sachertorte” and - for a while - Demel got away with it.

Sachertorte the viennese chocolate cake with precarious origins © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt Sachertorte the viennese chocolate cake with precarious origins © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt

Places you can try the Sachertorte

Sachertorte

  • Sachertorte the viennese chocolate cake with precarious origins © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt Sachertorte the viennese chocolate cake with precarious origins © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt

Legal cake fight

Eduard started his own business in 1876, by opening the now-famous Hotel Sacher. There, a few steps behind the Vienna State Opera, he also began selling his successful cakes as the “original Sachertorte.” This lead to a 25-year long dispute between Demel and Sacher - which the Sacher family won. Still to this day, Demel serves its version as “Demel’s Sachertorte” to a faithful clientele.

Claims of authenticity aside, the two cakes aren’t too different. Both have a moist, fluffy base and a chocolate coverture that melts on your tongue. While Demel’s Sachertorte only gets one coat of apricot jam underneath the glaze, Sacher’s Sachertore has a second layer in the center of the cake. Next time you are in Vienna, conduct a taste-test to see if the genuine Sachertorte is your favorite.

Hotel Sacher bakes 360,000 cakes each year, packs them into pretty boxes, and sends most of them around the world. You can order the cakes internationally from the Sacher online store. The chocolate coverture ensures that the sweet cargo looks fresh and retains its rich taste after shipping. How does Sacher achieve its smooth, resilient glaze? We couldn’t tell you if we knew.

Sachertorte

...a bittersweet symphony
Sachertorte the viennese chocolate cake with precarious origins © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang SchardtSachertorte the viennese chocolate cake with precarious origins © Österreich Werbung / Wolfgang Schardt
  • For the cake:
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 5.3 oz softened butter
  • 4.5 oz confectioners sugar
  • 7 oz dark chocolate
  • 1 packet (8g) vanilla sugar
  • 7 egg whites
  • 4.5 oz crystal sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 5.3 oz flour
  • butter and flour for the mould
  • 5 - 7 oz apricot jam, for spreading
  • rum, if desired
  • whipped cream to garnish
  • For the Sacher glaze:
  • 7 oz dark chocolate coating or cooking chocolate
  • 5.8 oz sugar
  • about 10 tbsp water

Sacher Torte



How to bake it:
 
  • Melt the chocolate slowly (ideally in a bain-marie). Meanwhile, mix the butter with the confectioners sugar and vanilla sugar until creamed. Gradually stir in the egg yolks. Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Grease a cake form 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 flavoring 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  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 cake in the fridge, as otherwise it will “sweat”.
 

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