Original Sin: Tasting Sacher-Torte in Vienna
During a recent visit to Vienna on a Viking Danube River Cruise, we couldn’t resist an indulgent detour: We stopped at Café Sacher to taste what many say is the best chocolate cake in the world, the Sacher-Torte.
The small café, which has its own street entrance, is located inside the five-star Sacher Hotel. The café is an elegant Viennese coffee house with small marble tables, banquettes with red velvet upholstery, and crystal chandeliers. Small paper menus are displayed on each table, suspended on a wooden holder.
Sacher-Torte: Not just a piece of cake
This legendary cake has been hand-made by descendants of the same family who have been using the same recipe since 1832. At the time he first created the torte, Franz Sacher was a 16-year old confectionary apprentice who prepared the dessert for guests of the court of Prince Wenzel von Metternich when the Prince’s chef suddenly fell ill.
Although bakeries and pastry chefs around the world have tried to replicate the popular dessert, the family has kept the original recipe a closely guarded secret for 180 years. Some say it is the mix of ingredients used for the chocolate icing, reportedly a blend of chocolates produced by three different manufacturers from Germany and Belgium, which separates it from the knock-offs and makes it impossible to copy.
The Sacher-torte is a rich two-layer chocolate cake with a thin apricot jam filling, covered by exquisite dark chocolate icing. Only cakes following the original family recipe can be called Original Sacher-Tortes. Traditionally, it’s served with unsweetened whipped cream. Why no sweetening? I suspect that one more spoonful of sugar might tip the consumer of the sweet confectionary over into a diabetic coma.
We had debated whether or not to splurge on the real thing when there were so many imposters in the cafés lining the streets surrounding the Opera House. But our mid-morning experience at Café Sacher did not disappoint. The chocolate was rich without being overly sweet; the whipped cream a perfect complement.
During our visit, we ordered a cup of espresso with cream and a cappuccino and shared a slice of the famous cake. Our bill, with a tip included, was €14.40 but the experience was one of the culinary highlights of our visit. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we purchased a “Lilliput” (small) version to take home from the confectionary store in the hotel. It comes in various sizes, each one packaged in a beautiful wooden box.
If you would like to attempt to make a knock-off version, the Austrian Tourism Board has made this recipe for a Sacher-Torte available to the public. First, take a peek at this YouTube video to whet your appetite.
Sacher Torte Recipe from the Austrian Tourism Board
7 egg yolks
150 g softened butter
125 g icing sugar
200 g dark chocolate
1 packet (8g) vanilla sugar
7 egg whites
125 g crystal sugar
A pinch of salt
150 g flour
Butter and flour for the mold
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
How to make it:
1. 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.
2. 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).
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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”.
Baking time: approx. 1 hour
IF YOU GO
Where is Vienna? The capital city of Austria in on the banks of the Danube in the center of Europe.
Disclosure: Our hosted voyage on the Viking Freya brought us to Vienna but any opinions expressed in this post are our own.
See Melissa Clark’s recipe for the classic Sacher Torte in the New York Times.