Name three things most closely associated with Vienna, and you get the three Cs: cake, coffee, and classical music. And No.1 in the cake rankings is the Sachertorte.
Read on to discover the cake’s history and where to get the best ones.
- Legendary chocolate cake dating back to the early 1800s
- Available in almost every coffee house and Konditorei
- The two most traditional sources: Sacher and Demel
- See also:
What is a Sachertorte?
(Chocolate-flavoured temptation wrapped up in a city icon)
The answer to the question in the headline kind of depends on who you ask.
The classic Sachertorte is a chocolate cake, denser than your usual sponge cake, with one or more layers of jam (usually apricot) and covered with chocolate glazing.
The result can be described quite simply as delicious, though some feel the layer of icing overdoes the sweetness.
The cake usually lurks innocently in a glass vitrine. As you walk past, it flutters its chocolate eyelashes at you, draining your will to resist a slice (or two). You have been warned.
The Sachertorte’s history
(Prince Metternich; Franz Eybl (lithographer), Franz Wiehl (Artist), Johann Rauh (Printer); sometime before 1859, Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. W 4444, excerpt reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
Unlike some “Viennese” foods, the Sachertorte’s origins are truly local.
Cast your thoughts back to 1832: a busy year for Austria’s top diplomat, Prince Metternich.
France and Britain were getting a touch too friendly with each other, the ink was still fresh on Belgium’s borders, and political squabbling across the wider German Confederation demanded constant care.
(Not to mention the troublesome Prussians.)
When you’re managing the future of Europe, the last thing you need to worry about is the dinner menu. So pity the poor prince when his chef was too sick to make a much-desired dessert for the diplomat’s guests one night.
Fortunately for Metternich (and us), the chef’s young apprentice rescued the situation with a rather splendid chocolate cake of his own making.
The youngster’s name? Franz Sacher.
And so the world-famous Sacher-Torte was born.
Franz’s son, Eduard, modified the recipe, and today’s Sachertorte now appears in many variations on a common theme. Its fame has gone global, with Franz Sacher getting a Google Doodle on his 200th birthday back in 2016. December 5th is even National Sachertorte Day in the USA.
Where can you get a Sachertorte?
Pretty well everywhere that has cakes has Sachertorte, though only one place has the right to offer you an “original” version: Vienna’s Hotel Sacher, opened by Eduard himself in 1876.
The Sacher version
(An advert or advertorial from around 1870 for Eduard Sacher’s restaurant at Kärntner Straße 51; Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. W 5657; reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
According to the hotel, they sell several hundred thousand of the cakes each year. The numerous Sachertorte that find their way to faraway places in the bags of departing tourists no doubt help Austria’s image and interests abroad. Metternich would be proud.
In addition to their cafés opposite the famous State Opera House, Sacher runs a dedicated cake store around the corner at Kärntner Straße 38.
With its wooden boxes, nostalgic burgundy wrapping, and chocolate “Hotel Sacher Wien” seal, the “Original Sacher-Torte” makes a fine gift or souvenir.
The Demel version
(Empress Elisabeth regularly ordered from Demel)
Another traditional version is the Sachertorte sold by the Demel coffee house and confectioners, founded in 1786, and whose home is also in the centre (at Kohlmarkt 14).
The Demel Sachertorte carries a triangular chocolate seal, which identifies the cake as an Eduard Sacher-Torte.
Eduard Sacher actually refined his recipe while working at Demel, a shared heritage that once led to the “cake disputes” over who gets to call their Sachertorte the original. Demel also sell their Sachertorte in lovely presentation boxes.
While both locations offer what you might call a classic Sachertorte experience, pop into any coffee house and expect to see one on the menu. Best eaten with a dollop of whipped cream and a Wiener Melange coffee.