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: Viennese food | The Imperial Torte | Cake glossary
What is it?
That kind of depends who you ask and who’s selling it. 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 Sachertorte is also pretty much a staple food in Viennese coffee houses, Konditoreien (confectioneries), patisseries, and many restaurants, where it lurks innocently in the cake vitrine. As you walk pass, it flutters its chocolate eyelashes at you, draining your will to resist a slice (or two).
And unlike some “Viennese” foods, its origins are truly local…
The Sachertorte’s history
1832 was 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 was on hand to rescue 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, fine-tuned the recipe, and today’s Sachertorte now appears in many variations on a common theme. Its fame has gone global, with Franz Sacher even getting a Google Doodle on his 200th birthday in 2016. And December 5th is National Sachertorte Day in the USA.
Where to get a Sachertorte?
Pretty well everywhere, 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
According to the hotel, they sell several hundred thousand of the cakes each year. And Austria’s image and interests are no doubt helped by the thousands of Sachertorte that find their way to faraway places in the bags of departing tourists. Metternich would be proud.
In addition to their in-hotel 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
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 wars” 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.