When delicious cake causes trouble
The Sachertorte is a mouth-watering delight that is a Viennese symbol as big as the Ferris wheel or the Schönbrunn Palace. But endlessly more tempting.
If cake is an institution in Vienna, the Sachertorte is its celebrated leader. The troublesome cake in question is, simply put, a chocolate sponge cake with fine apricot jam filling, chocolate icing on top and a side of unsweetened whipped cream. Fairly simple but what makes it so special that it became a must on every tourist’s itinerary in Vienna? Simply, the taste. In a culinary scene full of sickly sugary sweet candy, the Sachertorte is the elegant understated sibling to baking’s Lady Gaga. It is sweet but not overwhelming and excessive, the perfect blend of crumbly and soft, with a delicate taste that appeals even to dessert novices.
The Secret Sachertorte Recipe
With that introduction, it will come as no surprise that two of the biggest baking institutions in Vienna have fought to preserve the rights to the original recipe. First invented in 1832 by Franz Sacher, the delicious creation was meant to delight the guests of Prince Wenzel von Metternich, the first State Chancellor of the Austrian Empire. Franz himself was only sixteen years of age when he was tasked with this mission, as the head chef fell ill, but the specialty was not an overnight hit.
It was Sacher’s elder son Eduard who carried his legacy and refined the recipe for the famous Sachertorte, while he was serving as an apprentice at the Demel bakery and chocolatier, then a supplier to the Imperial court. Is it there that the first piece of cake following the known recipe was served. It contributed to the success of Eduard Sacher’s hotel but after the bankruptcy of Hotel Sacher in 1934, Eduard’s own son found himself returning to Demel with the sole distribution rights for the cake.
Sachertorte at Demel | Photo: bakingwithmarianne.blogspot.com
The Cake Controversy
That wasn’t to be the end of the story. While the Second World War put a stop to proceedings, the new owners of Sacher Hotel and Demel found themselves in court for both claiming the rights to the original recipe. After seven years of intense battle over cake, the two parties agreed to disagree and settled for a compromise: the hotel would advertise “The Original Sacher Torte” while Demel can use the seal reading “Eduard-Sacher-Torte”.
Today the situation stands the same. If you visit Vienna, you will find similar recipes in many bakeries but only Demel and Café Sacher have the real deal. The differences between the two are almost unnoticeable in taste but Demel has only one layer of jam to Sacher’s two and offers a denser smoother sponge. Of course we can’t say more beyond that as the actual recipe is closely guarded by both venues. Some say that the secret lies in the actual icing of the cake, made of three types of Belgian and German chocolate created especially for this cake.
Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher | Photo: Louisa Thomson
Since so much effort goes into making the cake and so many people crowd to taste it, it is clearly a strong attraction for any visitor in Vienna. But where should you try it? That is entirely up to you. Sacher Hotel has a bigger operation hence more marketing and bigger sales, while Demel is a little more subtle. The hotel café surrounds you with international travellers while the bakery feels a touch more local and personal. It is really down to preference, but both are winners when it comes to taste. So just go ahead and break your diet for two days on your next Vienna holiday. And if you do so, remember to share your favourite with us. Bon apetit!