Monday, April 19, 2010


The discerning Southern gentleman develops a taste for chocolate cake early on. I, being a transplanted Yankee (gasp!) never thought of chocolate cake as being an especially manly confection... until I met the Sacher-Torte.

Chocolate cake lovers are familiar with this torte, created in 1832 to satisfy Prince Metternich’s jones for a “dense, solid, masculine cake.” The regular pastry chef being ill, an apprentice, one Franz Sacher, stepped up to the plate and created what would become the most internationally famous cake in history... even more renowned than Fudgie the Whale.

Franz’s son Eduard carried on his father’s legacy, studying the Bakely Arts with the Royal and Imperial Pastry Chef at Demel’s Café, where the recipe for the Sacher-Torte evolved into its current form. (While Franz put layers of apricot jam in the center of the cake as well as on top, under the chocolate glaze, Eduard’s version had the jam only on the top of the cake.)

Later, Eduard would open a grand hotel - the Hotel Sacher, of course - to honor his family’s name and, not incidentally, to capitalize on his daddy’s famous cake. It’s pleasant (albeit silly) to imagine the housekeeping staff leaving slices of Sacher-Torte on guests’ pillows in lieu of mints.

Eventually, there arose a grand pissing contest in the Austrian courts over who had the rights to the Original Sacher-Torte. Was it Demel’s Café, where Eduard perfected the recipe... or the Hotel Sacher, whose new owners began selling the cake as well? One would think that in 1938, when the courts first took this issue up, that there were more important fish to fry: After all, there were Jews to deport! But the case dragged on until the mid-1960’s, with precious little impact. You can still get the cake - with minor differences in composition and nomenclature - at both the Hotel Sacher and at Demel’s Café.

It is indeed, as Prince Metternich demanded, a masculine cake. Leavened by egg whites alone, it has a moderately dense texture and a rich, yet not overly sweet chocolate flavor, with an additional fillip provided by the thin layer of apricot and a luxuriant chocolate glaze. The torte must be served with a generous dollop of schlag - unsweetened whipped cream - and preferably accompanied by lashings of hot, milky coffee.

I made one of these bad boys for our contribution to last Friday night’s Potluck Shabbat Dinner, and it was an apparent success. The recipe I used, from the venerable Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, has a shinier, softer glaze than the original Sacher-Torte, but that’s not a bad thing.


Give the Austrians credit: Though they may have preferred goose stepping over goose liver, they at least know their Chocolate Cake.

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