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Sample a Slice of History: the Sachertorte

Rich melted chocolate, springy layers of sponge and a jammy apricot glaze are essential ingredients for the iconic sachertorte.

The decadent dessert was first sliced and served with a signature dollop of cream in 1832, when apprentice chef Franz Sacher created this culinary combination for Prince Metternich and his guests. Since then, the sachertorte has become synonymous with Vienna, along with its UNESCO-recognised coffee and cake culture, known locally as wiener kaffeehauskultur.

Slice of the famous Austrian chocolate cake Sachertorte milk chocolate covered with apricot jam and whipped cream

When Prince Metternich’s head chef was taken ill, 16-year-old Sacher knew he had to step up to the plate to impress the prince and his high-ranking company. Using ingredients found in the court’s kitchen, he created the layered dark chocolate sponge, interspersed with apricot jam, before being topped with a glossy chocolate glaze. Guests rejoiced at this indulgent invention, and the sachertorte was born. It couldn’t have been a better time in history either. With the belle époque of the 19th century in full swing, it was a time of joie de vivre – the joy of living, conversation and of course, eating. This formed the romantic image of Vienna that comes to mind today, inspired by a period of grand belle époque architecture, the influential House of Habsburg and the triple time melody of The Blue Danube waltz.

Sacher’s family went on to found Hotel Sacher in 1876, which to this day serves his cherished chef-d’oeuvre. However, this was not without trials and tribulations. For some time, Franz’s son Eduard Sacher was an apprentice at the Vienna-based patisserie Demel, now famously Hotel Sacher’s rival. A legal battle, sometimes referred to as the ‘cake fight’, ran from 1954 to 1963 to decide which establishment had the right to call theirs ‘the original’. Hotel Sacher won, so although both now make thousands of sachertortes, only one is allowed to claim the official recipe.

The Opera House in Vienna in the evening

Since the recipe is a closely guarded secret amongst the Sachers and their trusted chefs, the ingredients and methods vary from cookbook to cookbook. Most begin by slowly melting the dark chocolate, the higher cocoa content the better. This is then added to a fluffy sugar and butter mix with a touch of vanilla extract. An important part of the recipe is separating the yolks and egg whites and adding them individually for an extra light sponge, meaning there is a chef at Hotel Sacher who is dedicated to separating countless eggs a day in the 32-step process. Carefully folding in sifted flour is another vital stage, before finally stirring in the beaten egg whites and baking at 170°C. But this is only a third of the process, since when cooled, the cake needs to be thinly sliced and brushed with warm apricot jam. To finish the signature mirror-like coating, the temperature of the chocolate and syrup is carefully monitored in order to achieve a glossy sheen. At Hotel Sacher, this is then finished with their iconic (and edible) Sacher stamp of approval.

If you’re more of an eater than a baker, you’ll be pleased to know ….that Vienna has a wealth of places in which you can sample one of these opulent desserts. On The Danube’s Imperial Cities & Yuletide Markets river cruise, as well as on Cruise the Heart of Europe and The Blue Danube, we make a stop in Vienna, with plenty of time to explore and indulge in this spellbinding city.