Sachertorte, the Jewish Masculine Chocolate Cake from Vienna’s Lost Coffeehouse Past: Sigmund Freud’s Beloved Dessert (Recipe) #FranzSacher #CaféSabarsky #Leschanz #Demel

Real Sachertorte by Leschanz the chocolate king at Cafe Schwarzenberg in Vienna (closer)

 

with the best chocolate cake recipe for a real Viennese Sachertorte

We sat over a cup of coffee and accused the whole world and accused the living daylights out of it. We sat down on the Sacherterrasse and set our well-rehearsed accusations mechanism in motion behind the ass of the opera, as Paul put it, because when you sit in front of the Sacher on the terrace and look straight ahead, you look exactly at the backside of the opera. He took pleasure in such definitions as the opera’s ass, knowing that he was referring to nothing but the backside of his beloved house on the Ring, which he loved like nothing on earth, out of which he got for so many decades, more or less, all he needed to exist.

Thomas Bernhard, Wittgenstein’s Nephew1.

“What is brown and sold at the Opera’s ass?”

Childish riddle inspired by Thomas Bernhard2

A LOVE-HATE relationship with Vienna is not only characteristic for Wittgenstein’s nephew but also for the way Sigmund Freud connected with the city’s food and culture as a whole. He loved every bit of Viennese cuisine — except, for example, its popular baked chicken. He loved sausages, and he shared the city’s love for gravies and fatty food. But above all, he regularly indulged in his favorite sweet treat, Sachertorte, at the Hotel Sacher itself,3 where he would smoke cigars and accompany the torte with a Kapuziner (Vienna’s predecessor to the cappuccino that bestowed the name upon the Italian coffee drink). This cake must have been to him, as for its Jewish inventor Franz Sacher,4 a sign of successful Jewish assimilation par excellence.

Franz Sacher in a photograph taken before his death in 1907. He had the good fortune to die before the advent of the National Socialists to power in Austria, as they would have murdered him as a Jew. The Austrian's still promote their country with his cake and make good money out of it. (<a href="https://www.sacher.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Hotel Sacher</a>)
Franz Sacher in a photograph taken before his death in 1907. He had the good fortune to die before the National Socialists rose to power in Austria, as they would have murdered him as a Jew. The Austrians still promote their country with his cake and make good money out of it. (Hotel Sacher)

Rare are those humans who have never heard of Sachertorte, the world-famous chocolate cake. But few are those who know that its creator was a Jew and why that matters. Contrary to popular belief, Sacher did not create the Sachertorte in 1832. And would he have lived some thirty-one years longer he would have been killed or chased and expropriated by the Viennese mob that appropriated his cake that stands the world over as the symbol of Viennese food. And just to make things worse for the tourism office and the nationalists, the birth of the cake did not even happen in Vienna, but in what was then called Pressburg, today’s Slovak capital Bratislava, about an hour’s drive east. But more about that in due course.

All these facts are ingeniously masked by two legendary opponents, two businesses making Sachertorte in Vienna: the legendary five-star Hotel Sacher on one side and Demel’s world-famous pastry shop on the other side. Those who have tried one or the other cake are divided into two groups: the haters and the lovers, seldom anything in between. During a visit in 2017, Prince Charles and Camilla had a very diplomatic stance regarding this issue. They resided at Hotel Sacher and went to visit Demel’s pastry shop where they were shown around.

Sachertorte according to the recipe that Eduard Sacher, Franz's son, brought to Demel with the exclusive right to call it by his name.
Sachertorte according to the recipe that Eduard Sacher, Franz’s son, brought to Demel with the exclusive right to call it by his name.
"Eduard Sacher at Demel" seal on a Sachertorte. This is a Sachertorte made according to a recipe exclusive to Demel pastry shop. The seal reads: "Eduard Sacher Torte. Made by Christoph Demel's Sons".
“Eduard Sacher at Demel” seal on a Sachertorte. This is a Sachertorte made according to a recipe exclusive to Demel pastry shop. The seal reads: “Eduard Sacher Torte. Made by Christoph Demel’s Sons”.

In reality, there are more contenders for the best Sachertorte. There’s Wolfgang Leschanz for example; with his business’ unambiguous tagline “the chocolate king”, he obviously has one of the most chocolate-rich versions of Sachertorte. Leschanz, we are told in Rick Rodgers’ authoritative book Kaffeehaus, “had worked at both Demel and Sacher (which is like a star baseball pitcher who has played for both the Yankees and the Mets).”5 Which in soccer terms would be like playing for Barca, Real Madrid and Manchester United. And there are even more other excellent Sachertortes out there, from pastry shops throughout the city and even around the world, like New York’s elegant contemporary version at Café Sabarsky.

You should know that there are two important spin-offs on this cake. The Sacher-Masoch-torte is named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from whose name the term masochism is derived, and has, as befitting, bitter chocolate and marzipan. The other one is the Hanns-Sachser-torte from Freud’s own apocryphal cookbook,6 named after Hanns Sachs, the loyal Freudian psychoanalyst who immigrated to the United States from Vienna. This one is glazed with Wish-Fulfillment Icing with all the sugar and chocolate you want!

Hotel Sacher's torte, which won the right in a seven-year legal battle in court to be labeled "original" with its extra layer of apricot jam in the middle.
Hotel Sacher’s torte, which won the right in a seven-year legal battle in court to be labeled “original” with its extra layer of apricot jam in the middle.
Hotel Sacher seal on a so-called "original" Sachertorte. "[Salvador] Dalí recalls [...] spending afternoons walking haphazardly through the streets of Vienna, eating chocolate tarts, which, he claims, possessed a bitterness accentuated by the meeting [with Sigmund Freud] that never took place. 'In the evenings,' he recalls, 'I held long and exhaustive imaginary conversations with Freud; he came home with me once and stayed all night clinging to the curtains of my room in the Hotel Sacher.'" (Mark Edmundson, The Death of Sigmund Freud. Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism, pp.166-167.)
Hotel Sacher seal on a so-called “original” Sachertorte. “[Salvador] Dalí recalls […] spending afternoons walking haphazardly through the streets of Vienna, eating chocolate tarts, which, he claims, possessed a bitterness accentuated by the meeting [with Sigmund Freud] that never took place. ‘In the evenings,’ he recalls, ‘I held long and exhaustive imaginary conversations with Freud; he came home with me once and stayed all night clinging to the curtains of my room in the Hotel Sacher.'” (Mark Edmundson, The Death of Sigmund Freud. Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism, pp.166-167.)
Vienna — the Sachertorte city, once a metropole bustling with inventors, scientists, artists, musicians and intellectuals — mostly still lives off its glorious past via its tourism industry. A past that ended when the city’s inhabitants killed and murdered most its main protagonists in a spectacular gesture of what one must call a suicide, mostly before and during but even after World War II. Nothing spectacular has gone on in this city ever since, at least nothing comparable to the scale of when Vienna’s idea’s shaped the Western world.7 Taken over by the countryside, it continues to, judging by elections and surveys, slumber between its far-right ideas and the myth of Vienna as the capital of a nation.8

The Sachertorte is one such thing of the past. Just like most Austrians ignore its Jewish origins, they ignore that its creator, pastry chef Franz Sacher, was a worthy heir to the long and rich history of the Jewish chocolate trade,9 and the abundant line of Central European Jewish pastry professionals. For example, Stephen Klein was another Viennese Jew who once owned one of Vienna’s largest commercial suppliers of chocolate, then fled Austria in 1938 with nothing but his life to the US, where he started the vastly successful company Barton’s Bonbonniere.10 Yes, Barton’s!

Leschanz, Vienna's "chocolate king", the master chocolatier and pastry chef who worked for both Sacher and Demel before he created his own "real" Sachertorte, which has two extra layers of apricot jam and obviously the best chocolate glaze.
Leschanz, Vienna’s “chocolate king”, the master chocolatier and pastry chef who worked for both Sacher and Demel before he created his own “real” Sachertorte, which has two extra layers of apricot jam and obviously the best chocolate glaze.
You can get a slice of what is referred to as the "real" Sachertorte in Café Schwarzenberg’s beautiful Damensalon (“ladies’ salon”). Whole Sachertortes in wood boxes like those available at Hotel Sacher and Demel are sold at their confectionary store Leschanz – Wiener Schokoladekönig.
You can get a slice of what is referred to as the “real” Sachertorte in Café Schwarzenberg’s beautiful Damensalon (“ladies’ salon”). Whole Sachertortes in wood boxes like those available at Hotel Sacher and Demel are sold at their confectionary store Leschanz – Wiener Schokoladekönig.

Nazis don’t like confections with Jewish names tacked to them, a sign of their self-mutilation, as they prefer to deprive themselves of these delicacies rather than eat something associated with a Jew. They used chocolate bars to lure Jews and packed them with explosives to kill saboteurs.11 Come to think of it, in the seventeenth century, the church condemned cacao as “the beverage of Satan”12. And now, oy vey, even Austria’s most famous food, the Sachertorte turns out to have been invented by a Jew! In fact, its Jewish origin has been known for some time now, only not in Austria.

The way I see it, the Sachertorte survived because of its immense popularity and because only few people knew about Franz Sacher’s Jewishness. And probably also because the Hotel continued to make and sell the tortes under its name even though it had changed owners already in the early 1930s, before the so-called “Aryanizations”, the plundering of Jewish-owned properties and wealth starting in 1938. Maybe it was not so much the recipe for the famous cake which was kept secret than its Jewish origins.

Sachertorte at Café Central where Hitler and Trotsky were patrons in 1913 Vienna, along with Lenin, Stalin, Tito, and Freud. The coffeehouse used to be a men's world, as opposed to the Konditorei, the pastry shop, where the women used to gather. As such the Sachertorte, intended as a masculine counterpart to fluffy and creamy tortes, is the coffeehouse's cake par excellence.
Sachertorte at Café Central where Hitler and Trotsky were patrons in 1913 Vienna, along with Lenin, Stalin, Tito, and Freud. The coffeehouse used to be a men’s world, as opposed to the Konditorei, the pastry shop, where the women used to gather. As such the Sachertorte, intended as a masculine counterpart to fluffy and creamy tortes, is the coffeehouse’s cake par excellence.
A slice of elegant homemade Sachertorte à la Café Sabarsky at Ronald Lauder's Neue Galerie in New York. Always served with "Schlag", sweetened whipped cream, which literally translates to "blow". Each and every bite should be accompanied by it.
A slice of elegant homemade Sachertorte à la Café Sabarsky at Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie in New York. Always served with “Schlag”, sweetened whipped cream, which literally translates to “blow”. Each and every bite should be accompanied by it.

As part of this suppressed memory, one might wonder if the slow but continuous ruining of Sachertorte’s prestige is a sign of another unconscious auto-destruction. One might call this paranoid, but the fact remains that as the torte’s origins and purpose are forgotten, its taste deteriorates, or better, decays because it is locked up for tourists in a museum of dead usances.

Many Viennese and visitors who have a slice of the famous cake at the prestigious Hotel Sacher, founded by Franz Sacher’s son Eduard in 1876, or at Demel’s pastry shop, to whom Eduard later gave the exclusive rights to use his name and recipe, can’t help but wonder what’s so special about this stodgy, dry, boring, heavy piece of subpar chocolate cake. Of all the wonderful cakes at Demel, the unofficial museum of Austro-Hungarian imperial tortes, that institution that many around the world call “the world’s best pastry shop”13, the Sachertorte decidedly seems the least convincing of their creations. And the 300,000 Sachertortes produced yearly in the late 2010s by their antagonist Hotel Sacher aren’t any better, sometimes even dryer. Thus, both famous cakes are the Emperor’s new clothes that no-one dares not to praise.14 Despite all this, Sachertorte is not an ordinary chocolate cake and can be spectacular when properly made, and we’ll see how and why. If you are among those who think the world’s best chocolate cake is made by Helen Goh and Yotam Ottolenghi15 — who doesn’t love his work? — you simply must try this recipe and leave a comment below!

Let the chocolate for the batter cool to just above tepid or lukewarm (around 113°F/45°C) in order to avoid cooking the egg yolks.
Let the chocolate for the batter cool to just above tepid or lukewarm (around 113°F/45°C) in order to avoid cooking the egg yolks.

First, there is the cake’s historic importance. In the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century, chocolate cake recipes were nothing new. They were made of cacao powder and of the coarse dry chocolate available before the necessary technique for fine couverture came around. The “conching” process was invented as late as 1863.16 The fact that the necessary methods to produce smooth-melting chocolate were only available from the middle of the second half of the 19th century disqualifies the urban legend that the Sachertorte had been invented as early as 1832 by young apprentice Franz Sacher.17 Indeed, as proto-Sachertortes were abundant and later included the legendary 1832 version itself, it was the usage of proper melted chocolate for a glossy topping which was truly innovative, not the chocolate cake recipe itself.18

Beat the egg whites to a soft peak in a clean bowl with a clean whisk.
Beat the egg whites to a soft peak in a clean bowl with a clean whisk.

This cake is really all about chocolate and its shiny glaze. So, even though chocolate cakes were in the air since the eighteenth century, Franz Sacher insisted in an interview given on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday that he first made the Sachertorte around 1850. And, as mentioned, not even in Vienna but in neighboring Pressburg (Bratislava in the Slovak language), where he worked for the nobility at the local casino.19

The original sugar-chocolate glaze with an apricot jam undercoat also made it possible to keep the cake for several days without refrigeration. But for a long time now, with refrigerators being at our disposition almost everywhere, many, myself included, prefer an even more intense chocolate glaze using only bittersweet chocolate melted with just a little bit of butter, like they do in a Beisel, or Viennese pub,20 but also at New York’s Austrian restaurants Wallsé and Blaue Gans, as well as at Café Sabarsky at Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie.21 Still, in Vienna, it is held as common knowledge that a Sachertorte gets better by the day and, as it says in Das Große Sacher Kochbuch,22 “after two weeks it’s still as delicious as on the first day!”

First, mix in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites with the chocolate mixture, then delicately fold in the rest with a rubber spatula.
First, mix in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites with the chocolate mixture, then delicately fold in the rest with a rubber spatula.

The cake itself also evolved. The original version included almonds and/or almond paste to make it moist.23 We still see almond paste included in today’s classic French recipe for Sacher cake.24 But in Vienna beginning in the 1860s, the almonds were slowly abandoned in favor of a much lighter cake. The recipe below reflects this historic tendency by further lightening the cake.

Very liberally brush the top and sides of the cake layers with the cooled rum syrup. Refrigerate in plastic wrap overnight and then brush the bottom.
Very liberally brush the top and sides of the cake layers with the cooled rum syrup. Refrigerate in plastic wrap overnight and then brush the bottom.

The Sachertorte’s fame probably began with Vienna’s first luxurious delicatessen store opened by Franz Sacher’s son Eduard, where he sold oysters and allegedly his father’s famous Sachertorte. Next, they opened the Hotel behind the Vienna State Opera where they would sell the cake too. But operations really only gained fame with the entrance of Eduard’s wife Anna, born Fuchs, the daughter of a wealthy butcher in Vienna’s second district: “Leopoldstadt”, also called Mazzesinsel, what was then home to one of Central Europe’s largest Jewish populations.25

Anna Sacher was known to be a passionate cigar smoker just like Sigmund Freud with whom she also shared the love for Sachertorte and dogs. She successfully used the Sachertorte as a tool to promote the Hotel. On this 1908 photograph by Madame d'Or she is seen with her two famous small French bulldogs that constantly accompanied her. (<a href="https://www.sacher.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Hotel Sacher</a>)
Anna Sacher was known to be a passionate cigar smoker, just like Sigmund Freud, with whom she also shared a love for Sachertorte and dogs. She successfully used the Sachertorte as a tool to promote the Hotel. In this 1908 photograph by Madame d’Or she is seen with her two famous small French bulldogs that constantly accompanied her. (Hotel Sacher)

Anna Sacher became one of the most influential women of the late Habsburg Monarchy. She was a cigar-smoking widow with an autocratic control over a luxurious and fashionable business of refined European savoir-vivre that, although she ultimately had to sell due to bankruptcy, she made into one of the most famous hotels in the world.26 Waltzes, songs, operettas, and movies have tried to capture its exceptional elegance. In popular imaginary, Vienna’s Sacher became the place were Rothschilds and Rockefellers would eat. Like expensive champagne, everybody had to have it for birthdays and other important festive occasions.

In this spirit, a real Sachertorte must be made of the choicest, most exquisite, highest-quality chocolate and the finest of apricot jams. Though “dedication, too, helps to make Vienna’s cakes the marvels they are”, notes Marcia Colman Morton in The Art of Viennese Cooking.27

Mix any leftover crumbs, bits and pieces of the cake with some of the apricot jam to form a mortar to plug the occasional inevitable holes in the Sacher cake.
Mix any leftover crumbs, bits and pieces of the cake with some of the apricot jam to form a mortar to plug the occasional inevitable holes in the Sacher cake.

The recipe itself is, in fact, an open secret. I’m not referring to the official recipes published by the Hotel Sacher. (Be warned, I know nobody who’s happy with the results obtained from those.) Former employees betrayed the assumed secrecy of the recipe and published it in the post-war years of economic hardship. However, the recipe had already been published as early as 1912 after it had been handed over to Adolf and Olga Hess’ cooking school by no-one else than the ingenious Anna Sacher herself.28

Many people have their own recipes in their collection, sometimes quite a few variations. Here's one of my Omi's Sachertorte recipes in her well-used cookbook written in Kurrent handwriting.
Many people have their own recipes in their collection, sometimes quite a few variations. Here’s one of my Omi’s Sachertorte recipes in her well-used cookbook written in Kurrent handwriting.

Though the recipe leaves out some crucial information like the exact nature of ingredients, as well as precise directions and technics, a professional would still know what to do. The average home cook had to adapt and be inventive. Both food writer maven Joan Nathan’s mother29 and my very own Omi (see picture) made this chocolate cake their own. The New York Times Jewish Cookbook30 has its version of Sacher Cake, too. Joan Nathan even adapts the recipe to the needs of the kosher holiday meals and offers a parvé version (meaning it contains neither dairy nor meat) with margarine instead of butter. Whether it’s permissible to use margarine instead of butter for a Sachertorte has already been decided in the courts in the 1960s: A Sachertorte may NOT substitute margarine for butter according to the Austrian food codex31. Joan Nathan’s Sacher cake is even suitable for the holiday of Passover by replacing the flour with potato starch. Now, this mock Sachertorte is certainly a rather big leap of faith to make for any gourmet. But in today’s realm of faux and fake, you could substitute the eggs for a vegan replacer and the chocolate for some carob powder and still try to call it Sachertorte.

Generously coat the top of the layers with a very smooth high-quality apricot jam. It may be necessary to push your jam through a fine sieve to make it smooth. In Vienna, Julius Meinl makes a very tasty extra fine apricot jam especially suitable for Sachertortes. If you can't find any or it's out of season, just use pureed dried apricots (see recipe).
Generously coat the top of the layers with a very smooth high-quality apricot jam. It may be necessary to push your jam through a fine sieve to make it smooth. In Vienna, Julius Meinl makes a very tasty extra fine apricot jam especially suitable for Sachertortes. If you can’t find any or it’s out of season, just use pureed dried apricots (see recipe).

Last in the reasons Sachertorte is worth making is that one tends to very much disagree with the criticisms of Sachertorte once one has had a slice of some of those glorious homemade real Sachertortes. Nigel Slater nailed it when he wrote in the Guardian for the cake’s 175th birthday:

“Sachertorte is the world’s most famous grown-up chocolate cake, and as such it tends to disappoint more than it charms. Many people find its elegant simplicity something of an anti-climax. They [the visitors] come in a ‘show me’ state of mind and expect it to be twice the size and three times the richness. Perhaps they confuse it with the Black Forest gateau – such a vulgar treat when properly made – or one of those slabs of truffle-style restaurant cake that is really a pudding in denial. I love this Viennese confection for its understatement – no cream, no cherries, no booze, no swirls or curlicues32.”

This “no cream, no cherries” cake is distinctly masculine, for smoking diplomats — and psychanalysts — drinking Cognac and coffee. (Cigar-smoking Sigmund Freud reportedly even had a slice during his “post-humous interview” with Brett Kahr at Café Landtmann.33) The urban legend about the cake’s origin, probably started by Eduard Sacher in honor of his father,34 was that Prince Metternich — Austria’s leading statesman of the nineteenth century, inventor of modern-day diplomacy and as such one of the masterminds of the Congress of Vienna — knew exactly what he wanted when it came to entertaining his guests. He is said to have ordered his pastry chef to come up with a real masculine cake, no fluffy cream but a dense, dark, bittersweet cake. The then sixteen-year-old Jewish boy, the apprentice pastry chef Franz Sacher who was substituting for the absent pastry chef, supposedly came up with the famed chocolate cake. What better ingredient than chocolate could Franz Sacher have come up with to make this anti-thesis to a light puffy, creamy lady’s cake? Though this 1832 episode seems to be a pure hagiography invented by some marketing people working for the Hotel Sacher or Vienna’s tourism office, it catches the essence of the cake.

Coat the Sacher cake all over with an excellent apricot jam. Let set in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. If you think your cake could use even more jam, coat a second time and let set again.
Coat the Sacher cake all over with an excellent apricot jam. Let set in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. If you think your cake could use even more jam, coat a second time and let set again.

Regarding the cigar-smoking widow Anna Sacher, we should now ask ourselves whether she smoked cigars because she sold Sachertortes or did she sell these manly chocolate cakes because she smoked? Whatever the case may be, the cake became very popular and had its place in the male temples of world affairs, in the coffeehouses amongst cigars, cigarettes, booze, and coffee, where women were rarely seen, except in a lady’s salon or a very rare particularly liberal establishment.

Set the cake on a rack and pour the cooled chocolate glaze (90°F/32°C) over the Sacher cake coated with jam. Just pour all of it in the center of the torte and let gravity do its thing — unlike I did in this picture. Let set for 10 minutes in the refrigerator. Place the cake on a serving plate.
Set the cake on a rack and pour the cooled chocolate glaze (90°F/32°C) over the Sacher cake coated with jam. Just pour all of it in the center of the torte and let gravity do its thing — unlike I did in this picture. Let set for 10 minutes in the refrigerator. Place the cake on a serving plate.

It was the world of the men of arts and letters, of musicians and politicians, many of whom spent their days at these cafés because they couldn’t afford the heating in their homes. A great number of these intellectuals and artists were Jewish. These coffeehouse patrons and supporters of the arts and letters and science who made Austria’s fame and fortune were the same liberal bourgeoisie that subsequently was chased and murdered during the extermination of Europe’s Jewry.

As such it is particularly compelling that the so-called seven-year “cake war”, the judicial hostilities between Hotel Sacher and Demel over the right to call their torte “The Original”, was fought in post-World-War II Austria and had to rely on Jewish memory, on a Jewish witness of bygone days, in the person of author Friedrich Torberg. He was one of the rare survivors of a destroyed world where there were specialists in all things regarding the Viennese coffeehouse and its culture. He was called before the judges to testify about some important technical points of the Sachertorte dispute: Did the cake sold at the Hotel Sacher, when it was still owned by the Sacher family, have an extra layer of apricot jam in the middle or not? Torberg bore witness to the fact that during the lifetime of Anna Sacher, Hotel Sacher’s cake never had an extra layer of jam. Thus, Sigmund Freud ate at the Hotel what is today Demel’s version.

Thus Torberg sided with Demel’s, where the family had taken the production of the cake after losing the hotel. Torberg’s words clearly made Eduard Sacher’s cake the real Sachertorte. Still, the courts, in blatant denial of this illustrious witness decided in favor of the Hotel, granting it the sole right to call its cake “The Original”.

Wonderful homemade Sachertorte, a delicious contemporary Café Sabarsky's recipe. The dark chocolate cake is infused with an Austrian rum syrup; a thick, fruity, very smooth apricot jam filling; and a simple yet very effective bittersweet chocolate glaze melted with the help of just enough butter. It's in fact very close to the recipe used in Vienna's Beisls, or taverns (see G.W. Sievers' "<a href="https://www.amazon.com/Wiener-Beiselkochbuch/dp/3993000714/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1490142761&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=9783993000714" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Wiener Beisel Kochbuch</a>").
Wonderful homemade Sachertorte, a delicious contemporary Café Sabarsky’s recipe. The dark chocolate cake is infused with an Austrian rum syrup; a thick, fruity, very smooth apricot jam filling; and a simple yet very effective bittersweet chocolate glaze melted with the help of just enough butter. It’s in fact very close to the recipe used in Vienna’s Beisls, or taverns (see G.W. Sievers’ “Wiener Beisel Kochbuch“).

In his book Tante Jolesch or the Decline of the West in Anecdotes, Torberg recounts the cake war and comments “that, as a matter of fact, there are two original Sachertortes, an initial one and a later one, one from the 19th century and one from the 20th century, and that — what is seldom the case with originals — the later one has precedence over the earlier one, that the original existence of the earlier one is indeed downright obliterated.”35 Certainly a very Austrian attitude.

Some of the usual Viennese bad mouths say that the Hotel’s Sachertorte needs an extra layer of jam because it’s clearly always dry. But Joyce Goldstein in the New York Times Jewish Cookbook36 and Mark Bittman, the minimalist,37 go along with the same tradition as Wolfgang Leschanz (see picture), the chocolate king, adding not one but two extra layers of apricot filling, even though their cakes are not as dry. Demel’s torte, on the contrary, remains as a rock in the sea, steadfast to the true original recipe, with no extra layer of jam.

RECIPE: Sachertorte

Chocolate & Glaze

Use your favorite excellent dark chocolate because this is the cake’s main star. There are different techniques for the glaze, but the one that yields the most chocolaty result is the one I describe in the recipe. It’s a Beisel-Sacher-glaze, a glaze used in Vienna’s popular taverns as well as at the exquisite Café Sabarsky at New York’s Neue Galerie. The other rather difficult technique calls for the chocolate to be tempered on a marble plate and involves loads of sugar which dilute and distract from the bittersweet taste of your high-quality dark chocolate.

Jam

Get one with a very high fruit content and as smooth as possible. If necessary, pass it through a fine sieve. Taste it thoroughly before you decide on a jam. The very best will be homemade from choice ripe fruits. If you haven’t any that satisfy you, or maybe it’s just offseason, use quality dried apricots.38 Boil them, then puree with a pinch of citric acid or lemon. Finally, pass the puree through a sieve.

 

12 servings (one 8-inch/20cm cake; double amounts for a 9-inch/22.5cm cake)

Sacher cake:
85g (2.99oz) unsalted butter, softened

plus more butter for brushing
all-purpose flour, for dusting
80g (2.82oz) bittersweet chocolate (85%), chopped
30g (1.06oz) confectioner’s sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs (approx. 57g each), separated
plus 1 egg yolk
115g (4.06oz) granulated sugar
90g (3.17oz) cake flour (in Vienna “Glatt – Typ 700”)

Rum syrup:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
2 Tablespoons (30ml) rum (like Austrian 60% Stroh Rum)

Apricot filling:
1 1/2 cup smooth apricot jam (not jelly or preserve)

Chocolate glaze:
160g (5.64oz) bittersweet chocolate (75%), chopped
110g (3.88oz) unsalted butter

“Schlag” (whipped cream) for serving 12 portions:
4 cups heavy cream, well chilled
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. One day before serving, preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C. For 12 servings, brush and dust with flour an 8-inch round cake pan which should be at least 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) high. (Optionally, you may line the cake pan with parchment paper.)
  2. Delicately melt the chocolate for the batter in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until just melted. (If using a microwave, be especially careful not to burn and dry the chocolate).
  3. Butter-sugar-egg-yolk-mixture: In a large bowl, beat the butter with a hand-held mixture and thoroughly mix in the confectioners’ sugar and the cinnamon until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add one egg yolk at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  4. Add melted chocolate when tepid, about 104°F/40°C, or else egg yolks will cook. Stir to cool the melted chocolate and add to the egg-yolk-butter-sugar mixture until just combined.
  5. Beat the egg whites in another clean bowl and with clean beaters at medium speed until slightly thickened and foamy, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the granulated sugar, and whisk until the egg whites hold a soft peak (see picture).
  6. Combine egg whites with yolk mixture by first mixing with a rubber spatula only one-third of the beaten egg whites into the egg-yolk-chocolate mixture. Then gently fold in the rest of the egg whites. (Turn the bowl with your one hand while repeatedly slicing down through the middle with the rubber spatula in your other hand, scooping from the bottom of the bowl and then folding over on top. Repeat this folding motion until the batter has been just incorporated into the egg whites.)
  7. Fold in the flour using a sieve to gradually and evenly distribute the flour over the top of the batter while you fold it in.
  8. Bake the cake: Spread the batter evenly into the prepared cake pan. Smooth out the surface with an offset spatula. Bake in the oven preheated to 325°F/160°C until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake, or 210°F/99°C internal temperature on an instant-read thermometer, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and carefully flip it out of the cake pan onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The perfectly flat bottom of the cake now effectively became the new even top of the Sachertorte. (If using, remove any parchment paper from the pan attached to the cake.) Let cool for 20 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, make the rum syrup: In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir the sugar into the water until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the rum and let cool.
  10. Liberally brush the cake with the rum syrup, and reserve the remaining syrup for the next step. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  11. Carefully cut the cake in half horizontally using a long serrated knife. Start by marking the cake all around and continue to slowly saw your way through the cake as horizontally as possible towards the center from all sides. Brush the cake’s cut sides generously with the reserved rum syrup.
  12. Spread the apricot filling: In a small saucepan, stirring continuously, bring the apricot jam to a boil and immediately remove it from the heat. Let cool until tepid and spread one-third of the jam on top of the bottom layer of the cake. Place the other half of the cake on top and spread the remaining jam all over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until set, about two hours.
  13. Prepare the chocolate glaze: In a double boiler or in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water gently heat the chocolate and the butter. (To preserve the quality of the chocolate, it should only just melt, thus not exceed 122°F/50°C to 131°F/55°C.) Remove from heat when just melted and stir until smooth.
  14. Coat the cake: Place the cake on a rack over a baking sheet. Stir the glaze while it cools to 90°F/32°C, and immediately pour the whole chocolate glaze over the center of the cake. It should spread out evenly by itself, else work quickly with a spatula. Refrigerate the cake until the glaze sets for about 5 to 10 minutes. Very delicately cut the bottom of the cake’s glaze loose all around from the rack and transfer to a cake plate.
  15. Whip the cream: In a well-chilled bowl whip the cream with an electric hand mixer or balloon whisk, adding the confectioner’s sugar and the vanilla. Beat until the cream barely mounds. (Take care not to over-beat the cream, which would render it grainy and buttery.)
  16. Serve with a generous dollop of whipped cream and nothing else. (To cut the cake, dip the knife into hot water between each slice wiping it dry with a paper towel.) The cake can be refrigerated for up to three days.

What to drink? Cognac, rum, and obviously coffee (especially a Kapuziner like Sigmund Freud liked) are traditional, but Sauterne and black tea are excellent too.

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Footnotes

  1. I made the translation from the German original:

    "Wir saßen bei einer Schale Kaffee und bezichtigten die ganze Welt und bezichtigten sie in Grund und Boden. Wir setzten uns aud die Sacherterrasse und setzten unseren eingespielten Bezichtigungsmechanismus in Bewegung hinter dem Arsch der Oper, wie der Paul sich ausdrückte, denn sitzt man vor dem Sacher auf der Terrasse und schaut geradeaus, schaut man genau auf die Hinterseite der Oper. Er hatte Freude an solchen Definitionen wie dem Arsch der Oper, wohl wissend, daß er damit nichts anderes als das Hinterteil seines wie nichts auf der Welt geliebten Hauses am Ring bezeichnete, aus welchem er so viele Jahrzenhte mehr oder weniger alles, das er zum Existieren brauchte, bezog."

    Thomas Bernhard, Wittgensteins Neffe. Eine Freundschaft, (Frankfurt on the Main: Suhrkamp; 1982) p.98.

  2. The answer to this childish question — "What is brown and sold at the ass of the opera?" — is obviously the Sachertorte. Purely coincidental, brown also is the color of the Nazis. In addition, the Sacher cake has a black glaze, the color of Austria's conservative party. Also well known, there's another popular Viennese pastry, the "Punschkrapfen", which is also brown inside but has a pink icing, the color of the socialists.
  3. Elisabeth Roudinesco in "A table avec Freud et Lacan, les explorateurs de l’inconscient [At the table with Freud and Lacan, explorers of the unconscience]" in a conversation with Alain Kruger for his show "On ne parle pas la bouche pleine!" on French public radio France Culture on December 31, 2017 (retrieved Jannuary 31, 2018) <https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/ne-parle-pas-la-bouche-pleine/a-table-avec-freud-et-lacan-les-explorateurs-de-linconscient>.
  4. Cf. Gil Marks, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2010), p.126.
  5. Rick Rodgers, Kaffeehaus - Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague (Brattleboro, Vermont: Echo Point Books & Media; 2002), p.XIII
  6. James Hillman & Charles Boer (Editors), Freud’s own cookbook (New York: Brunner/Mazel; 1987), p.101 for the Hanns-Sachser-torte and p.71 for the Wish-Fulfillment Icing.
  7. "How Vienna produced ideas that shaped the West. The city of the century" in The Economist (December, 24th 2016; retrieved January 17th, 2018) <https://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21712044-city-century-how-vienna-produced-ideas-shaped-west>
  8. For a brief introduction to the topic see the interview with Robert Menasse by Stephan Hilpold, "Robert Menasse: 'Ich bedaure die Rechten [I fell sorry for the right]'" in Der Standard (December 21th, 2017; retrieved January 17th, 2018) <https://derstandard.at/2000070700674/Autor-Robert-Menasse-Ich-bedaure-die-Rechten>
  9. Cf. "Chocolate" in Gil Marks, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2010); and Deborah R. Prinz, On the Chocolate Trail (Nashville, TN & New York, NY: Jewish Lights Publishing; 2012, 2017 2nd édition), p.7.
  10. Deborah R. Prinz, On the Chocolate Trail (Nashville, TN & New York, NY: Jewish Lights Publishing; 2012, 2017 2nd édition), p.86.
  11. Deborah R. Prinz, On the Chocolate Trail (Nashville, TN & New York, NY: Jewish Lights Publishing; 2012, 2017 2nd édition), p.74-75.
  12. See the entry on chocolate in Gil Marks' Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2010).
  13. See for instance Joseph Wechsberg, the Czech writer and gourmet, in his "Demel's" in the collection Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet edited by Ruth Reichl (New York, NY: Modern Library; 2002).

    Food writer Nigel Slater made a trip to Vienna just to eat a Sachertorte at Demel's for the cake's 175th birthday - we'll come to his impressions in a moment. "It's the torte that counts - Dark, elegant and understated, the world's most famous chocolate cake once stirred Vienna's rival patisseries to war. Nigel Slater grabs the spoils." in The Guardian's Food & Drink section (December 30th, 2007; retrieved January 17th, 2018) <https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/dec/30/recipes.foodanddrink>

  14. As a random example of locals thinking about the Sachertorte, see this blog entree, from where I took the allusion to Anderson's tale: "The Story Behind the Sachertorte" in Baking With Marianne (July 9th, 2013; retrieved January 17th, 2018) <http://bakingwithmarianne.blogspot.co.at/2013/07/the-story-behind-sachertorte.html>
  15. For what it's worth, it was, in fact, an Australian newspaper, — not an Austrian, that's at the complete opposite side of the globe — that called Helen Goh's cake the world's best chocolate cake. (See "Yotam Ottolenghi on Creating Recipes for His Cookbook ‘Sweet’" in The New York Times, September 19, 2017.) The recipe is reproduced in Yotam Ottolenghi, "The World's Best Chocolate Cake" in: New York Times - Cooking (retrieved January 30, 2018) <https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1018930-worlds-best-chocolate-cake> taken from the book Yotam Ottolenghi, Helen Goh, Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press/Ebury Press; 2017).
  16. Kuratorium Kulinarisches Erbe Österreich [(Austrian Board of Trustees for Culinary Heritage)], Geschichte der Sachertorte [History of the Sachertorte] (retrieved January 30, 2018) <https://www.kulinarisches-erbe.at/geschichte-der-ess-trinkkultur/kulinarik-und-kulturgeschichte-ein-widerspruch/geschichte-der-sachertorte/>.

    Wikipedia states an even later date, saying that Rodolphe Lindt invented the "conche" in Berne, Switzerland in 1879: (retrieved January 30, 2018). <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conche> This date makes it even more plausible that it was the son, Eduard Sacher, who developed the first contemporary Sachertorte.

  17. Cf. Peter Peter, Kulturgeschichte der Österreichischen Küche [Cultural History of Austrian Cuisine] (München: C.H.Beck; 2013), p.72-73.
  18. Cf. Rick Rodgers, Kaffeehaus - Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague (Brattleboro, Vermont: Echo Point Books & Media; 2002), p.60.
  19. The interview was published in the Viennese newspaper "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" on December 20, 1906 Cf. Julia Danielczyk, Isabella Wasner-Peter (editors), "Heut' muß der Tisch sich völlig bieg'n" - Wiener Küche und ihre Kochbücher (Wien: Wienbibliotheque im Rathaus/Mandelbaum; 2007), p.55.
  20. For the recipe of these popular taverns and this chocolate-butter glaze see Gerd Wolfgang Sievers, Wiener Beiselkochbuch (Vienna: Metroverlag; 2012).
  21. The chef of all three of these New York establishments is Kurt Gutenbrunner, who futures his Sachertorte recipe in Kurt Gutenbrunner, Neue Cuisine. The Elegant Tastes of Vienna. Recipes from Wallsé, Café Sabarsky and Blaue Gans. (New York: Rizzoli; 2011). This is the fabulous recipe that I adapted here.
  22. Franz Maier-Bruck, Das große Sacher-Kochbuch – Die österreichische Küche, (Vienna: Schuler/Pawlak; 1975), p.565.
  23. Cf. Julia Danielczyk, Isabella Wasner-Peter (editors), "Heut' muß der Tisch sich völlig bieg'n" - Wiener Küche und ihre Kochbücher (Wien: Wienbibliotheque im Rathaus/Mandelbaum; 2007), p.55.
  24. Cf. Larousse Gastronomique: The World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopediae (Paris: Larousse; 1938/Clarkson Potter; Revised, Updated edition, 2009). See also Alain Ducasse Grand Livre De Cuisine: Alain Ducasses's Desserts and Pastries (Paris: Ducasse Books; 2006).
  25. Cf. Freud's Butcher: "It seems that Franz’s son, Eduard, who took after his father as purveyor of baked goods to the court, opened up his own restaurant (“Delicatessen,” the booklet calls it) and hotel. In 1880, Edward Sacher married Anna Fuchs, the daughter of a wealthy butcher. The official literature says:

    Anna started to work at the hotel right after the wedding. She immensely enjoyed the work and, given her husband’s poor health, gradually took over the reins at the hotel…It was under her ‘regime’ that the Sacher acquired its legendary reputation.

     by Edie Jarolim <http://freudsbutcher.com/austrian-history/dueling-desserts-plaster-poets-sigmund-freud-viennas-cafe-culture/>

  26. Cf. Rick Rodgers, Kaffeehaus - Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague (Brattleboro, Vermont: Echo Point Books & Media; 2002), p.61.
  27. Marcia Colman Morton, The Art of Viennese Cooking (New York: Bantam Books; 1970), p.51.
  28. In a note added to the 11th edition from 1928 of their 1912 cookbook the Hess specified that Anna Sacher had handed the recipe to them and their cooking school, which was to became Austria's national cooking school. Adolf & Olga Hess, Wiener Küche: Sammlung von Kochrezepten (Wien; 1928).
  29. Joan Nathan, Joan Nathan's Jewish Holiday Cookbook (New York, NY: Schocken; 2004). The recipe and the story were updated in 2014 in a video and post for Tablet Magazine:

  30. "Sachertorte" adapted from Joyce Goldstein in Linda Amster (editor), Mimi Sheraton (introduction), The New York Times Jewish Cookbook (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press; 2003).
  31. See the entree on Sacher cake in the Austrian Lebensmittelbuch available online: <http://www.lebensmittelbuch.at/konditorwaren/spezieller-teil/sacher/sachermasse/>
  32. "It's the torte that counts - Dark, elegant and understated, the world's most famous chocolate cake once stirred Vienna's rival patisseries to war. Nigel Slater grabs the spoils." in The Guardian's Food & Drink section (December 30th, 2007; retrieved January 17th, 2018) <https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2007/dec/30/recipes.foodanddrink>
  33. Brett Kahr, Coffee with Freud (London: Karnac; 2017).
  34. Franz Maier-Bruck quotes a letter by Eduard Sacher, the son of Franz Sacher, dating from 1888 to Vienna's daily newspaper Wiener Zeitung in his Das große Sacher-Kochbuch – Die österreichische Küche, (Vienna: Schuler/Pawlak; 1975), p.564-565.
  35. My translation from "Sacher und Wider-Sacher - Umwegige Marginalien zum Wiener Tortenstreit [Sacher and Contra-Sacher - Wandering Marginal Notes on Vienna's Torte-Controversy]" by Friedrich Torberg in Tante Jolesch or the Decline of the West in Anecdotes ["Die Tante Jolesch oder Der Untergang des Abendlandes in Anekdoten"](Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press; 2008 [Munich: DTV; 1975]), p.316.
  36. Joyce Goldstein's Sachertorte recipe from her book Back to Square one - Old-World Food in a New-World Kitchen (New York, NY: William Morrow/Harper Collins; 1992) reproduced in Linda Amster (editor), Mimi Sheraton (Introduction), The New York Times Jewish Cookbook (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press; 2003).
  37. Mark Bittman, How to Bake Everything (Boston; New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2016).
  38. See Joan Nathan's mother's Sachertorte recipe mentioned earlier.
Nino Loss
Hi, I'm Nino, an unbridled foodnik blogging from Vienna, the city of dreams and Sigmund Freud. I'm cooking up a therapy with recipes and stories from Viennese cuisine and its eclectic influences – Jewish, Italian, Hungarian, Bohemian... – with an armchair psychoanalytical twist.

4 Comments

  1. You can divide and multiply this recipe as needed. To calculate the number of portions you can get from your tarte simple follow this rule:
    1.) Determine the volume of the cake: Volume = radius square * π (Pi) * height
    2.) Divide the volume by the volume of standard serving as a main desert: 8 inches (125 cm3)

    1. Alina, thank you so much for these kind words. If you like this post, there’s a pretty good chance that you might like my other pieces too. Do check them out.

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