Today is a very special day.
Yes, it’s Sinterklaas in Holland and Father’s Day in Thailand, but that’s not the reason why today is such a special food day. In fact, unless you’re a native of Vienna, Austria, or a buff on the Viennese cuisine, you might not immediately associate December 5 with National Sachertorte Day.
Have one bite of this decadent chocolate layered cake, however, and that might very well change.
What is Sachertorte?
The sachertorte is way, way more than just a rich chocolate cake, however. It is a crown jewel in the Viennese cuisine and a reminder that Vienna had one of the first true coffee house cultures before Starbucks and the like ruled the coffee world.
Even the right to claim ownership to the famed sachertorte recipe has been a big point of pride for Viennese establishments, so much so that there were decades-long legal battles to determine who could call their recipe the “original sachertorte recipe”. More on these “torte wars” later, though.
For all its contemporary renown and splendor, the origin of the sachertorte recipe is actually pretty.. modest. It started in 1832, when Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, an extremely influential and impactful politician for the Austrian Empire of his time, requested that his head chef create a new and unique dessert to delight his diplomatic dinner guests.
During this project, the chef fell very ill, and the responsibility of creating such a dessert fell all the way down to his 16-year old apprentice, Franz Sacher. Sacher was just in his second year of apprenticeship but still managed to succeed in making this dessert worth delighting. Even then, however, the sachertorte itself didn’t receive much additional fanfare, and Franz Sacher continued on with his training en route to becoming a professional baker.
It wasn’t until his son Eduard, also a professional baker, adapted and perfected his father’s recipe that the sachertorte finally began to gain acclaim. While still working at the Demel Imperial bakery, Eduard made and sold what are considered to be the first of the modern “original” version of the sachertorte as we now know it.
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When Eduard left the Demel bakery to open his own hotel, the Hotel Sacher, he took the recipe with him and made the sachertorte a staple item for his hotel’s menu. At this time, with the “modern era of chocolate” and the rise of the chocolate industry gaining momentum, Hotel Sacher became one of the go-to establishments for the Viennese to have coffee and socialize, all while over a slice of delicious chocolatey sachertorte.
After Eduard’s death and a 1934 bankruptcy of Hotel Sacher, Eduard’s son – also named Eduard – found employment back at Demel and transferred the selling rights of the “Eduard Sacher Torte” back to Demel. When the new owners of Hotel Sacher began selling and marketing the “Original Sachertorte” from 1938 onwards, so began the “torte wars”.
The most intense series of legal battles between Demel and Hotel Sacher lasted between 1950-1957, also called the “Seven Year’s Cake War” for rightful ownership to the name. It wasn’t until an out-of-court settlement in 1965 – that’s right, almost 30 years later – that an agreement was made between the two torte-ious legal opponents.
In the midst of these “torte wars,” many famous Viennese authors and celebrities who had tried both sachertorte versions would testify as witnesses to even the smallest of details between the cake. The usage of margarine versus butter and the thickness of the apricot filling in the middle, for example, were source of long-drawn arguments during the torte wars.
As you can see, this is not your ordinary chocolate cake.
About the Sachertorte Recipe
In terms of taste, the sachertorte is a fairly dense two-layer cake with apricot jam interlayers. The cake is made in similar fashion to a meringue with a significant proportion of fluffy egg whites.
The first step is to make the “baseline batter” of sugar and butter. When adding the egg yolks next, it’s critical to only add the yolks one by one and mixing well in between to allow the batter to properly emulsify and stay rich. Thereafter, add the chocolate and move onto fluffing the egg whites.
When fluffing egg whites, the key is to first whip the egg whites on their own and at a low speed to let pockets of air come into the egg whites. As you gradually increase the speed and intensity of your mixing and whipping, you can begin to add the sugar and continuously, feverishly keep whipping the egg whites. After at least 15 minutes of whipping, you’ll have a very fluffy egg white mixture you can then fold into the chocolate batter.
But the key to what makes the sachertorte so special, however, isn’t in the cake itself. Rather, what makes the sachertorte so special is the chocolate glaze icing, the hint of apricot jam in the middle, and the accompanying whipping cream. It’s in the glaze where most of the chocolate decadence comes from, in the jam where you have a taste not overly dominated by chocolate, and in the lightness of the whipping cream to perfectly complement the denseness of the cake itself.
Let it be known that making a sachertorte from scratch is no easy feat. In fact, it’s a full on labor of love to do it properly. In our tests of making the sachertorte, we learned ourselves that the cake comes out best when it can be made over the span of a few days, especially when the apricot jam and the chocolate glaze have been applied.
There are, however, faster and easier ways to make the cake in a few hours, and helpful tutorials like this video can shorten the process from a couple days to only a few hours.
Our Take on the Recipe
While the original sachertorte itself is awesome, we thought it would be a fun challenge to further adapt and make healthy tweaks to the original sachertorte recipe we referenced. The tweaks are also a great way to ensure that no further torte wars come our way too.
One of the biggest adjustments made in all areas of the sachertorte – from the cake to the glaze to the whipping cream – was the use of coconut products. Instead of regular sugar, we opted to use coconut sugar since it contains more nutrients and has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar. In a nutshell, it’s a far healthier alternative that also produces a much less intense taste as well.
Instead of all-purpose bleached flour, we swapped in a slightly healthier organic pastry flour from Bob’s Red Mill (affiliate link) as well. The flour has a lower gluten count, contains more nutrients, and has no additives that regular bleached all-purpose flour would have, plus the texture and consistency of the flour makes it great for baking lighter cakes and pastries as well. It’s not as intensely healthy as coconut flour would be, for example, but it was the right type of substitution to make without changing the end composition of the sachertorte.
The biggest change – and perhaps still the biggest work in progress – came in the glaze. Instead of using powdered sugar like the original recipe suggests, we opted to use a combination of coconut oil and coconut butter in addition to chocolate for the glaze. The glaze came out great, although it was a little short of the desired thickness from the original sachertorte recipe. Once we get it right, we’ll come back and adjust the recipe presumably to contain more coconut butter.
Finally, instead of whipped cream, we used the creamy portion of coconut milk that separates from the water. Place a can or container of coconut milk in the fridge for several hours to let it separate, and you’ll end up with a delicious and far healthier alternative to traditional whipping cream (and certainly much better than Cool Whip). Add a pinch of coconut sugar, whip it all together, and you’ll be good to go.
Coconut milk elevates the taste of so many dishes and adds such a unique taste – for example, when you add coconut milk to a baked sweet potato and then mash it, you get a delectable and healthy treat. It can also be used in ceviche recipes to add a richness (instead of soda water and lime juice), such as this Fijian coconut milk ceviche recipe (kokoda).
Whew! There is no doubt a lot to making sachertorte. It is an intense journey, but certainly one well worth it. You’ll see why with your first bite with a dab of whipped cream and a sip of coffee, just as the Viennese love to do.
Happy National Sachertorte Day to all!
Have you tried making a sachertorte before? Have you had one of the originals? Leave a comment below and let us know!