Austria in 6 Cakes: The Sachertorte Saga

The Hotel Sacher is a grand old property in Vienna’s first district. The ground floor café has marble topped tables and red upholstery and the wait-staff are attired in black with white aprons. There’s a conservatory that faces the street and in the summer time, it’s transformed into open air seating. The neighborhood is amazing; the Hotel is right across the street from the Opera House. The Hotel opened in 1875 – Grace Kelly stayed here, as did John F. Kennedy and Rudolph Nureyev.

Slice of Sachertorte with whipped cream on the side.

The Original Sachertorte

The Hotel Sacher is a gorgeous slice of Viennese opulence and sure, if it’s your first trip to Vienna, you should head to the café for a Sachertorte, the property’s namesake cake. Odds are good you’ll share the salon with a busload of Japanese or German tourists, but whatever, the Sacher is a Vienna institution.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a litigious back-story behind the Sacher’s cake. Franz Sacher is said to have invented the cake while working as an apprentice in Prince Metternich’s Vienna palace. Like some sort of pastry prodigy, he saved the day when the head chef fell ill. He passed the secret of the Sachertorte on to his son, Eduard, who served as an apprentice at the Demel, one of Vienna’s top notch bakeries.

Pastry Case at Cafe Demel, Vienna

Pastry Case at Cafe Demel, Vienna

Then, things got messy. The Demel claims that Eduard sold the rights to the Sachertorte. The bickering started in 1938 when the Hotel Sacher had the nerve to sell the cake under the name “The Original Sachertorte.” No dice, said the Demel, we own the original version. The argument went on for decades, and finally, in the 1960s, the Demel and the Sacher settled. The Hotel Sacher gets to call their cake “The Original Sachertorte” while the Demel gets to top its cake with a chocolate seal bearing Eduard’s name.

The truth is that both places make a stellar, if somewhat pricy, Sachertorte. Like the Sacher, the Demel has lovely rooms in which to eat cake; there are fancy chandeliers and French windows and formally dressed wait staff and a glorious pastry case made of polished wood with brass trim. And the cake itself is an Austrian classic, a dense chocolate layer cake spread with apricot jam and wrapped in dark chocolate icing.

Leave it to the litigious bakers of Austrian history to decide which cake is the “original.” You should order Sachertorte as many times and in as many cafes as you like and decide for yourself which one is the best.

All images via Wikimedia (Creative Commons)