The Sachertorte is one troubled little cake. If it were a person, it would be in the Betty Ford Clinic undergoing rehab due to a drug addition brought on by an abysmal childhood ruined by parents who hated each other.
The woeful story of parental feuding began in 1832 when Prince Wenzel von Metternich, Chancellor of Austria asked his head chef to make a special dessert for an event, adding the ultimatum:
“Let there be no shame on me tonight.”
Sadly, the head chef was taken ill, and the onerous pastry task fell to 16 year-old apprentice Franz Sacher. Sacher was probably shitting himself by this point, but he got on with it and came up with something very similar to today’s Sachertorte. At this point, the recipe is said to have been promptly forgotten, but reports do suggest that von Metternich’s party went OK.
A generation on, Eduard Sacher, first son of Franz Sacher, went to culinary school and wound up doing his own apprenticeship at the Demel bakery in Vienna. It was there that Eduard worked on his father’s recipe to create the modern Sachertorte.
Problems surfaced when the enterprising Eduard established his own Hotel Sacher in the city. Of course, he decided it would be splendid to serve the cake he had invented at Demel, and have the Hotel Sacher kitchens make it for distribution on food vendor carts around Vienna as ‘The Original Sachertorte.’
Eduard’s former employers were having none of this, and launched a legal challenge to the rights of the name. Legal proceedings are slow at the best of times, but on this occasion Hitler, a world war, and an allied occupation got in the way, and it took until 1963 to settle the issue. Today, the Hotel Sacher makes a cake of two sponge layers separated by apricot jam (although photographic evidence shows that this varies), with more jam between the top cake and the chocolate icing. Demel makes the Eduard Sacher Torte using one layer of jam.
Now, I have had the Hotel Sacher version while in Vienna, and I found it to be basically a pretty dry, rich chocolate cake of little merit. Anthony Bourdain, while visiting Vienna for No Reservations had pretty much the same experience.
However, the one that we make here (which is a one-layer Demel affair penned by Mary Berry) is wonderfully balanced, and the perfect thing to take to a party where the host has asked the guests for desserts.
- For the cake:
- 140g plain chocolate
- 140g unsalted butter, softened
- 115g caster sugar
- Half a tsp vanilla extract
- 5 free-range eggs, separated
- 85g ground almonds
- 55g plain flour, sieved
- For the topping and icing:
- 6 tbsp apricot jam, sieved
- 140g plain chocolate
- 200ml double cream
- 25g milk chocolate
Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Grease a deep, 23cm round cake tin then line the base with greaseproof paper.
Break the chocolate into pieces, melt gently in a bowl set over a pan of hot water, stirring occasionally, then cool slightly. Beat the butter in a bowl until really soft, then gradually beat in the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the cooled chocolate and the vanilla extract and beat again. Add the egg yolks, then fold in the ground almonds and sieved flour.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. Add about one-third to the chocolate mixture and stir in vigorously. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.
Bake in the oven for about 45–50 minutes, or until well risen at the top and the cake springs back when lightly pressed with a finger. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out, peel off the paper and finish cooling on a wire rack.
To make the topping, heat the apricot jam in a small pan and then brush evenly over the top and sides of the cold cake. Allow to set.
Make the icing by breaking the plain chocolate into pieces. Heat the cream until piping hot, remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted, then cool till a coating consistency. Then pour the icing on to the centre of the cake. Spread it gently over the top and down the sides, and leave to set.
For the ‘icing’ writing, break the milk chocolate into pieces then melt gently in a bowl set over a pan of hot water. Spoon into a small paper icing bag or polythene bag and snip off the corner. Pipe ‘Sacher’ across the top and leave to set.