The Story Behind the Sachertorte
The Sachertorte is a Viennese specialty: a chocolate cake with a layer - or two - of apricot jam, covered with a smooth glaze of rich dark chocolate. Seems hard to believe it was the root of the Seven Year Cake War...
Baking With Marianne
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Ever since I wrote the article about the Prinzregententorte I was curious about the history of the Sachertorte because I must admit that I did not have any background knowledge of it.
Most people who visit Vienna will most likely eat a slice of Sachertorte which is a chocolate sponge cake with a layer of apricot jam and a coated dark chocolate glaze.
Why is there such hysteria about a chocolate cake which everyone must eat while visiting Vienna - because without a doubt Vienna has many other delicate cakes to offer?
Vienna knows its tourism business very well and knows how to sell the brand Vienna. This certainly had a decisive influence on the fame of the Sachertorte.
I spent quite some time researching about the Sachertorte because as you may know I take the history of cakes very seriously, but do not make that mistake and take me too seriously.
Countless articles have been published about the Sachertorte and one can find many blog entries about the Sachertorte but most of them are very superficial or written like a tourism advertisement. I tried my very best with my cake research which was such a pleasure. If you are a nerd like me and are interested in a cake story keep reading and I will let you in the story of the Sachertorte.
In 1832 Prince Metternich placed an order for a special dessert for himself and expecting guests. Unfortunately, the pastry chef of Prince Metternich’s court kitchen got sick and his 16 year old trainee Franz Sacher had to help out his master and took the challenge to create a special dessert for Metternich's guests.
According to legend Franz Sacher consulted with his sister Anna and the young Franz Sacher decided to make a chocolate cake. Prince Metternich and his guests were very pleased with the dessert. And this is the beginning of the Sachertorte story.
Yet, if this story is true, there is another story because Franz Sacher himself never claimed that he made this chocolate cake for the first time for Prince Metternich.
Years later, the son of Franz Sacher, Eduard Sacher, became a pastry chef as well and he was trained at the pastry store Demel (k. und k. Hofzuckerbäckerei = imperial and royal pastry store).
While Eduard Sacher was working at Demel he refined the chocolate torte of his father and the torte became the Sachertorte that we know today.
Demel was also the first pastry store that sold the “Original Sachertorte”.
In 1876 Eduard Sacher opened the hotel Sacher and offered the Sachertorte there, too. Around this time the Sacher torte became more and more popular around Vienna.
Eduard Sacher wrote a letter to the editor of the “Wiener Zeitung” (Viennese Newspaper) because he was furious that the Sachertorte was not mentioned in an article about world-famous Viennese cuisine. In the letter to the editor Eduard Sacher stated that the Sachertorte became a staple dessert and was on the everyday menu of the Austrian imperial family.
Moreover, Sacher wrote that he has a kitchen with four employed people where the Sachertorte is exclusively made. Up to 400 Sacher torten were sold a day and sent to Paris, Berlin, London and by sea (Sacher probably meant the United States of America). This letter to the editor was published in 1888.
Eduard Sacher died in 1892, leaving his wife Anna Sacher in charge of the hotel after his death; she died in 1930. In 1934, the Hotel Sacher went out of business and the hotel was sold.
The son of Anna and Eduard Sacher, his name was also Eduard Sacher (very confusing), - the grandchild of Franz Sacher – found employment at Demel after the bankcruptcy of the Hotel Sacher. Eduard Sacher transferred the sole selling rights for the “Eduard-Sacher-Torte” to Demel.
In 1938 the new owner of the Hotel Sacher started to sell the Sachertorte from vendor carts, selling the cake as the "Original Sachertorte" and the torte was registered as “Original Sacher Torte” as a trade mark.
Chocolate seal of Hotel Sacher that is on the top of every slice of Sachertorte.
As you can imagine the pastry store Demel was not amused about it and this was the beginning of a long dispute between the Sacher Hotel and the pastry store Demel.
After World War II, the time between 1950 and 1957 is referred as the "Seven Year’s Cake War" between Demel and Sacher. Both parties were fighting over the right to use the term “original" Sachertorte, about the second layer of apricot jam in the middle of the cake, and the use of margarine instead of butter.
In 1965 Sacher and Demel made an out-of-court agreement which resulted that the Hotel Sacher got the exclusive rights to name their cake the "original" Sachertorte.
The triangular chocolate seal of Demel which is on top of each cake: Eduard Sacher Torte, Erzeugnis Ch. Demel Söhne.
Demel's Sachertorte received the official titel "Eduard Sacher-Torte". The "original" Sachertorte (from Hotel Sacher) has two layers of apricot jam (in the middle of the cake and between the outer layer of the chocolate glaze), whereas Demel's Eduard Sacher-Torte has only one apricot layer under the chocolate glaze.
In 1888, between 200 and 400 Sachertorten were sold daily from the Hotel Sacher. Nowadays almost 1000 Sachertorten are produced every single day by the Hotel Sacher which means that more than 300,000 Sachertorten are made every year.
To produce so many torten, 1.2 millin eggs, 80 tons of sugar, 70 tons of chocolate, 37 tons of apricot jam, 25 tons of butter and 30 tons of flour are needed. There is one assistant who is only responsible to crack 7500 eggs every single day.
While doing my Sachertorte research I also had a look at the website of the Hotel Sacher and the pastry store Demel. At Demel’s website the history of the Sacher-Torte is not mentioned one single time, as if the pastry store were not involved in the history of the Sacher-Torte (maybe this is part of the agreement of 1965, who knows).
You probably won’t be surprised that the Hotel Sacher makes the most of their official title of "Original Sachertorte". I could not help it, but I did smirk a little bit over the advertisement of the Hotel Sacher.
The Hotel Sacher states they have made the “Original Sacher-Torte" since 1832 - which is a lie.
Franz Sacher made the Sachertorte for Prince Metternich for the first time in 1832 (if that story is true), but it was his son Eduard Sacher who refined the recipe at Demel.
Sachertorte from Hotel Sacher: in the middle of the cake you can see a thin layer of apricot jam
Maybe, even the torte that Franz Sacher made for Prince Metternich was just a simple chocolate cake without any apricot layer - which was very common and popular during this time in Vienna.
Moreover, the Hotel Sacher added a layer of apricot jam in the middle of the cake. Until the death of Anna Sacher in 1930 there was never a layer of jam in the middle of the cake, but according to the Hotel Sacher, the "original recipe" is used and the recipe remains a well-kept secret of the hotel.
There are one or two more things that I would like to mention. When I spent hours reading about the Sacher-Torte, I stumbled upon the fact that Franz Sacher was Jewish. You might wonder why I mention it but I think it is an interesting fact considering the period of time.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century Vienna was one of the most prominent Jewish centers in Europe and after World War I anti-Semitism became very prominent in Vienna. I am curious if the Family Sacher was affected by it. This is something that I have yet to find out.
My dear readers, I am sure – no, I am convinced – that all the nonsense that I wrote, all the numbers, year dates and names that I mentioned made you dizzy. I am sorry and I owe you an apology. To make things up I will buy you a slice of Sachertorte (Demel or Sacher, your choice) if you visit Vienna. Just leave me a comment below or write me an Email at (email@example.com) and I am more than happy to buy you cake.
Oh, and if you ask me, I think Demel deserve the title of the "Original Sachetorte". Demel is my favorite pastry store in Vienna but I will write about this beautiful pastry store another time.
Update: After I finished writing this article about the Sachertorte I went to the Demel pastry store and to the Hotel Sacher in order to buy a slice of Sachertorte. I wanted to take pictures of the cakes for my blog and of course to compare both Sachertorten. I have to confess that there is not a big difference between both cakes.
The cake of the Hotel Sacher tastes a little bit better beause of the extra layer of apricot jam in the middle of the cake. All in all, I must confess that I do not think that the Sachertorte is a very spectacular chocolate cake. The cake is more on the dry side. Do not expect a moist chocolate torte.
I am a big fan of Demel cakes and I think Demel cakes are very delicious and special but I am afraid to say that the Sachertorte is the weakest cake that Demel offers.
At Demel the price of a slice of Sachertorte is 4,10€; at Hotel Sacher 4,90€ (as of July 2013).
Sachertorte is a little bit like H.C Andersen's fairy tale "The Emperors New Clothes". No one wants to confess that the Sachertorte is just an ordinary chocolate cake. A chocolate cake that you make at home tastes better than an overprized piece of (dry) chocolate cake named Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher or at the pastry store Demel.