Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
From Whence Came Sacher Torte?
Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, Fürst von Metternich-Winneburg-Beilstein was every bit as illustrious as the length of his name might indicate. A descendant of old Rhenish nobility, he was pursuing an education in diplomacy when the French Revolution interrupted his plans (and those of just about everyone else in Europe). His father, chief minister to Brussels in the Austrian Netherlands, placed Klemens on a diplomatic mission to England, but it was his marriage to the granddaughter of an Austrian state chancellor that gave him the link to positions of prestige and power.
Of course, anyone of such prominence would be expected to wine and dine Europe’s finest. Food historians do not know if such was the occasion on that immortal day in 1832, or if Klemens was merely feeling a bit peckish. At any rate, he requested a new dish, specifically a cake.
As these stories typically go, the head chef was absent, the kitchen staff descended into hysteria, and a 16-year old apprentice cook swooped into action. Franz Sacher used daring, discernment, and a dash of diversification to use the sparse ingredients on hand. Thus the Sacher torte was born.
What Is a Sacher Torte?
Sacher torte (pronounced ZO-cker TOR-teh) could merely be described as chocolate cake, but that would diminish the flavors, genius, and significance of this Viennese dessert.
First, the cake itself—the layers are a sponge cake. This is not a dense, fudgy brownie-like cake. Sponge cake is born of heavenly, gently whipped egg whites swirled into a batter of butter, chocolate, and flour. This lighter-than-air mixture is baked, cooled, and sliced horizontally into two equal slender layers.
Next, the filling. Most cakes are filled and frosted with butter/sugar icing, or perhaps dollops of whipped cream. The Sacher is layered with apricot jam. The tangy tartness of apricots is a perfect foil to the sugary sweetness of the tender torte layers.
Then, there is the dark chocolate cloak. The Sacher torte isn't covered with fluffy frosting. A luxurious dark chocolate ganache is poured on top, gently spreading out to the edge and sliding down the sides, carefully and completely enveloping the cake in a dense, rich sheen.
Let's Find the Best Ingredients
A quality dish cannot be made of mediocre ingredients and that is certainly true of the Sacher torte.
The Sacher torte is undeniably a chocolate cake and, since chocolate is such a prominent component of the Sacher, this is no place to scrimp. Please do your best to find the best quality dark chocolate—65 percent cacao is ideal.
Those who appreciate the taste of a well-aged artisanal cheese, the aroma of a perfect cup of coffee, or the nuance of flavors in a fine wine understand that "terroir" is as much a component of an ingredient as are the harvest, preparation, production, and aging. Just as the soil imparts unique flavors to cacao, grapes, and coffee beans, the grasses on which cows are fed also influence the depth of flavor of dairy products. Your Sacher torte is a labor of love, so I would encourage you to use European butter.
Many, if not most jams and preserves on the grocery store shelf are more high fructose corn syrup than fruit and lack that true fresh fruit flavor. That is why I chose the recipe for this article. The creator of this Sacher torte makes her own apricot filling from fresh fruit.
Read More From Delishably
The "Wanna Be" Recipe
The Sacher Hotel will not divulge the original recipe (of course, it is a closely guarded secret), but they do provide an approximation on their website. However, if you want something (I believe is) closer to the original, here's the recipe for you and, following that, a lovely video that shows every step of the process.
Best Sacher Torte Recipe
And now, for a true Sacher that is worth its weight in gold:
For the cake:
- 7 large eggs, separated
- 5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate
- 2/3 cup (150 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup (120 grams) powdered sugar
- 1 tsp (5 grams) vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/4 cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour
For the filling:
- 1 pound fresh apricots
- 2/3 cup (135 grams) sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) water
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) lemon juice
For the ganache:
- 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) sugar
- 2/3 cup (160 ml) water
- 7 ounces (200 grams) bittersweet chocolate
Instructions for the Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (180 C). Grease and flour a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan or deep 9-inch cake pan and set aside.
- After you separate the eggs, place the whites in the refrigerator; they will whip better if they are cold.
- Break the chocolate into chunks and place them in the top of a double boiler over simmering (not boiling) water. Don’t allow the water to touch the bottom of the pot in which the chocolate is melting. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Cream the softened butter with an electric mixer; sift in the powdered sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt and mix again.
- Add yolks one at a time and beat just until well-combined.
- Stir in the warm (not hot) chocolate and beat until thoroughly mixed.
- Next whip egg whites. When they are frothy, sift in the granulated sugar. Beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add about 1/4 of the whipped egg whites to the chocolate. Stir to combine—this will lighten the chocolate batter and make it easier to incorporate the remaining egg whites. Gently fold the remaining whites into the chocolate until no streaks remain.
- Add half of the flour and fold gently; add the remainder of the flour and again, fold gently.
- Gently scrape the batter into the prepared pan; smooth the top of the batter with an offset spatula.
- Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. When done the top of the cake should spring back when gently touched in the middle, and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.
- Remove from pan and cool upside down.
- When cool, slice the cake in half horizontally.
Instructions for the Filling
- Pit and cut each apricot into eighths. Place the apricots, sugar, water, and lemon juice in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly; cook and stir until thickened, about 20 minutes.
- Sieve the mixture with a wire mesh strainer to remove any pulp/lumps of fruit.
- Spread half of the hot fruit mixture on the bottom layer of the sliced cake. Spread to the edge with an offset spatula. (It's OK if some of the jam goes down the side of the cake).
- Top fruit with the second layer of cake. Spread the remaining fruit mixture on the top and sides of the cake. Place on a rack and allow to dry for a few minutes.
Instructions for the Ganache
- Combine the 1 1/4 cups sugar and 2/3 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat for about 5 minutes or until it reaches 234°F (112°C) on a candy thermometer.
- Remove from heat. Add the chopped chocolate; stir until melted and smooth.
- Pour warm chocolate glaze (ganache) over the top of the cake. Begin pouring near the edge so that some of the glaze will cover the sides of the cake. The entire top and sides of the cake should be covered with chocolate.
- Let sit for 1 hour. Decorate as desired (it's traditional to write the name "Sacher" on the cake by piping on dark chocolate).
© 2022 Linda Lum