Sachertorte is Vienna’s most iconic dessert, a perfect representation of the city’s café culture and obsession with all things confectionery.
In the words of famed chef and traveler Anthony Bourdain, “You can’t say you’re going to Vienna without somebody getting up in your face about the sachertorte.” It’s true. The sachertorte is now the most famous chocolate cake in the world, and it all started here in Vienna.
What is sachertorte?
Viennese sachertorte is a dense, rich chocolate cake, with a thin layer or two of apricot jam, covered with chocolate icing. It’s usually served alongside unsweetened whipped cream.
While the chocolate cake itself forms the basis for the dessert, the real decadence comes from the dark chocolate icing. With a fudge-like consistency, this thick ganache is so sweet and so rich that it prompts you to pause after every bite.
There’s a reason why it’s customary to drink a coffee with sachertorte in Vienna (or with any cake)—it helps cut through the sweetness and lifts your palate after each chocolatey bite. A Viennese melange (espresso with steamed milk and topped with foam) is the traditional coffee drink to order when eating a pastry in one of the city’s many cafés.
The history behind sachertorte in Vienna
As legend has it, sachertorte was invented completely by accident at Hotel Sacher in 1832. Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich requested a special dessert to impress his honored guests. As luck would have it, the pastry chef was ill that night, so this gargantuan task was left to Franz Sacher, the 16-year-old apprentice.
Sacher whipped up his now-famous chocolate cake with apricot jam to serve to the prince, and called it “Sacher Torte.” Over the following years, the sachertorte grew in popularity among Vienna’s local population and eventually went down in history as one of Europe’s most iconic confections.
Later, Franz’s descendant Eduard Sacher worked at Café Demel, where he made some changes to Franz’s recipe. Café Demel began selling its version of the cake as the “original sachertorte.” Each restaurant laid claim to the original through its ties to the Sacher family.
Vienna’s sachertorte feud
In the 1930s, Hotel Sacher sued Café Demel for claiming to sell the original sachertorte. The details of the case went to some absurd lengths, like a debate about whether margarine could be substituted for butter, or how much apricot jam was too much.
The decades-long legal battle ended in 1963, when Hotel Sacher was awarded the designation of having the original sachertorte. That pride is visible in every detail, from the cake itself to the bespoke boxes they use for packaging. “Das Original” is written on just about everything in the restaurant. Café Demel now calls their version the “Eduard Sacher Torte.”
There are a few small differences between the two cakes. The sachertorte at Hotel Sacher has two layers of apricot jam, while the version at Café Demel has only one. Personally, I think that extra jam is needed to hydrate the chocolate crumb of the cake. The version at Hotel Sacher comes with a heavy, solid chocolate seal on top emblazoned with the café’s name, while the cake at rival Demel has a delicate triangular seal instead.
Although Hotel Sacher won the right to claim the original sachertorte as their own, the rivalry resulting from the “cake wars” still exists to this day.
Where to eat sachertorte in Vienna
If you have your heart set on trying the original sachertorte at Hotel Sacher (which I suggest you do), be prepared for a line. Tourists will walk by, look at the menu, gawk at the prices, and continue walking. But I assure you, it’s worth the wait. If your travel itinerary allows, go at an off time for the best chance of a shorter line. I joined the line around 5 pm and waited for about 30 minutes.
The dining experience at Hotel Sacher is all about deliberate luxury. The wait to get in creates an air of exclusivity, as do the impeccably dressed hotel staff and attention to detail. Even though there was a queue outside, and I knew many hungry people were waiting for their chance to step out of the cold and taste this cake, I never felt rushed by the hotel staff.
Vienna is known for its café culture, and there are many other coffee houses and restaurants that serve their own version of sachertorte. (Café Hawelka and Café Central are popular establishments that have a reputation for their other pastries, as well as sachertorte.) If you have it in you to eat this truly decadent dessert more than once, try the sachertorte at rival Demel and see who really does it best!
Cafe, Kunsthistorisches Historic Art Museum, Vienna, Austria
World-famous sachertorte recipe
Want to try your hand at making the famous Vienna sachertorte in the comfort of your own home? The Hotel Sacher website freely provides instructions on how to make your own sachertorte at home. Of course, it’s only an approximation, because the real recipe is a closely guarded secret.
As Hotel Sacher proclaims, Franz Sacher’s original recipe is devoted to minimalism, the true genius lies in its dedication to essentials and lack of flourish. Check out the original sachertorte recipe here.
And if you really need to try sachertorte but can’t make it to Vienna anytime soon, Hotel Sacher sells their cakes online and ships around the world.
What to eat in Vienna (besides sachertorte)
As the late Bourdain implied, everyone knows about the sachertorte in Vienna. While it is iconic, it’s not even close to the best food I ate in Vienna.
Besides sachertorte, there’s apple strudel, esterhazy torte, topfenstrudel… all of which are noteworthy desserts that you should try while in Austria. It’s true that you could spend your entire trip to Vienna eating pastries, drinking melange, and people-watching in coffee houses.
But there’s so much more to Vienna’s dining scene than sweets. Authentic wiener schnitzel is worth the hype, as is Austrian potato salad.
By: Mimi/ theculinarytravelguide.com