In Vienna, there is a cake so celebrated that for decades, a legal war has been waged between two well-established bakeries about who gets to call their version the ‘Original’.
I am of course speaking about the Sacher Torte, created by a humble kitchen helper in 1832 when he, at the last minute, became charged with making a dessert fit for the prince.
The son of said kitchen helper, Eduard Sacher, perfected his father’s recipe while working at the bakery Demel. Legal battles ensued when the Hotel Sacher trademarked the name ‘The Original Sacher Torte’.
Both Demel and Hotel Sacher laid claim to the original torte, so on a blustery day in Vienna, I set about on a quest I like to call ‘The Great Sacher Torte Debate’. Never mind whose torte was the ‘original’, I wanted to know whose torte was the tastiest.
I started off at Hotel Sacher, and was not surprised to join the line of tourists outside the door. Thankfully, the queue moved steadily along, and about 15 minutes later, we found ourselves seated at a cramped little table inside the famed Sacher Café.
Pictures of celebrities who had, in their heyday frequented the Sacher Hotel, lined the walls. We ordered: two slices of original Sacher torte with whipped cream and Sacher hot chocolates to wash it down. (All in the name of research, of course!).
The cakes and drinks arrived within minutes (to assist a speedy turnover rate, I presume). It was beautifully presented with the famous Sacher chocolate medallion on top. The first bite, my introduction to Sacher torte, was good. Not excellent, but good.
The cake was not as rich as I expected. The middle part – which was soaked in marmalade – was delicious, but the cake itself was a little dry to be honest, and the whipped cream was certainly a good idea. The icing was lovely, and the quality of chocolate used was of course of highest standards. Yet, I could not see what the decades of fuss were about.
Afterwards, we bundled up in our coats and scarves and walked the 10 or 15 minutes it took to get to Demel. Also full of tourists I immediately noticed the glass paneling opened into the bakery at the back of the shop where we could actually see the Sacher tortes being made.
The line to be seated in Demel was absurdly long; we waited well over 30 minutes. The seating areas upstairs are wonderfully decorated with pastel paints and large chandeliers. The ambience though, like in the Sacher Café, is ruined by harried waiters and waitresses, aiming to turn over the tables as quickly as possible.
Demel’s torte did not have the marmalade layer in the centre, yet the cake was deliciously moist and silky. Demel’s answer to Hotel Sacher’s chocolate medallion is a triangular chocolate seal on top of each slice.
We left, buzzing on a chocolate high, pondering the question of the day. Who does Sacher torte better?
I would say that at Hotel Sacher, the tortes are presented much better, and boxed to perfection if you’d like to take them away as gifs.
Although it was at Demel, that the taste won hands down. But since I like to play fair, I’m going to give Hotel Sacher a chance to change my mind – which only means a trip back to Vienna in the very near future.