Well before my arrival in Vienna, I knew about Sachertorte and it’s association with this city. In fact, I even bought a small torte in honour of Renu (Pavate)’s upcoming birthday back in 1998 while I was in transit at the Vienna airport en route to the States from India. And in case I hadn’t remembered that, there was my friend Hannes’ description of Vienna as the home of “Wiener schnitzel, Mozart kugel and Sachertorte.” Naturally then, the first opportunity I got -within a day of my arrival here – I ordered a slice as dessert (preceded by Wiener Schnitzel, I should add), at a typical Viennese restaurant that Marie-Therese and Alain took me to. It was over dessert that I learned that there was much history more to this torte than I knew.

“If you want to eat real Sachertorte you need to go the Hotel Sacher,”Alain told me, adding that the dessert actually had a local rival in the guise of the “Imperial Torte,” at the Hotel Imperial, also in Vienna. Whether the rivalry between the hotels is actual or apocryphal, I decided that before the end of summer I would judge the better torte for myself. And during Amma’s two weeks here I got the opportunity and a partner in choco-crime.

But before I declare the winner, I should add that both these desserts have quite a history. According to my research on the internet (corroborated by menu and booklet at the Hotel Sacher) Sachertorte was created by a man named Franz Sacher, who was pastry chef to the Prince von Metternich (who presided over the 1915/16 Vienna Congress) in 1932 and has been a jealously guarded secret ever since.

[As an aside, I should add that the Hapsburg court seems to have been home to other kitchen-related secrets as well. There is a particularly entertaining secret regarding the royal dinner napkins which I shall relegate to another post].

The only certain ingredients in Sachertorte are chocolate (in the cake) and apricot jam. The Hotel Sacher’s website merely says, “The basis is a chocolate cake, thinly coated by hand with best-quality apricot jam. The chocolate icing over this is the crowning glory.” Even the way these ingredients are put together can make or unmake the torte. Indeed, according to the historian Alan Davidson, Sachertorte is the only cake in recorded history that was actually the subject of a court case, not over priority but over the issue of which version was authentic. The case was fought out between the descendants of Sacher and another famed Austrian chef, Eduard Demel, who claimed to have obtained his recipe from the grandson of the first Sacher. Evidently the case went on until 1963.

Imperial torte may not have that much of a legal history but it too was created in the 19th century and has a loyal following. According to some legends it was created to honour King Franz Josef I of Austria on the occasion of the opening of the Hotel Imperial in 1863. Another website claims that it was created by Imperial hotelier Johann Froher explicitly to conquer Sachertorte for during that period it was “almost a tradition” for every Viennese hotel to have its own cake. Descriptions of Imperial torte do make it sound absolutely delectable. As the Imperial website claims, “cacao cream beaten to an ethereal lightness is layered between delicate wafers of almond pastry and then enveloped in fine marzipan and a rich glaze of chocolate.” Another description, even more tempting reads as follows: “To begin with, the delicious milk chocolate icing melts on the tongue, to be joined by the delicate aroma of almonds. Finally, marzipan and cocoa cream blend in perfect harmony.

Anyway, our votes are in and they are unanimous (this is an actual vote since both Mom and I have voted):

Sacher Torte is the definitive winner in our estimation. Why? Well part of the reason is that though both Amma and I ADORE the marzipan-chocolate combination, we found the the Imperial torte a bit too rich and thus harder to finish. The tang of the apricot jam of the Sachertorte on the other hand posed no such problems and we devoured every morsel. Another winning point was that the Sachertorte features dark chocolate while Imperial uses milk chocolate. Dark will always tip the scales for me.

Postscript: Face-off aside, my favorite dessert experience in Vienna is actually neither of the tortes but the variety of concoctions offered by David at Cafe Süssi, which I’ve mentioned in other posts but about which I really must write in detail one of these days. I’ll keep you all posted but meanwhile…

Sweet dreams