Monday 7 January 2008

Recipe: The Original Sachertorte...

Inspired by Joanna's reference to a disappointing version from Nigel Slater, I was prompted to do some research - both literary and practical......

Karl Schumacher and Eva Mayer-Bahl in "Das Grosse Buch der Osterreichischen Mehlspeisen" wail mightily about the thousands of variants on the Sachertorte that have found their way into the wild, most of which are complete nonsense and involve such things as almonds, marzipan, hazelnuts and orange rind. The version given below, they insist, is the correct recipe (translated from the German).

Real life is rarely simple, however: In Vienna, the Bakery Demel and the Hotel Sacher were locked for years in a bitter legal dispute as to who had the right to the recipe and whether or not it should have a layer of jam in the middle. One gets the feeling that there wasn't a lot to do in Vienna at the time. As in all really good silly disputes it ended in a draw. The Hotel Sacher won the right to call theirs "Original Sacher Torte" but Demel retained the right to make a cake called "Demel's Sacher Torte". Both are excellent but Demel's doesn't include the central layer of jam.

The recipe for the cake is simple, similar to making chocolate mousse. You can make the basic cake a day or two before you will need it. To get a perfectly flawless finish on the icing is a bit trickier, but worth the effort. Once you have the knack, you can ice a whole cake in a minute.

I. Making the Cake

Ingredients for a cake 24cm diameter by 5cm high: 130g Dark couverture chocolate (Felchlin, by preference, but otherwise as good as you can get); 130g Butter; 40g Icing sugar; 5g vanilla sugar; a pinch of salt; 6 eggs; 180g caster sugar;130g plain flour.


1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or Zimmertopf. It is important to let it cool to 35°C when you use it. You will be adding all the ingredients to the bowl you start with, so choose a large enough one to melt the chocolate in or transfer the chocolate into your work bowl once it has melted.

2. Add the softened butter, icing sugar, vanilla sugar and salt to the chocolate and beat until fluffy with a hand mixer. If the chocolate is too warm, the butter will melt and you will end up with a mess. Add the six egg yolks one at a time until blended.

3. Separately beat the six egg whites and beat in the caster sugar.

4. Fold the beaten egg whites in to the chocolate mixture.

5. Fold in the sieved flour as lightly as possible.

6. Butter and flour a false-bottomed springform baking tin - or use Trennwax spray; additionally, place a disk of greaseproof paper on the base to make unmoulding easier. Put the prepared tin onto a baking sheet. Nearly fill the tin with batter and level carefully with a straight-edged plastic scraper. Leave ¼" of rim above the batter.

7. Bake at 190°C for an hour or until a fine skewer piercing the centre comes out clean. The cake should rise but only a little higher than the tin.

8. Invert at once onto a cold baking sheet generously sprinkled with caster sugar. This ensures that both faces of the cake will be perfectly flat. When the cake is cool, score around the tin with a knife to loosen the cake, remove the base and gently peel away the greaseproof paper. Work carefully, as the cake can easily tear.

II. Assembling the Cake:

Ingredients: 350g of sieved Apricot jam - the best you can find - for the filling and coating.


1. Cut the cold cake in half across the middle.

2. Spread one half with about 1/2 of the jam and top with the other half of the cake. Ideally sit the cake on a 24cm cake disk. If your cut wasn't exactly horizontal, make sure the top goes back in the same position or the cake will be sloping.

3. Place on a wire rack. Warm the remaining jam and brush the top and sides thinly. After this stage, place the cake in the fridge - when you come to the icing stage, it will help if the surface of the cake is cold.

III. Icing the Cake (A sugar thermometer is essential for this):

Ingredients: 250g caster sugar; 120ml water; 300g grated dark Chocolate.


1. Over a low heat melt the sugar in the water; while stirring, bring to 110°C. Add the grated chocolate stir and remove the pan from the heat.

2. Continue to stir constantly and gently as the mixture cools down - it needs to cool until it is thick enough to coat the cake and not run off it completely. This will take about ten minutes for this quantity of icing. Work gently, and be careful not to stir air bubbles into the thickening icing since they will spoil the finish. If you want to test for appropriate consistency, pour a very little over the back of a coffee saucer which you've inverted over a dinner plate - you'll be able to see from the way it behaves whether or not it is yet thick enough.

3. Pour the icing over the exact centre of the cake, ideally letting only a little run off through the wire rack. If the icing is too hot it will run straight off the cake leaving a thin bumpy layer, if it is too cold it will merely sit in a blob on top . (When doing this for the first time, you had better stand the cake-rack on a tray, in case the icing flows off the cake, onto the floor and under the dog.) The perfect finish comes from letting the icing gently flow over the entire cake - you shouldn't need to touch it or smear it about. The icing that flows off can be used again if gently reheated.

Set aside to cool completely.

4. Trim the bottom edge with a knife to make it even. Loosen from the rack with a clean palette knife. It is then ready to serve, as in Vienna, with whipped cream, good coffee and the latest gossip.


camilla said...

yes, but what do you do if the blasted icing goes granular and stiff the minute you stir the chocolate into the boiled water/sugar mixture????

Pomiane said...

There are two answers to this: the technical and the psychological. Dealing with the second first.

a. Swear loudly and think of a plan B. But at the same time, bear in mind that 'things go wrong in cooking', and in any event it's only food ....

b. Technically the reason for the problem is one of temperature - probably the syrup wasn't at 110°C but was probably much colder, that's why it started to crystalise the moment the cold
chocolate was added. It is also possible the syrup was very much too hot, which will also cause trouble. Anyway, you have two options. Gently reheat
the mixture in a bowl over hot water (possibly also adding a bit more water to the mixture itself), you may be able to bring it back. If not, go to plan B.

Plan B
Make a second batch or decorate the cake with something else. Chopped nuts pressed into the apricot jam is delicious. Whipped cream flavoured with Nutella, is also pretty good. Just remember the orginal Sacher torte was invented by a young chef busking it in the kitchen - he wasn't creating the Holy Grail! - and necessity has been the mother of some pretty good inventions down through the ages...
If anyone asks why it doesn't have chocolate icing, just say you changed your mind.

Anonymous said...

What am I doing wrong? The recipe does not come out at all like the "original" sacher torte that I have eaten many, many times in Vienna.

Pomiane said...

Hard to say, without knowing what exactly it IS that you're doing...but I venture to suggest that you must be parting company with the method or recipe at some point. The accuracy of the recipe has been demonstrated to critical acclaim on a regular I don't think that that's where the problem lies. Sorry.

Becca McCallum said...

This is very similar to a recipe I got from David Bethel's 1936 book - The Tyrolese Cookery Book.

Nick Russell said...

I understand the Demel's recipe has the apricot jam in the middle (as in this recipe), but the Sacher Hotel's recipe has the apricot jam on the top, just beneath the icing. It's a lot easier and saves cutting a wonky slice through the cake.

Chonette said...

I have just been in Vienna and after reading all your posts I feel like making the cake myself, interesting enough I got a tea towel over there with the recipe printed and they use ground almonds instead of flour, I follow recipes the first time, afterwards I just make things my own way.
The instructions for the cake covering are very good, might use that technique for other cakes as well.

Mickey said...

Visited Vienna this summer, and found out about the Sachertorte. Surprised too at how expensive the cakes are to buy, Euro 19 to 41.

I thought though that there was some alcohol in the marmalade? Certainly there was a kind of bitter taste.

Someone there mentioned Rum. Could a bit of alcohol be a missing ingredient?

Judy said...

It is "Das grosse Buch der osterreichischen Mehlspeisen" (the 4th word is der, not das).

Pomiane said...

Um....and the difference is likely to lead to what confusion, exactly?

Jo B said...

Delicious cake. Even my father-in-law liked it and he does not like sweet cakes! I made my icing with creme fraiche. It was much thicker but good. This time I have made it with rice flour and I have used an oil/butter substitute as I am not good with too much diary. Will have to see what it tastes like.

Anonymous said...

Why should I warm the apricot jam???

Pomiane said...

Makes it easier to spread.

Anonymous said...

Sacher Torte made at home, is one of those things that make the day a better day …..
I still make it on a regular basis, even after 30+ years in the kitchen and 24 years after leaving Demel. I actually just finished one and I am waiting for the family to show up and share.

Love your blog ….

Anonymous said...

I noticed there is no baking power in your recipe--isnt that unusual?

Chonette said...

It does not need baking power, there is enough air on the whipping of egg whites to rise the cake when baking it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, that makes sense. And thank you, Pomiane, for posting the recipe. I have been dreaming of making a Sacher torte ever since I ate a slice of it at Cafe Sabarsky in New York may not be the original Austrian Sacher torte, but it was simply goes...fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...

just took the cake out of the oven, it didnt rise enough..its a rather thin look sacher torte... :-(

Pomiane said...

I fear you've mishandled your egg whites in some way - either they weren't beaten well enough before being mixed in, or else you were a bit heavy-handed during the mixing process and managed to deflate them. Think of it like making a soufflé: the whites need to be beaten to the right consistency that they can be incorporated with the other ingredients (so, neither too much nor too little), and then they need to be gently folded in,so they don't lose the air they contain and which they need in order to rise during baking.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, yes, I agree--I did beat the egg whites a lot, perhaps it would have been better to fold in the egg whites after the folding in the flour--thats when the batter got dense. Or else, maybe my oven was too hot (the cake cooked in 30 minutes), although I did bring it to 190 degrees. Happy 2012 to you.

Pomiane said...

And to you too. And may 2012 bring you many delicious cakes!

Anonymous said...

I prepared this receipe yesterday and I must say the outcome is astonishing. The base is incredibly light and fluffy and the chocolate frosting is beautifully smooth. Thanks for sharing. The perfect Valentine's day treat for my loved ones without breaking the bank. Cheers.