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The sachertorte is one of the best known of the Viennese desserts, and widely regarded as great delicacy throughout the world. Chef and pastry expert Franz Sacher developed the original recipe in 1832, which has never been shared with the public. He invented this extremely dense chocolate cake for the diplomat, politician and statesman, Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich.
Historians recount that the cake’s development was the result of happy accident. Franz Sacher was working as a substitute for the regular chef at Metternich’s establishment, when he created the cake to please the palates of Metternich’s exacting guests. The guests were wowed by the texture and contrasting flavors of the cake, and soon sachertorte became a staple of many pastry shops, and in many homes.
A sachertorte is in brief, two layers of chocolate cake separated by a layer of apricot jam, and sometimes whipped cream. The cake is then glazed with chocolate, and often presented with chocolate shavings on top. The chocolate glaze is thick, much like a ganache. There are varying accounts on what type of cake is most appropriate. For some, a true sachertorte must be made with sponge cake. Others prefer a denser, and moister cake, since the crumb should feel compact and the cake should be moist.
It can be a mistake to over-sweeten the cake. It should retain some of the bitterness in the chocolate, which is brought out by the contrasting acidity in apricot jam. Also in recipes, there are disputes as to whether whipped cream in the center should be sweetened with powdered sugar. Traditionally the cake should not be filled with any whipped cream, and is not served topped with whipped cream as many recipes suggest.
This most famous of cakes inspired quite a bit of argument in the 19th century that wasn’t resolved until the mid 1960s. For many years after Franz Sacher’s son had opened the Hotel Sacher, he had an ongoing legal dispute with Café Demel. Demel was a competing confectioner who sold a sachertorte under the name “original sachertorte.” Finally, in 1965, Café Demel changed the name of their version of the cake to Demel's Sachertorte.
While you can find many recipes for sachertortes, you won’t find the original recipe created by Franz Sacher. You can, however, order a cake from the Hotel Sacher if you want to taste this historic dessert as it was originally designed. It’s a pricey way to satisfy your chocolate craving, as a 16-centimeter cake (about 6.2 inches) costs about $44 US Dollars (at present 27.50 Euros), and shipping adds an additional hefty price, particularly if you are shipping the cake overseas. Nevertheless, many argue the sachertorte is equivalent to other pricey delicacies like fine champagne and caviar, and that a slice of this cake is not only delicious, but a salute to the history of desserts.
There is actually something of a feud over who really makes the "original" sacher torte, based on the original cake recipe.
While Franz Sacher's family, and the Sacher Hotel, make one claim, the Demel Bakery, where one of his descendents trained and worked, also claims to make the original. There was actually a legal battle that started in the 1930s and lasted over 30 years. Finally, the rights of the name "The Original Sachertorte" was given to the hotel, and the right to label their cakes as "Eduard Sacher Torte" was given to Demel.
While I don't know which is the real original, I know people who have tried both and say they're both delicious.
Practically every cafe in Vienna advertises its sacher torte. I was there a couple of times and actually did not try it- clearly something I need to do if I ever go back!