No foodie’s journey to Vienna is complete without a taste of Austrian Sachertorte. I went to the source to scope out this traditional chocolate cake in its authentic form before attempting to recreate a vegan version on my own. On a Sunday afternoon at the typical “coffee and cake” hour in Austrian cafes, I waltzed into Hotel Sacher for a slice of their “Original Sacher Torte”. I was served up a clean-cut piece of 2-layered spongy chocolate cake, graced with apricot jam amidst each slab, topped with a thick coating of smooth Belgian chocolate icing, served alongside a thick heap of unsweetened whipped cream, and delivered with a helping dose of pomp and circumstance.
During this encounter, I was by no means a virgin to the Sachertorte scene. I had tried everything from the raw replication at Simply Raw Bakery to the disappointingly dry at Café Central to the massive, moist, and unforgettably rich Austrian homemade creation. In fact, the first meal that I stumbled upon in Vienna was Sachertorte with cappuccino at Kleines Café before I had any notion of the significance that this cake held in Austrian cuisine. Yet this cake at Sacher Hotel was different from the rest, or so it claimed to be from its precisely-etched circular chocolate seal that adhered to the top. But was it?
A few bites into learning about this dish of heritage, and I quickly realized that the Sachertorte’s origin wasn’t so simple, nor was the uniqueness of this slice. Rather, this cake was created through “torte wars” of political fury that spanned through three generations of pastry chefs. Legend has it* that the Sachertorte was first birthed in 1832 by Franz Sacher, a 16-year-old apprentice pastry chef to Austrian royalty. Franz was haphazardly placed in charge of dessert one evening when his bosses fell ill. Undertrained and left with an under-stocked kitchen, Franz was forced to scrap together a miracle with the serendipitous ingredient that was readily available: chocolate. Franz’s cake was a wild and sweeping success in the court, leading to his promotion through the ranks and legacy to his name.
The reputation Franz built through his self-named torte provided royalties for his son, Eduard, to open the Sacher Hotel in the family’s name. A pastry chef himself, Eduard perfected his father’s Sachertorte recipe while working at Café Patisserie Demel. Eduard’s hotel business boomed with the entrepreneuring genius of his chain-smoking, bulldog-loving wife, Anne**, and crashed with the onset of the second world war. Nonetheless, the sacred cake was present throughout the many trials and tribulations of the pastry world. Hotel Sacher’s bankruptcy caused Eduard’s son (also named Eduard) to sell the Sachertorte recipe to Demel.
All was smooth sailing until Hotel Sacher came back with a second wind, attempting to market the “Original Sacher Torte”. A vicious 20+-year legal battle ensued over rights to the cake. After many rounds of stress-induced chocolate binging on the part of both businesses, Hotel Sacher was awarded copyright to the “Original Sacher Torte” and Demel was forced to settle with the “Original Eduard Sacher Torte”. So what was the truce of trademark difference between the two? The placement of jam, the ratio of butter to margarine, and the shape of the signature chocolate seal placed on top of each cake serving. In other words, trivialities. Neither café plans to release their secret family recipe anytime soon so comparison can only be judged by a taste test.
Are three generations of torte wars worth the migraines to slap a name to the cake? An ego-based approach to creation oversteps the mission that noble bakers should aspire to achieve: love. Each baked good should be an artistic expression meant to deliver joy to its eaters. Cakes should be baked with love, not contested with rage. If you truly love someone, let them eat cake!
As bakers of the world, we should make love through baking cakes. Recipes are common goods that should be shared freely to maximize the reach of happiness that our work is able to achieve. So here is my own recipe for a raw veganized version of this Austrian chocolate cake. Channel your passion as you craft this good with care. And most importantly, don’t even think about re-marketing my trademark cake under your name or I will turn my passion to a wrath of Torte War II…
… Just kidding. Happy baking!
1 cup hazelnuts
½ cup walnuts
1 cup coconut flakes (+ more for topping)
1 cup mejool dates
1 cups non-dairy milk
2 dark bars chocolate (150 grams/5.28 oz)****
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon extract
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or agave nectar
2 tablespoons apricot jam
1 tablespoon dried goji berries
1 tablespoon cacao nibs
Soak the hazelnuts and walnuts at least 2 hours prior to baking. Drain the nuts and process them in a food processer until smooth.
Caramelize the dates by boiling 1 cup of the non-dairy milk on a stovetop, adding in the dates, and slowly stirring until they are a smooth, even, semi-solid consistency. Add the additional non-dairy milk as needed as the liquid starts to evaporate.
Melt 1 bar of chocolate using the double-boiling method: Place 1 bar of chocolate in a bowl placed over a pot of water on a stovetop. Slowly bring the water to a boil. Gently stir the chocolate and remove from heat when the chocolate begins to melt.
Mix the ground nuts, caramelized dates, melted chocolate, shredded coconut, lemon juice, black pepper, vanilla extract, and maple syrup together in a large baking bowl with a spatula until fully blended. Divide the mixture evenly into 2 circular non-stick pans, and place both pans in the refrigerator overnight to chill.
After the cake has fully chilled, stack one of the cake layers onto a circular plate, and spread the apricot jam on top. Top with the second layer of cake.
Melt the second bar of chocolate, using the double-boiling method described above. Pour the melted chocolate evenly over the cake. When the chocolate is still liquid, top with the additional coconut flakes, goji berries, and cacao nibs.
Place your creation along with a heaping dose of love on a silver platter, and serve with a smile to bring joy to your eaters’ lives.
*Note: The precise he-said she-said of the business battles to claim the Sachertorte are a bit murky so I claim creative license in certain instances. I also quite like the alternate explanation of the Sachertorte found on Wikipedia: “Another theory is that the name goes back to the 18th Century early explorers. It is thought on a return trip from the Galapagos Islands sailors wrapped Turtles in sack cloth to preserve them on the long journey. A French Pastry chef had the idea to smoother them in chocolate to make them more tasty. Hence the name 'Sack-O-Tortoise’”
**Note: You can try Anne’s infamous daily drink of hot coffee with whipped cream and orange liquor at Demel.
***Note: this recipe was inspired by The Unconventional Baker’s Easy Raw Flourless Chocolate Cake Recipe.