Over the last three weeks I am trading the fall in New York City for a fall someplace else. It was not exactly my decision, my work made it for me. As a result, I got to spend three weeks in Europe. I looked forward to it, because it was a decision I would have never made myself. Three weeks in Europe in the middle of the school year, when homeworks are at their prime, and swim lessons, and violin lessons, and tennis lessons, and writing lessons are in full swing! (Come to think about it, it is incredible what we do to our kids.) It was kind of relief to be away from all the hoopla of the busy fall. On the bottom side, it also meant that I will miss the fall colors of the East Coast and the streets of Tribeca blanketed in golden leaves, that I will miss Halloween and Dr. V’s birthday. Hence, my trip came with a great deal of melancholy and guilt. I will miss the pumpkins, and Miss Pain’s Cleopatra costume, and the candle on V’s chocolate cake. As I said, it was a decision I would have never made myself.
The trip started in Vienna and then took me to Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia. Even though I was terribly sentimental for the opportunity to visit Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, the pieces of my once-upon-a-time-country, it was Vienna that I looked forward the most. The capital of great Habsburg and Austro-Hungarian Empires, over the centuries it touched many of the European lands, mine included; it clashed with the Ottomans and Venetians, it borrowed from Italy, Hungary, Germany, France, Balkans and Turkey, thereby creating an exciting, melting-pot sort of cuisine... The cuisine of my childhood and my youth, the cuisine of my all time favorite dishes, the cuisine of the Wienerschnitzel, Apfelstrudel, Goulash, Paprikash and the spicy Liptauer cheese, the home of Palatchinken and Bohemian pastries, and the temple of the most divine tortes on Earth.
Vienna also happens to be the homebase for Alex, my most favorite cousin; I have been promising for years to stop by, yet I never did, there was always something else between me and Vienna. And just as Alex had given up on me, my work took care of it! Last time we met on his homegrounds, it was over twenty years ago, and we applied most of our time together to museums and cultural tours. And although we ate the Wienerschnitzel and Spatzle, and icecream on Graben, we entirely managed to miss on the legendary Sachertorte! Back then, at the Sacher Hotel Vienna, I insisted on eating Marzipankartoffeln, maintaining that Sachertorte is kind of dry, something that my grandmother and mother distilled into my head. I kept on regretting the mistake ever since. “We are going to fix it this time!” Alex told me as he picked me up at the airport. “You are not leaving Vienna without eating proper Sachertorte.”
And we did! We fixed all the mistakes from the past and made up for all the missed visits to Vienna with great style. We proved that time is relative, packing up an unprecedented amount of activities in two and half days. We compressed a lifetime of events and a vortex of calories in 50 hours only. Starting at the Meirei at Stadtpark, we conquered the Wienerschnitzel, raw French cheeses and sturm, the delightful fermented freshly pressed grape juice, we had a cup of espresso in the park next to Johann Strauss monument, polished off the Dobosh Torte and the Esterhazy Torte at Demel, obliterated the sushi menu at Mochi, a tiny and stylish Japanese eatery at Praterstrasse, and then emptied the wurst section at Julius Meinl. At Sacher Hotel we discovered that my outfit matches the décor of the pastry shop, and got really excited; we ate two tortes and the Apfelstrudel with a mountain worth of whipped cream before realizing that we had forgotten to take a photo. Hence, we did it again!
In my family, Sachertorte did not earn the greatest of respects. “It’s dry,” my grandmother used to say, “and boring,” my mom would add. Compared to elaborate, twelve layer Austro-Hungarian delicacies we loved to make, Dobosh Torte included, Sachertorte was relatively unassuming: a thick chocolate spongecake with apricot jam filling and a solid coating of dark chocolate glaze. I shared with Alex the family position. “Wait,” he said, “if it is fresh, it’s an entirely different story. Plus, one must eat it with whipped cream.” The first slice was gone in less than five minutes and I found myself with a newfound respect for Sachertorte. When the second slice came, even better and moister than the first one, I finally understood the legend and aura of this cake. Our Sachertorte was served with mounds of whipped cream and a piece of mystery -- there was an unexpected layer of jam filling in the middle, something that did not quite fit my understanding of the legendary dessert!
I remember our family recipe well, and it calls for a single layer of jam on top of the cake. Our family recipes are pretty damn accurate. Many of them date back to 1920’s and my grandmother’s stint at the “school for young ladies”, whose curriculum included subjects such as crocheting and making the Dobosh Torte. Grandma must have excelled at her studies, because her handwork still adorns tables, shelves, pillows and curtains in our old Belgrade apartment, and her Dobosh Torte would have made Demel proud -- as a matter of fact, her Dobosh Torte outperformed the one we ate at Demel by many great lengths. For a moment I doubted my recollection of the recipe, but then how could I forget my grandmother’s description of the Sachertorte, “Pshhh,” she would say, “it’s a boring chocolate cake with some jam on top.” Could it be that we had gotten it terribly wrong?
I share the story with Alex. “I ate this cake since my childhood,” he tells me, “and it always had jam in the middle.” We leave the pastry shop and embark on a long walk around the city, and I carry with me the crumbles of my gastronomic heritage and the broken pieces of our culinary greatness.
But I could not let it go, crushed ego is a terrible tyrant, and back at my temporary Vienna home, late in the night I turned to google, searching for an explanation. Never doubt yourself, teaches QueenSashy, and QueenSashy is right. Because I learned that Sachertorte had been created by Franz Sacher, a 16-year old kitchen helper, who had to make a dessert for the Prince when Prince's chef fell ill. I also learned that Franz's son Eduard, developed the cake further while working at Demel bakery, making Demel the first establishment to offer the "original" cake. Eduard’s son (also named Eduard Sacher) worked at Demel too and in 1934 he brought to the bakery the sole distribution rights for what they called Eduard-Sacher-Torte. The problems arose in 1938 when Hotel Sacher, which too served Eduard’s creation, began to sell Sacher Tortes from vendor carts under the trademarked name "The Original Sacher Torte". As a result, both Demel and Hotel Sacher claimed the ownership of the cake, and consequently entered into a legal battle to have the right to use the name "The Original Sacher Torte". The war over the name lasted for nine years, until in 1963 an out of court settlement was reached, whereby Hotel Sacher obtained the right to use the label "The Original Sachertorte", while Demel acquired the right to call its cake "Eduard Sachertorte".
Needles to say, those who know the facts swear that Demel's Sachertorte is the original. Needles to say, the first thing Alex and I did following my discovery was to stop by Demel and check out their slice. It was not about comparing the taste of the two versions, we had so much chocolate in our bloodstream that eating another ounce of it was not even the remotest possibility. I just needed to look at the slice of Demel’s torte. I just needed to see the cross-section. Although, deep inside, I already knew; Demel’s Sachertorte does not have the layer of jam in the middle! As it turns out, my grandma had the recipe for the “original” Sacher Torte.
With the confidence in my culinary heritage restored, we drove away from the city, into the hills outside Vienna, into the vineyards, trading the feeling of chocolate for the aromas of grape and wine, trading the gilded décor of grand cafes and pastry shops for the crisp October air. And as we walked through the vineyards, heavy with sunshine and aromas of mid fall, as we picked the grapes and munched on them sitting on the grass, touching the soil, still warm and plentiful, I took countless photos and laughed countless laughs, grateful for this amazing weekend and the very special moments it presented us with. It was the weekend worth all the fall colors of North East and fallen leaves of Tribeca, all the Halloween candies, pumpkin pies and the candle on Dr. V’s chocolate torte. And although it still hurts a bit, it was even worth Miss Pain’s Cleopatra costume.
The Edward Sacher Torte
for the cake
* 6 large eggs
* 140g semisweet chocolate, shredded or chopped into small pieces
* 140g butter
* 140g confectioners sugar
* 140g cake flour
* 2 tsp vanilla extract
* 5 tbsp granulated sugar
* extra butter and some flour for greasing the pan
for the toping
* 50 g sugar
* 1/2 tbsp rum
* about 200g apricot jam
* 1/4 cup water
for the glaze
* 250-300g dark chocolate couverture (having more couverture helps to achieve smoother glaze, but you will have leftovers)
* a lot of whipped cream
Heat the oven to 360°F.
Lightly butter a 10-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Dust the sides of the pan with flour and tap out the excess.
Melt the chocolate. You can either use doubleboiler, or a microwave at medium power.
In a mixer fitted with paddle beat the butter until creamy. Add in the confectioners sugar and beat at low speed until fully incorporated. Return the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is very light and creamy, for about two to three minutes. Beat in the egg yolks. When the egg yolks are fully incorporated, add the chocolate and vanilla.
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the granulated sugar and continue to beat until the egg whites are stiff. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate cream and mix gently until fully blended. Sift half of the flour over the cake mixture and fold in gently with spatula. Repeat with the remaining flour.
Spread the cake mixture evenly in the pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, and invert the cake onto the rack. Remove the paper and reinvert on another rack to turn right side up, and let the cake cool completely.
To make the topping, bring 1/4 cup water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. When the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear, remove from heat and stir in the rum and one to two tablespoons of the jam. Mix well. Brush the top of the cake and the sides with the syrup.
Heat the apricot jam in a small pan and then brush evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Place the cake into the refrigerator, and refrigerate for about an hour or two.
To glaze the cake, place the cake on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Grate or finely chop the couverture. In the double boiler over simmering water, melt two thirds of the couverture carefully until the instant read thermomether registers 104°F. When couverture has melted, remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly add the remaining couverture, small quantities at time. When all the couverture has dissolved, place the pot over the simmering water again, and heat the couverture carefully until it reaches 89°F. Remove the couverture from the heat and pour it onto the torte. Spread the couverture over the top with one or two strokes of the palette knife and then spread evenly around the sides.