There is no doubt that Vienna knows how to delight its visitors and locals with some of the finest cakes and pastries in Europe. It is home to perhaps the most famous cake in the World – the Sacher Torte. The history of the quintessential Viennese cake dates back almost 200 years. It even became the focus of a lengthy legal battle – the Original Cake War!
The story of the Sacher Torte dates back to 1832 when Prince Metternich was due to entertain some special guests. He hit upon the idea that a new dessert was just the thing needed to impress them and asked his chef to prepare something special. What the Prince did not realize was that his pastry chef was sick and therefore the task fell to his 16-year-old apprentice Franz Sacher. The cake was reportedly a success with Metternich’s guests.
Years passed and Franz’s son Eduard Sacher decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a pastry chef. He began his training at Demel and set about perfecting the chocolate cake recipe. The “Original Sacher Torte” was first sold at Demel.
Now the story gets a little complicated. Eduard had ambitions beyond being a pastry chef and decided to open the luxury Hotel Sacher in 1876. He took his chocolate cake recipe with him and served it to the people of Vienna.
It was around this time that word really started getting around of how amazing the chocolate torte was, and it became very popular. By 1888 the Hotel Sacher was reported to be selling around 400 of the Sacher Torte every day. It was so popular that it was also being shipped to other places in Europe and even to the United States.
Eduard Sacher died in 1890. His wife Ann and then his son, also called Eduard, took over the running of the Sacher Hotel. Unfortunately, the popularity of the hotel was not as strong as the Sacher Torte and the hotel went out of business in 1934.
Eduard Sacher went to work for the Demel and sold the rights to his cake to them.
The problems started in 1938 when the Hotel Sacher began to sell the cake from carts on the street and used the name “The Original Sacher Torte”. The Demel was not happy about the use of the name, but the dispute became overshadowed by the occupation of Austria and the subsequent outbreak of World War II.
The “Cake War” began in 1954 and amazingly was not settled until 1963. They were primarily fighting over the use of the word “Original”, but more ridiculous disputes were over the use of butter or margarine, and who had the right to use a second layer of apricot jam in the middle of the cake. It must have been a dream for the lawyers who would have made enough in legal fees to be able to buy all the cake in Austria by the time it was finished.
The law suit was finally settled out of court. The Hotel Sacher was given the sole right to use the term “Original Sacher Torte” and the Demel had the right to the decorate their version of the cake with a chocolate triangle bearing the words “Eduard-Sacher Torte”.
Enough of the history lesson. The important question to be answered is should you sample the cake at the Hotel Sacher or go to the rival Demel? The two cafes are only a 15-minute walk apart so if you want to sample both it is an interesting and easy experiment.
Café Sacher is Born
Café Sacher is very proud of its right to proclaim that they have the original Sacher Torte. From the moment you arrive at Café Sacher you will be in no doubt that they can claim the original cake. You will see it written on the menu, in a leaflet and on the cake itself. Demel Café stays quiet on the subject.
The first thing which you will notice about Café Sacher is its stunning beauty. The second thing that you will notice about Café Sacher is that it is full. Of tourists. The cake itself is a chocolate cake with two layers of apricot jam. It is served with a generous dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. The verdict? Surprisingly the cake is a little dry. It’s a nice chocolate cake but not anywhere close to deserving of the title of the best in the world.
The interior of the Demel is spectacular. Just like the Café Sacher it is worth a visit simply to see the opulent décor which takes you back to a very different age of Imperial Austria. The Demel is also always busy, but somehow feels less touristy than the Sacher Hotel. You need to take some time observing the pastry chefs at work though the huge window on the first floor. As for the cake itself many prefer the Demel cake to the Café Sacher version.
We know that not everyone will agree but we feel that the history of the Sacher Torte is more interesting than the experience of eating it! There are so many amazing cakes and pastries to enjoy in Vienna that it shouldn’t automatically be your first choice. However, it can be almost impossible to resist the lure of the world’s most famous chocolate cake. The Sacher Torte will always be something you have to experience at least once in the great city of Vienna.