Holiday baking traditions: Sacher Torte

sacher-torte

For many of us, holidays and celebrations just aren’t complete without chocolate cake. For many years I made a version of the King Arthur Favorite Fudge Cake for most occasions, and we were all very happy.

When researching traditional holiday foods for our holiday traditions series, I came upon this Sacher Torte, and our holiday tables will be forever changed.

According to the Sacher Hotel Web site, the story of the legendary chocolate cake filled with apricot jam began in 1832 in Vienna. Franz Sacher was a 16-year-old apprentice at the court of Prince Metternich when he was asked to create an especially delicious dessert for distinguished guests. The guests loved the cake filled with sweet jam, and it became known as the Sacher-Torte.

The recipe of the Hotel Sacher’s version of the cake is a closely-guarded secret. Those privy to it claim that the secret to the Sacher Torte’s desirability lies not in the ingredients of the cake itself, but rather those of the chocolate icing.

According to widely available information, the icing consists of three special types of chocolate, which are produced exclusively by different manufacturers for this sole purpose.

Our recipe is based upon one given to me by fellow baker Frank Tegethoff. Frank is a classically trained pastry chef and has worked all over the world. He’s a stickler for proper pastry techniques, and poor Frank worked diligently with me on my cake skills and more importantly my pronunciation for this recipe.The conversations would go something like this:

MJ: Sasher torte

Frank: Zachertorte (with great rolling of r’s and guttural notes)

MJ: Soccertorte (with nasal accents, à la allergies)

Frank (shaking head): No, no… Zacherrrrtorrrrte!

Round and round we would go as we worked until I *think* we reached a happy medium. At any rate, we produced a spectacular dessert!

Let’s make Sacher Torte.

Begin by melting your chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. Stir until no lumps remain and the chocolate is just warm to the touch.

In a medium-sized bowl whisk the egg yolks until well blended.

Add the melted chocolate and stir gently.

Add the melted butter and vanilla. Keep blending with a fork or whisk until the mixture is smooth, satiny, and slightly thickened. Set this chocolate mixture aside while you whip the egg whites.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and whip until they begin to foam.

With the mixer running on medium speed, slowly add the sugar. Increase the speed to high.

Continue to whip the egg whites until they’ll hold a stiff peak. The whites should still be glossy looking, not dry or clumpy.

Wow! If your whites can support a spatula, you’re good to go.

Frank showed me the way he learned to judge if the whites were sufficiently whipped. His teacher, Sister Audrey, taught him that if you could hold the bowl of whites over your head and say a full Hail Mary, they were just right.  And YES, the bowl really is full of whites. I was short on faith, so snapped the picture quickly, but the whites held just fine.

Take about 1/3 of the whites and stir them into your chocolate mixture. This will lighten the mixture and allow the rest of the whites to fold in easily.

In two stages add the rest of the whites. Fold gently using a wide spatula, turning your bowl a bit after each fold. Stop when you see just small streaks of white left in the batter.

Sift the dry ingredients over the surface of the batter and fold them in gently. The batter will deflate just the tiniest bit. Stop as soon as most of the flour is incorporated into the batter; it’s best not to over-mix and risk deflating the batter.

If your pan well and truly measures 2” deep, you can fill it nearly to the top with batter. If you have any doubts, use two pans.

See what I mean? If this pan were any less than 2” high, I’d be cleaning the oven!

Bake until the cake is light, puffy, and a cake tester tests clean when inserted into the center of the cake. There’ll be a thin crust on top of the cake. Frank calls this a sugar crust, and it can be sliced off or brushed off by hand to give a smooth top to the cake once it cools.

Immediately after baking run a nylon spreader or other thin-bladed knife around the inside edge of the cake pan to loosen the cake. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper and allow the cake to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling you can prepare the apricot filling. Apricot is very traditional to this cake. I’m not the biggest fan of apricot fillings, but I find in this cake it adds a nice, mellow sweetness without heavy apricot flavor. Do give it a try, or use a mild jam of your choice.

Warm the jam and allow it to filter through a sieve to remove any large pieces of fruit. Set aside to cool.

If you’ve baked your cake in one pan, you’ll need to split it to make it a torte. Use a long, sharp serrated knife to split the cake into two even layers, then fill with the cooled apricot jam.

If you baked the cake in two layers, there’s no need to split the cake further, just spread the cooled apricot filling between the layers.

Place the filled cake on a wire rack over a parchment-lined baking sheet with a rim. This will raise the cake and provide a tray to catch the hot chocolate glaze as you pour it over the cake.

To make the hot water glaze it’s essential to have your ingredients and tools ready to go, as this technique relies on working quickly.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, or in a double boiler. While the chocolate is melting, heat the water to boiling.

Quickly pour all of the water into the chocolate and whisk quickly to combine.

At first the water and chocolate won’t seem to combine, but suddenly they’ll blend together into a smooth liquid glaze. It’s key to NOT stop whisking until this happens, though, or you may end up with a lump of chocolate in a pool of hot water.

Immediately pour the hot glaze over the cake, spreading it quickly over the top and sides of the cake.

Push the glaze over the edge of the cake to coat the sides. You can scoop up the glaze from the baking sheet to cover up bare spots, if needed.

I tried this technique with our chocolate Belcolade discs, and with our chocolate chips. The glaze made with the chocolate chips was a bit thicker to work with and required more spreading, but the flavor was just fine.

As the glaze begins to set you can use a long straight edge to smooth out the top of the cake. Allow the glaze to set up before you move the cake to its serving plate.

For a final elegant touch, you can use leftover glaze (or another batch) to pipe decorations on the cake. Traditionally, just the word Sacher is piped onto the cake, but you can definitely add your own personal touch.

This cake is best served the day that it’s made, or the day after. It has a light, airy texture that becomes denser and sweeter in the center as the apricot jam is absorbed into the sponge. The rich chocolate coat adds gloss and shine, as well as melting lusciously on the tongue. A piece of Sacher Torte will definitely finish any holiday occasion with style.

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Sacher Torte.

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Beth

    MaryJane, Nothing comes up when I try to find the recipe for Sacher Torte. Can you please check this? Thanks.

    Beth: sorry about that. We fixed the links, it’s all set now. Susan

    Reply
  2. slia

    Hi, it looks really nice. Can we please get the recipe? It dosen´t say the quantities for each ingredient.
    Thanks!
    Slia: all set now, click on the links and you’ll land at the recipe. Susan

    Reply
  3. HMB

    Never heard the one about the egg whites holding the length of a Hail Mary — that’s a good one I’ll have to share with my mom, my baking teacher, who has similar memorable sayings. Although not traditional, this cake is also yummy with seedless raspberry jam.

    Reply
  4. pennybiehl

    that looks great! If I make it ahead of time is it best to keep it refrigerated? What would maintain the best texture? thanks!

    Best way to keep it is covered at room temperature, Penny. And as MJ said – best not to make it TOO far ahead, as it tends to dry out despite the apricot in the center and the frosting on top. I’ve been known to make a “fake sacher” with a typical American fudge cake recipe, apricot jam, and chocolate ganache… it’s moister, and keeps better. PJH

    Reply
  5. Julie

    Out of curiosity, why is the glaze made with hot water, as opposed to cream (like ganache)? If, heaven forbid, we wanted a richer cake, couldn’t we use a cream based ganache, or is there something uniquely special about the hot water?

    BTW, all you KAF kids ROCK!!

    You could use ganache, the finished cake would just not be as shiny. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  6. Paul from Ohio

    MJ and all – your continual posting of goodies is just blogging my mind! Too many too make – is there enough time for all? Looks awesome as always, and hey, sure to impress friends and family.

    Very nice to see a photo of a smiling Frank Tegethoff with whom I’ve had several Live Chats with firm advice! Happy Holidays to you all!

    Reply
  7. Aparna

    Hello!

    The Sacher Torte looks beautiful! and authentic! If you’re interested in another authentic Sacher Torte recipe, check out Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. Here’s a link to the recipe on Google Books

    http://books.google.com/books?id=pyJEFUMIFcEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=MAIDA+HEATTER%27S+BOOK+OF+GREAT+CHOCOLATE+DESSERTS&source=bl&ots=b3_axGdVQp&sig=I5gJ1HSpf9yyI8AKJKYhcW4HJlM&hl=en&ei=FgAFTeaxFoP58Aah79HrAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CDoQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Happy Holidays!

    Reply
  8. rfalstad

    Made this yesterday, & it’s truly delicious with an amazingly subtle chocolate tase. However, the proportion of water to chocolate In the glaze is wrong. I used Ghiradelli 60% cacao discs (because that’s what my local grocery carries). I weighed out the 8 oz. When I added the 8 oz boiling water, all I got was brown water. I just started stirring in more chocolate discs til the consistency seemed right — probably at least again as much chocolate. As a result I’ve got lots and lots of chocolate glaze left if I decide to make another torte. I served it last evening to 4 friends . . . Everyone commented on how subtle the flavor of chocolate was. This one’s a keeper! Also, amazingly easy to make for a torte with a reputation like this one has. Just remember to adjust the quantities on the glaze.
    Thanks for your feedback. When using different chocolate, you may well indeed need to adjust either the chocolate or the water to ensure a smooth glaze. Water glaze is definitely thinner in consistency than ganache too. Again, thanks very much for sharing. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  9. Hildamary

    I bought one of your glutenfree bread mixes & tried it today. It was very easy to put together and the results
    were very positive. I have tried glutenfree recipes on my own; and they were disasters. Your mix is definitely
    a keeper! I will be trying some of your other mixes as well.

    Glad to hear you liked them! Make sure to check out our GF recipes as well: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/gluten-free – kelsey

    Reply
  10. raskin

    I agree that the chocolate glaze proportions need to be corrected, I also had to add more chocolate to get more than brown water. I found that the recipe quantity of filling did not produce a definite filling layer, rather it was just enough to flavor the cake but not to hold it together. Next time I will use at least 6 ounces of jam or preserves. Otherwise it is a great recipe.

    Reply
  11. Kaz

    If baking this cake in two layers, what adjustment should be made in oven temperature, baking time or both. Thanks.The recipe says 20-25 minutes for 2 layers. The oven temperature remains the same. Betsy@KAF

    Reply
  12. Kari

    My family (and I!) have always disliked fruit and chocolate combinations. That said, this would be kind of fun to make. Is there a certain jam would be virtually inconspicuous, as far as flavor is concerned? Or would it be just better to make a filling with almond extract in it or something?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins , post author

      Apricot jam is fairly neutral, just sweetening up the cake a bit. You could use almond filling, or even a very thin layer of marzipan. ~ MJ

  13. Mary

    I was fortunate to have traveled to Vienna this past June and had the wonderful Sacher-Torte. It was amazing to see how they create this fabulous treat. Such a delight.

    I will definitely be making this for Christmas!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes, it should work beautifully if you follow this recipe for pie pastry:
      http://bit.ly/Xy9brT
      Be sure to work in the butter as the blog recipe suggests for the pastry. Enjoy! Elisabeth@KAF

  14. Mary

    I learned how to make a Sacher Torte in Walt Disney World when they still had the Disney Institute. I took a European Pastries class, and this was one of the pastries we learned to make along with a Tarte Tatin. After the class, we got to take our pastries back to our hotel room to share with family. I enjoyed it so much! It is lovely to see the recipe again.

    Reply
  15. gigi

    The cake baked up fine but when I whisked 1 cup of water with 6 oz of chocolate I ended up with chocolate water. I just scooped up the excess as it dropped of the sides of the cake and poured it back over the top. Repeated this several times until most of the “glaze” was absorbed by the cake. I “smoothed” with a silicon brush. The “glaze” did eventually set. Is it supposed to be 8 oz chocolate?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Gigi, sorry about that – we’re going to check the recipe and adjust it, as it sounds like it needs help. Many thanks for bringing it to our attention – PJH

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