Having My Cakes (and Eating Them, Too)

 

The great cities of the world all seem to have signature desserts. Paris is famous for its macarons. Rome loves its gelato. Buenos Aires is synonymous with dulce de leche, and Tokyo thrives on mochi. And here at home New York City worships cheesecake, Atlanta is enamored with peach cobbler, and you can’t leave a New Orleans eatery without ordering a beignet.

But there is one dessert that I’ve always felt was unquestionably the best in the world – well, at least in my world – and that was my Grandma Pearl’s German chocolate cake. Unfailingly moist, profoundly chocolaty, and never too sweet, it was deliciously drenched in that crazy coconut and pecan frosting with eight little decorative cherries she carefully placed around the rim. This was the stuff childhood dreams are made of. Pearl’s masterpiece was the highlight of every family festivity and the best dessert I’d ever eaten. Until.

Until I visited Vienna. And in one afternoon at the Sacher Hotel, Grandma Pearl’s 60-year reign came to an end. You see, I had a slice of the world-famous Sachertore and, as the song goes, nothing will ever be the same again.

The Sachertorte is not just a piece of cake; it’s a travel destination. People come from all over the world to sample this 440-calories-per-slice wonder and now I understand why. The Sachertorte consists of several layers of dense chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam on top and coated with dark chocolate icing. It must (MUST) be served with unsweetened whipped-by-hand cream. You can try to Google the recipe, but anything you find is fake news. The recipe is apparently in a high-security vault somewhere in Austria. That’s all anyone is willing to divulge, but this doesn’t mean people aren’t aggressively looking. (Why hasn’t someone made a video game out of this story?)

This piece of chocolate decadence was invented in 1832 by Franz Sacher in one of the greatest understudy-goes-on-for-the-star-and-is-discovered stories I’ve ever heard. Here it is. Franz is a 16-year-old kitchen apprentice who is asked to pinch hit for an important Vienna dinner when the head chef falls ill at the last minute. Franz improvises with what is available in the kitchen and, improbably, the cake of the century is born!  (Why hasn’t someone made a movie out of this story?)

I had my own rendezvous with a slice of Sachertorte on a wintry November afternoon last year during a lovely stay in Vienna that was filled with opera and Baroque palaces. I knew I needed to dress up for the occasion, so I pulled out my one pair of non-walking shoes and donned my sole scarf; I even put on earrings. I had to patiently wait about 45 minutes before I was seated in the elegant Sacher Hotel salon, but I snagged a seat by the window. When my date cake arrived, I made sure I ate it very, very slowly – in the time-honored Austrian manner – and sipped my kaffee politely, occasionally nodding at all the other people eating and sipping. I read somewhere it should take you a minimum of 30 minutes for the true Sachertorte experience. I am proud to say I clocked an impressive 43. I even decided to record the experience, probably so I could relive it again and again. Here it is:

Going …

Going …

Gone.

Sigh. The cake of the century, indeed. I only wish my Grandma Pearl could have enjoyed a slice with me.

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There are 14 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I’m glad I’m sitting here alone. It would be embarrassing for anyone to see me drooling over your photos and description…

    • #1
  2. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

    It looks absolutely lovely (except for the monstrosity called a 3 prong fork) 

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Can’t eat either one. *Sigh.* Glad you could enjoy it and share the experience.

    • #3
  4. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine
    @IMFine

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    It looks absolutely lovely (except for the monstrosity called a 3 prong fork)

    Yes, I’m afraid the three-pronger is still used, especially in Europe, when you order a dessert. If you look closely, you can see that the left prong (or tine) has a slightly flattened edge. I’ve been told that’s to help you cut through pastry or a pie crust. You certainly don’t need it for a cake, but the fork keeps showing up anyway. I will say this (if it’s any consolation) – the bites are smaller than you’d achieve with a four-pronger, and that makes the dessert last longer. Which is always a good thing.

    • #4
  5. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Can’t eat either one. *Sigh.* Glad you could enjoy it and share the experience.

    Ahh – but there is a very close competitor in the flourless choco cake made with apricot jam. With same unsweetened cream….  It’s all in the quality of the choco. And the ripe apricots. 

    • #5
  6. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I’m glad I’m sitting here alone. It would be embarrassing for anyone to see me drooling over your photos and description…

    Actually, Susan, you weren’t alone. Many of us were right there with you.

    • #6
  7. kedavis Inactive
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    I. M. Fine (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    It looks absolutely lovely (except for the monstrosity called a 3 prong fork)

    Yes, I’m afraid the three-pronger is still used, especially in Europe, when you order a dessert. If you look closely, you can see that the left prong (or tine) has a slightly flattened edge. I’ve been told that’s to help you cut through pastry or a pie crust. You certainly don’t need it for a cake, but the fork keeps showing up anyway. I will say this (if it’s any consolation) – the bites are smaller than you’d achieve with a four-pronger, and that makes the dessert last longer. Which is always a good thing.

    Sheldon Cooper says the three-prong fork isn’t really a fork, it’s a Trident; and it’s not for eating, it’s for ruling all of the oceans.

    • #7
  8. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine
    @IMFine

    EODmom (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Can’t eat either one. *Sigh.* Glad you could enjoy it and share the experience.

    Ahh – but there is a very close competitor in the flourless choco cake made with apricot jam. With same unsweetened cream…. It’s all in the quality of the choco. And the ripe apricots.

    That does sound like a worthy competitor! I have such trouble getting decent fresh apricots, though. Do you possibly grow your own?

    • #8
  9. I. M. Fine Coolidge
    I. M. Fine
    @IMFine

    kedavis (View Comment):

    I. M. Fine (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    It looks absolutely lovely (except for the monstrosity called a 3 prong fork)

    Yes, I’m afraid the three-pronger is still used, especially in Europe, when you order a dessert. If you look closely, you can see that the left prong (or tine) has a slightly flattened edge. I’ve been told that’s to help you cut through pastry or a pie crust. You certainly don’t need it for a cake, but the fork keeps showing up anyway. I will say this (if it’s any consolation) – the bites are smaller than you’d achieve with a four-pronger, and that makes the dessert last longer. Which is always a good thing.

    Sheldon Cooper says the three-prong fork isn’t really a fork, it’s a Trident; and it’s not for eating, it’s for ruling all of the oceans.

    I agree with Mr. Cooper to a certain extent, at least in ascribing an ocean-centric purpose for this odd utensil. The only thing I routinely use a three-prong fork for is picking seafood out of shells.

    • #9
  10. kedavis Inactive
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    I find Suzy-Qs to be pretty satisfying.

    • #10
  11. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I’ll take recipes for both – even if they’re fake!  

    • #11
  12. RetiredActuary Coolidge
    RetiredActuary
    @RetiredActuary

    Both excellent cakes and two of my favorites.  And Vienna is awash in a wide range of excellent tortes.

    But I have a Devil’s Food cake recipe with a chocolate ganache frosting that would give them both a run for their money.

    • #12
  13. El Rando Moderator
    El Rando
    @RandyWeivoda

    I. M. Fine: And here at home New York City worships cheesecake, Atlanta is enamored with peach cobbler, and you can’t leave a New Orleans eatery without ordering a beignet.

    The other famous New Orleans dessert is Bananas Foster.

    • #13
  14. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    German chocolate cake was the official birthday dessert of the Brown family when I was growing up. Went well with wienerschnitzel, the official birthday meal, including Christmas, because Baby Jesus. The photograph looks just like my mother’s version.

    This post is part of our Group Writing Series under the August 2022 Group Writing Theme: “Short and Sweet or Sour, Maybe Spicy.” We still have a couple open days. Stop by to sign up and share your own short observations. Also, the September theme is up: “Constitutional.”

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #14
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