After this morning's dress rehearsal I was invited by another orchestra member (and fellow chocoholic) to sample an "Original Sacher-Torte" at the Sacher Hotel Cafe in the Graz Rathaus. Eddie, a violinist and, more recently, extra percussionist has played in the AIMS orchestra for the past 15 years and has a special affinity for the torte. He always makes a special point to have at least one slice each summer and was nice enough to let me tag along for this one.
The Sacher-Torte was originally conceived in 1832 by Franz Sacher, then a 16 year old apprentice chef, who saved the day when his master fell ill before an important dinner in the court of Prince Metternich. At the Prince's request he created a unique dessert--a dense chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam in the middle covered in thick chocolate icing on all sides and served with unsweetened whipped cream--that delighted the evening's guests and secured him a place in culinary history. According to a pamphlet at the cafe, the Sacher-Torte has since become the "most famous torte in the world" and there is even an official Austrian holiday dedicated to it: December 5...mark your calendars!
Though imitations abound, and almost every family has their own secret version of the torte, there is only one bakery in Vienna that makes the true "Original." Here in Graz, daily shipments from Vienna arrive at the Hotel Sacher and allow residents to indulge their cravings without having to leave town.
Eddie is a real fanatic for Sacher-Torte. On one trip to Vienna, he went from cafe to cafe and sampled 6 different varieties to compare taste and quality (he says the "original" is still the best), and he even had two of the Hotel Sacher's largest tortes delivered as a groom's cake on his wedding day. He had faxed in the order just a couple days before the wedding hoping against all odds that there could somehow be an arrangement made. In the fax, he told them about his experience with the AIMS orchestra and how he always made a special trip to Vienna each summer specifically to eat one of their tortes. On the day of the wedding a large DHL box arrived from Vienna. It contained the two tortes and an invoice for $0.00! Can you believe such generosity? Ever since then he's delighted in spreading the good word about the Sacher-Torte and introducing more people to Austria's national dessert.
The Sacher Cafe is nestled in a little courtyard just inside the entrance to the Graz Rathaus. The ambiance is chic, but warm and casual in an afternoon-siesta sort of way which, along with the gorgeous weather, set up the ideal conditions for sampling the indulgent confection. Listening to Eddie's stories as we waited for our plates to arrive was a fascinating prelude and I think I was sold on the dessert even before taking a single bite.
That first bite however proved to be just as delectable as I'd hoped. The cake tends to be on the dry side, but with a hint of apricot moistness in the middle, thick, decadent, ganache-like frosting, and a compliment of real whipped cream, the combination was heaven for the taste buds. I'm not generally a cooked fruit fan and was a little worried I'd be dodging rubbery apricots to get at the good stuff, but the jam in the middle turned out to be more of an essence than a centerpiece and it's subtle tartness balanced nicely with the sweet intensity of the chocolate.
After learning about and experiencing the heritage of Mozartkugeln and now the Sacher-Torte, it's becoming clear to me that Austrians are pretty darn serious about their chocolate...yet another endearing thing about the country that I can add to my list of "Why I should try to come back to AIMS next summer."