All Roads Lead to Vienna

Well, at least in the world of baking and pastry they do. I know what some of you are thinking: is this going to be another trip to the year 1683 and the Battle of Vienna — the most baking-intensive conflict in the history of man? This is one time when the answer is no. Sacher Torte only dates to 1832, the year a young pastry chef (very young in fact, he was a mere 16) by the name of Franz Sacher created the cake for Prince von Metternich (full name: Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar Fürst von Metternich-Winneberg- Beilstein), the second most famous diplomat of his time after Talleyrand (Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince de Benevente).

There are several versions of Sacher torte’s creation. One posits that Sacher was Metternich’s personal pastry chef when he hit upon his famous recipe, which seems unlikely since he was so very young. Another has it that Sacher was merely a hired hand in the kitchen of the Metternich estate at the time, which seems even less likely. A third maintains that Sacher was an apprentice baker at a pastry shop in Vienna frequented by Metternich, which seems the least likely of all, since it’s hard to imagine a top diplomat of the Austrian Empire browsing pastry shops for fun (especially in those days when there were servants to do those sorts of things). But whatever the circumstance, all the stories share a basic plot line: that the master chef had fallen ill, Metternich was hungry, and Sacher was forced to deliver. And deliver he did, with a dessert that has since become the very emblem of Viennese pastry.

The popular notion that the Sacher torte was named for the Sacher Hotel is actually mistaken. The hotel wasn’t built until 1876, by which time the torte was already world famous. Yet the family name is the same, the establishment having been built by Franz Sacher’s son Eduard in 1876. Yet Eduard, it seems, wasn’t exactly gifted in the art of hotel management. It took Eduard’s death, and the ascension of his tough-as-nails, cigar-smoking wife Anna to turn the hotel into the world class institution that became around the turn the last century, and remains to this day.

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