Where does Esterházy torte come from?

Why, Vienna. That city has been the cultural capital of Europe for more years than perhaps any other, however it attained probably its greatest prominence as the seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which lasted from 1867 until the end of the First World War in 1918). In those days Vienna was not only the home to nobility it was an economic powerhouse as well. Of course lots of economic activity means a thriving middle class, and a thriving middle class means lots of demand for luxury goods with which the not-so-well-born can achieve a living standard comparable to the well-born twits who think they’re too good to hang out with them.

Esterházy torte was one of these luxury goods. It was named for one Prince Paul Esterházy (full name Prince Paul III Anton Esterházy de Galántha), a member of the ancient house of Esterházy, who lived from 1786 to 1866. As a person Esterházy was a rather unremarkable fellow, known mostly for inheriting — and blowing — one of the biggest fortunes Europe had ever seen. That didn’t matter much to bakers in the grand hotels of Vienna circa 1900, however. At that time they were busy churning out tortes named for every Tom, Dick and Harry hotel owner, pastry chef, nobleman, political leader or celebrity that had trod the Continent over the previous eighty or so years. Sacher torte, Dobos torte and Napoleons all date to this time.

Thus the torte was named for Esterházy not because he did anything in particular or liked pastry especially, but because he had a name that people recognized. Our cultural equivalent might be “Rockefeller torte”. To most people the name means very little other than: rich.

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