When you bite into a slice of Sacher-Torte, you're not just indulging in a delicious chocolate cake. You're tasting a slice of Viennese history, embroiled in a rivalry that made its mark on the culinary world. The legendary feud between Café Demel and Hotel Sacher (both of whom are among our 150 most legendary dessert places in the world) over this dessert is a tale of pride, tradition, and prerogative.
In the beginning, there was a cake
In 1832, Prince Wenzel von Metternich, wanting a unique dessert for his guests, unwittingly set the stage for culinary history. Because his main chef fell ill, the task fell to a young 16-year-old apprentice, Franz Sacher. With careful precision, he crafted a luxurious chocolate cake layered with apricot jam and a mirror-like chocolate glaze. Little did he realize this dessert would become a symbol of Austrian culinary prowess.
Franz and Eduard Sacher
Franz's creation didn't stop at Metternich's dining table. His son, Eduard Sacher, carried forward the legacy, refining the recipe during his training at the Vienna Court's pastry kitchen. With the opening of Hotel Sacher in Vienna, this chocolate delicacy found its first commercial home and began its journey to international acclaim.
The birth of a feud
The battle over the 'Original Sacher-Torte' began after the death of Eduard Sacher. Hotel Sacher and Café Demel, the two prominent Viennese establishments, both claimed to be the rightful keepers of the authentic recipe.
Hotel Sacher's claim was straightforward. Eduard Sacher had developed and refined his father’s original recipe, and the hotel continued this legacy. They were, by lineage, the creators and upholders of the genuine Sacher-Torte.
Credits: Hotel Sacher
Café Demel, on the other hand, had its own compelling narrative. The first point is that Eduard refined his father's recipe as an apprentice at Café Demel, where the "original" was also first served. The second point is that after Eduard's death, his son (also called Eduard) sold the cake's selling rights to Café Demel due to financial difficulties. With this, Demel maintained that it held the genuine recipe and the rights to call their cake the 'Original Sacher-Torte'.
A sticky, jam-encrusted legal affair
The dispute between the two establishments turned legal in the 1950s. The main point of contention was the use of the word "Original" and the specifics of the recipe. While both cakes are essentially chocolate sponge cakes layered with apricot jam and coated in a smooth chocolate glaze, the methods and proportions vary slightly.
After nearly two decades, in 1965, an agreement was finally etched out. Café Demel could brandish their cake as the "Demel's Sachertorte" with one layer of apricot jam. Hotel Sacher was allowed a unique distinction: a seal showcasing two layers of apricot jam, one in the middle and one beneath the chocolate exterior, a trademark of "Original Sacher-Torte".
So... who won?
Trying to decide a winner between Demel and Sacher is a task as intricate as crafting the cake itself. Both have their merits and have been adored for generations. In terms of sales, the Hotel Sacher claims to sell 360,000 cakes (they go for 66 euros per 22-centimeter cake) each year, both in-house and internationally. Café Demel, on the other hand, lags with "just" 67,500 cakes (they go for 56 euros per 24-centimeter cake) sold per year, but remains a favorite spot for many locals and tourists.
Credits: Hotel Sacher
As for the age-old question of which is the true Sacher-Torte? That's a sweet mystery best left to the heart, or perhaps the palate, of the beholder.
Other players in the game
While the rivalry between Hotel Sacher and Café Demel stands out, Vienna's café culture is peppered with several establishments offering their unique versions of the Sacher-Torte. Not the "originals", but delicious all the same.
Credits: Cafe Central
With an illustrious history and famed patrons like Freud, Café Central serves its take on the Sacher-Torte amidst grand interiors reminiscent of Imperial Vienna. Café Landtmann, established in 1873, is an iconic café where one can savor the Sacher-Torte complemented by views of Vienna's historic landmarks. Finally, Café Aida, a ubiquitous presence in Vienna, is a chain known for its pink exteriors, retro vibe, and commercial yet delightful Sacher Torte.