When a cake is so celebrated that pastry-obsessed Austria awards it with a national holiday (December 5), dispute is bound to follow. Such is the history of the Sachertorte (if that is indeed the spelling). The spongy tiers of cake are separated by layers of jam, encased in fudge icing and served with whipped cream. According to tradition, this particular confection was invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel Von Metternich when he was in need of an impromptu dessert for some lavishly baroque dinner party. That’s the widely accepted story, however other accounts say that similar recipes preexisted in older culinary tomes. 

But more at issue has been the legal claim to the term itself. Though plenty of versions of this dessert exist throughout Vienna and Austria’s bordering countries, the right to call any cake “the Original Sachertorte” went litigious. Problem was that Sacher’s son perfected the recipe at the local Demel Bakery then went on to sell it at the Hotel Sacher, which he opened with his wife, Anne. After the family lost the hotel, Eduard’s son (also Eduard) brought the cake back to the bakery. The two parties went to court in the 1950s. Following a protracted battle that questioned the pastry’s makeup (e.g., butter or margarine, number and type of jam layers), they agreed the hotel could officially produce and sell “The Original Sacher-Torte” (with the specified hyphen). The bakery would have the right to decorate its product with a seal reading “Eduard-Sacher-Torte.” 

Whatever the name, recipes are highly guarded. Happily, both the hotel and the bakery will share their prized item by mail order. Keep in mind that a Sacher-Torte isn’t at all like your Aunt Doris’s German chocolate cake, or any other Americanized mainstay that you grew up on. Rather, it is both dense and at the same time light, striking an elegant balance between the rich outer casing of fudge, the airier, not-too-sweet chocolate sponge cake within and a singingly delightful layer of apricot jam that makes each bite a confectionary fugue. 

After dessert, channel Anne Sacher, who ran the hotel, by lighting up a cigar. Her penchant for cigars was almost as legendary as the cake.

Visit sacher.com/original-sacher-torte/ and demel.at