Years ago when I first landed in Vienna’s Schwechat airport, my objective was to visit Hotel Sacher and experience the world famous Sacher Torte in the cafe of the hotel.
Austrian pastry chefs enjoy fame in Europe, and the populations of central European countries (Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, the Czech Republic along with Germany and France) support them with great enthusiasm.
Tortes are made primarily with sugar, eggs, groundnuts, flour, and flavouring agents. Most are 5 – 10 cm in height contain a filling and are covered with icing, molten chocolate, or whipped cream.
Pies, on the other hand, are baked in a pastry dough casing that contains a filling of sweet or savoury ingredients, i.e fruits or spiced cooked meat. English speaking countries prefer pies to tortes.
Egyptians were the first to bake pie-like galettes for long voyages approximately in 950 B.C.
Greeks learned about baking from ancient Egyptians but refined the art creating forerunners of tortes.
When I arrived in the Cafe Sacher, the maitre d’hotel informed me that since I was not appropriately dressed to be served since I had on casual clothing and day old beard on my face.
I felt bad about this experience but vowed to return at a later date to experience the famous Sacher Torte and many others over many visits.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire that ruled both countries and Slovakia in the 13th century had an elaborate court with many courtesans. All enjoyed pastries, but the refinements were introduced during the Hapsburg governments.
Beginning in the 1870’s, and emperor Franz Joseph (1830 – 1916, reigned from 1848 to the day of his death), Vienna, Budapest, Prague were hotbeds of culture and arts. The emperor and his wife, Elizabeth, hosted elaborate feasts at the Hofburg Palace where savoury courses were followed by intricately prepared rich, sweet and fancifully decorated tortes.
Vienna’s supremacy in tortes derives from those regal traditions and the legendary cafes.
Of all the tortes, Sacher Torte is the most famous that was invented by the Sacher family. It is a five centimetre tall cake glazed with apricot jam and covered with chocolate couverture.
The recipe was sold in 1930’s to Demel, another famous Viennese bakery, but Sacher changed its version to halving the torte and applying a layer of apricot glaze. The whole torte was covered with chocolate glaze.
Litigation ensued, and after many years known as “the Sweet Wars”, Hotel Sacher won the right to call its invention the Original Sacher Torte.
Demel still produces a Sacher Torte which is every bit as good as the “original” in Sacher Cafe.
Even today, many retired ladies visit their local cafes after lunch at least twice a week to eat a portion of torte and enjoy freshly brewed coffee.
Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians import fine coffee beans from Central American countries, roast them lightly, and grind each portion of coffee beans before brewing. Aromas of freshly brewed coffee are enticing.
Surprisingly, Central Europeans didn’t know about coffee until the 18th century when the Ottoman army forgot two sacks of coffee at the walls of Vienna after being defeated.
Today Viennese cafes represent a tradition that evolved from this “happy” incident.
In a Viennese Cafe, coffee service involves a tray with the coffee ordered, a glass of water and should you wish to add more.
There are many newspapers at your disposal and you can sit there, even for hours, reading or talking.
Some of the more famous Viennese cafes are: Hotel Sacher, Cafe Konditorei Diglas, Demel, Cafe Sperl, Cafe Mozart, Cafe Frauenhuber, Cafe Landtmann, cafe central, Cafe Hawelka, Cafe Muesum, Cafe Prukel, and Cafe Schwarzenberg.
In Austria ordering coffee is an elaborate affair. You can order
Kaffee mit Schlag (with whipped cream), Kurzer, Brauner, Franziskaner just to name a few.
When it comes to selecting your torte, the choice is daunting ranging from Sacher Torte, Mercedes, Pithiviers, Linzer Torte, Reform, Schwarzwalder, St. Honore, Dobos Torte, Progress, Russische Punschtorte, Punschtorte, Dursteiner Torte, Moroni Torte, Franzosische Kaffeecreme Torte, Truffeltorte, Nuss Kaffeeetorte, Himbeer Yoghurt Torte, Biskottentorte, Kronprinzschnitte, Vanillecremeschnitte, Zuger Kirschtorte, Erdbeertorte, Himbeertorte, Cherry Cheese Torte, Almond Torte, Hazelnut-Chocolate Torte, Walnut Torte, Honey-Walnut Torte and Strudel vom gezogenen Teig.
The choice is endless, and the decision is not always an easy one to make.
The Central European cafe experience is unique and has an ambience that cannot be duplicated in other countries. You must experience to believe it.
Do not wait for long, the culture may die out in a few years from now as all these nations have become slaves to everyday hustle and bustle.
As for my second visit to Sacher Cafe I never had a chance. I had too many others to visit and experience.