Saturday, October 15, 2011

We Are Broken, but Back! {And with Viennese Cake: Sachertorte}

It has certainly been some time. Why, all of September and half of October flew by since the last post. And when I finally did check in, my whole blog was broken!!! Well, the pictures at least.

It turns out if one fiddles with the 'Blogger' pictures in Picasa web albums, it affects the pictures on the actual blog as well. This is news to me. So please be patient as I slowly restore the pictures that have gone missing. I must admit, part of me has been cowering under virtual blankets afraid to look at the wreckage of the the big black gaping holes (with very threatening symbols no less) where my photos used to sit. Those angry exclamation points and triangles were just too much to bear.

Sachertorte from my kitchen. Bulbous, but scrumptious.
And of course I've been busy as well. That's how life works. September in the world of a teacher is absolutely...well, one can imagine. Rather than come back with apologies though, I think it much more foodbloggish to come back with cake! Viennese Sachertorte: the original, and the one from my kitchen.

In the middle of the September new-class chaos, I also took a holiday with my mum. She flew out from Wisconsin, and since she's visited Czech Republic before, we decided to check out some other places. Since Vienna is adored by both of us, we started with a couple days there staying smack-dab next to the outdoor food market - the Naschmarkt.

But back to the cake. Sachertorte is a Viennese legend. It originated in the Hotel Sacher over 175 years ago, and versions of it are sold in cafes across Europe. The original can only be had in Vienna, and I believe also their hotel in Salzburg. In the past, I've always arrived at Hotel Sacher's Café during their busy time. Morning, mid-day, evening, it's always been packed with people. But this time, we tried a late evening approach - ten or elevinish. Seats were procured and cake was had.

And I don't know if it's the elegant 'S' icon on every pane of glass in the cafe, or the Sacher Hotel chocolate seal atop each slice of cake, but it just tasted better than any other Sachertorte I've ever had. And there have been many.

Compared to American cakes, the sweetness of Sachertorte is quite understated. Yet the smooth chocolate icing and the apricot glaze between the layers gave it the sugar edge my taste buds badly craved. Then again, to balance that out, the whipped cream served along side was also unsweetened. But then, the mug of Hot Sacher Chocolate I ordered tipped the sweet scale over again. It seems to me that Sachertorte has held onto it's popular position in Central Europe for so long precisely for this sweetness balance.

THE Original Sacher-Torte
After having had the real thing, it dawned on me that someday I might move away and not be within driving distance of Vienna, and more importantly, of its cakes. I had better learn to create some semblance of flavours and textures that mimic the original. I read up a bit and decided the recipe from Kaffehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague as found on Epicurious would do the trick. I read the reviews and followed the recipe, only baked it at a lower temperature (350°) for 45-50 minutes (rather than 400° for 35 minutes, as other reviews had suggested.)

The result is pictured at the top of the post. Not nearly as elegant as the Sacher Original. And to be honest, this was my second attempt. (The first turned into the biggest cake disaster I've ever lived through. Entire thing went to the trash. It was completely my mistake. When beating the egg whites and sugar together I used a wooden bowl, rather than glass, and those whites would not turn into anything resembling firm peaks!)

The cake bakes up with quite a domed arch shape. Since the whole thing should be sliced in half, the top should be sliced evenly flat too. And cutting off those excess top bits should give you enough for a hearty taste-test as well.

The apricot glaze is just lovely, and it pays to brush it onto the cake layer with a big rubber pastry brush, slowly, so it can sink in to the cake. Oh, and somehow my version ended up receiving chopped toasted almonds on top - not usual on a Sachertorte. But almonds suited the chocolate and apricot/rum glaze, and what's more, I really didn't find the glaze visually appealing. It turned out a bit too thin. It might be worth experimenting with a different chocolate glaze than the one in the recipe, which is perhaps too basic.

While it's a bit of a do-ahead cake (best to bake the night before, to be glazed/assembled the next day) it doesn't keep very long. Even well-covered in the fridge it seemed to dry out quickly. It's a great cake to share. Although, come to think of it, every cake is theoretically made for sharing. But the drying-out concern makes this one particularly destined for sharing, and not guilting it's way onto your plate for days on end.
Disclaimer: I may have too-much-cake-in-the-kitchen trauma.

Vienna Tips

(For a very nice Vienna write-up, check out post from earlier this year at What's for Lunch Honey?)

St. Stephan's Cathedral

A great, great, great place to stay is right next to the Naschmarkt at Wombat's City Hostel. It's newly built with private rooms as well as dorms. Very nice and clean kitchen facilities...makes eating straight from the market so easy!

If cooking for yourself is not appealing on holiday, there are plenty of cute cafés tucked between the rows of veg at the market. And for a sweet fix while walking, duck into the Schoko Company shop (in the middle of the market area) for a wide selection of über-creative chocolate creations, especially ones by my fave Austrian producer, Zotter.

Beyond the Naschmarkt are plenty of museums and other attractions depending on one's interests. Yet, one place absolutely anyone can find worth visiting is Prater (Wurstelprater) - the amusement park.

Firstly developed in the late 1800s and reconstructed after the war, Prater is the amusement park with atmosphere. Classic rides, games, and nostalgic images abound...go at night and you won't be disappointed!

A few more Vienna pictures can be found in this Picasa web album.

Next food stop on the mum-n-daughter holiday: Rome. Psst...there will be artichokes!

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy.
-- Jo

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