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thing of the past | thing to come

What: The Original Sachertorte, a rich cake made from Belgian and German chocolate interlaced with apricot filling and served with unsweetened whipped cream, made in its original form at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Here's a picture I took of one today.

Why: In the United States, we call a piece of cake melted down, osso buco-style, to the rich essence of pure chocolate a "decadence" or a "death by chocolate." In Austria, they call it "cake." There is no point in making it, the Austrians think, unless it reduces you to moaning as you eat it. Probably half the world's best cakes are made in Austria, but the unrivaled king of all it surveys is the sachertorte. The dessert is a triumph of working class knowhow in extremis. In 1832, Austria's Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich demanded that his chef make him a special dessert for important guests. The chef had taken ill, so his 16-year-old assistant, Franz Sacher, came up with this recipe on the spot. The Prince's guests were delighted with Franz's torte, and when Franz's son Eduard completed his chef's training, he perfected the recipe that stands seventeen decades later. Eduard established the Hotel Sacher, possibly the only hotel whose identity was formed around a dessert. The torte itself was the subject of a vicious lawsuit last century, so that now there are two versions of the recipe—the Original at the Hotel Sacher, and Demel's Sacher Torte, whose recipe is held by Sacher's heirs—competing for Austria's top culinary attraction.

Impact: The Hotel Sacher, and its signature dish, remain among Vienna's most popular tourist attractions. Over 350,000 cakes are sold per year. It owns a day of the year, as December 5th in Austria is National Sachertorte Day. If it is possible to make Belgians weep with jealousy over a chocolate creation, the sachertorte does it.

Personal Connection: My father and I stopped at the Hotel Sacher for sachertorte on our way to Sarajevo today. This was his first visit to Vienna, but it was my second visit to the hotel. My first was in 1990 with future Pulitzer-winning journalist Lisa Grace Lednicer. Now, we are both chatty people, Lisa and me. Over dessert that day, we said nothing. The sachertorte spoke for both of us.

Other Contenders: the Thin Mint, America's greatest contribution to the cookie landscape, available every February from eight-year-old sash-bedecked street peddlers; Chinese egg tarts, brought in by cart at the end of a dim sum feast; the red velvet cupcake, the one great use for beets; gulab jamun, an Indian donut hole drenched in honey for hours; hurmašice, a Bosnian walnut pastry drowned in syrup; apple pie, which is as American as America.

Comments

( 15 comments — Agree or disagree? )
girafeduflamme
May. 4th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
Man, I've been missing the "most beautifuls!" Tough to argue with your final selection or other contenders, although to my mind pecan or pumpkin pies are more american than apple pie.
selinker
May. 5th, 2011 04:11 am (UTC)
Excellent point. As you may have guessed, it took some hard evaluation on the "which is the best pie" question. The pumpkin pie is my favorite fall dessert, though the Boston cream pie is a major player, and the French silk pie knocks my socks off. I think the apple pie takes it because of the great things you can do with the crust, but in general, pie = awesome.
girafeduflamme
May. 5th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
No doubt about it.
cramerica
May. 5th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
The Pavlova is a strong contender for us meringue-heads.
selinker
May. 5th, 2011 04:09 am (UTC)
Eating a pav is like swimming in quicksand. But in a good way.
rubrick
May. 5th, 2011 01:10 am (UTC)
Um... seventeen centuries? My, how time flies!

Good to have you back, though!
selinker
May. 5th, 2011 04:08 am (UTC)
Vienna's 1832 is our 1974.

Also, fixed. Stupid metric centuries.

Edited at 2011-05-05 05:12 am (UTC)
jasmine_rosalee
May. 5th, 2011 03:54 am (UTC)
I totally ate sachertorte from that hotel last year. We went there especially and I have pictures that look almost identical to the ones above! It was delicious, of course :D
selinker
May. 5th, 2011 04:06 am (UTC)
You have pictures of my dad? Weird.
jasmine_rosalee
May. 5th, 2011 04:09 am (UTC)
Ahaha no, they're of me. I promise I don't have any of your Dad, that would be weird...
selinker
May. 5th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
It took less than 24 hours for the Other Contenders list to be introduced to a brand new world-class contender. Hurmašice (pronounced "her-ma-JHEEK") is a Bosnian syrup-drenched walnut pastry I had for the first time tonight. And for every night here thereafter, if I can help it.
dextra
May. 6th, 2011 01:31 pm (UTC)
i would substitute the portuguese pastel de nata aka pasteis de bélem for the chinese egg tarts now that i've had them fresh, in portugal. a custardy filling with flakey pastry beats the chinese eggyness any day. sprinkle with some cinnamon and/or icing sugar, eaten warm out of the oven? heaven.

another contender for baked dessert would be the chocolate cheesecake. richness of the cream and chocolate, tang of cheese? yes, please.

selinker
May. 7th, 2011 04:30 am (UTC)
Yes please, indeed. I'll take my cheesecake Chicago-style, please.

Also, time to go to Portugal, methinks.
dextra
May. 7th, 2011 12:36 pm (UTC)
my grandmother bought a recipe off a new york chef for a lovely cheesecake topped with sweetened sour cream and roasted almonds.

and if you do make it to lisbon, i've a futon to spare, and will gladly take you to bélem for the authentic pastry experience! (oh, and show around some historic sites and architecture blablabla)
selinker
May. 12th, 2011 04:09 am (UTC)
Sold.
( 15 comments — Agree or disagree? )

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