The Best Cake in Vienna

Browsing in the gift shop of Vienna’s famed Cafe Sacher, I resist the cookbooks, magnets, robes, and teddy bears. But I can never resist buying an Original Sacher-Torte, a dense but delectable chocolate cake made with a thin layer of apricot jam and a rich chocolate glaze, to take home with me.

The cake is even mentioned in my professional bio, where I talk about studying in Vienna in college. That’s true love.

Whenever I’m in Vienna, I head to Cafe Sacher, order a slice of Original Sacher-Torte mit schlag (with a generous dollop of unsweetened whipped cream) and a cup of coffee.

Inside Cafe Sacher in Vienna. (Photograph by I-Ta Tsai, Flickr)

Then the ritual begins: sips of coffee in between bites of cake, trying not to let too many crumbs fall. In the process, I’m not just indulging in my favorite dessert on the planet; I’m transported back to that carefree time I spent in the city as an undergrad.

The cake was invented in 1832 by 16-year-old Franz Sacher. Years later, at the height of the Habsburg Empire, the beautiful, but lonely, Empress Sisi regularly had the cake sent to her. And today, 1,000 cakes are sold daily in four locations across Austria. (Two people are employed just to crack all the eggs — 11,000 each day!)

There are other versions — one could say imitations — of the famous torte, of course, including with Cafe Demel, Sacher’s main rival in Vienna. I’ve sampled many, but, for me, Cafe Sacher’s version always wins.

The cake isn’t for everyone. Some of my friends who have been moved to try the Sacher-Torte themselves after hearing my rapturous reviews, only to return with complaints of dry cake. But that has been a small minority. My obsession remains.

Cafe Sacher is attached to the family-owned Hotel Sacher, a transportive place that looks out over Hofburg Palace and the Vienna State Opera. I have yet to stay overnight but love that I can sit in the plush red-velvet lobby, the Blue Bar, or the cafe and still feel a part of it.

Wolfgang Buchmann, Hotel Sacher’s charismatic chief concierge, says the cake owes its success to its secret recipe, which is locked away in a safe. “The ingredients are high-quality, but simple,” he says. But he warns against pairing the cake with a coffee that could overwhelm its flavor. “It should not be too strong,” he says. “I prefer to drink a [Wiener] Melange with it.”

The Christkindlmarkt at city hall. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

After a tête-à-tête with an Original Sacher-Torte, you’ll want to walk around. When I’m in town, I always take advantage of Vienna’s Ringstrasse, a grand boulevard that encircles the historic city center in a 3-mile loop, for a post-torte power walk.

This time, the Ringstrasse is aglow with tiny, twinkling lights from Vienna’s Christmas markets. The Christkindlmarkt in front of city hall, has the most stunning backdrop, but the Spittelberg Market, nestled in one of my favorite neighborhoods, the buzzing Neubau, near the MuseumsQuartier, is definitely worth a visit. You also won’t want to miss the market at Schönbrunn Palace, just a subway ride away from the Ringstrasse.

My conversation with Wolfgang had turned to Austria’s famous Christmas cookies, so I was on the hunt for some as I strolled through the markets. He told me that it’s a time honored tradition for Austrian families to bake cookies — from scratch — at home. “Every family has their own secret recipe,” Wolfgang said. “At least four different kinds of cookies will be made, which have to be hidden until Christmas, otherwise nothing remains. Nowadays, you can buy them outside the home but nothing is better than homemade!”

He told me the most popular flavors for Austrian Christmas cookies are vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, anise, and orange. But, finally, at the Christkindlmarkt at city hall, I find my favorite: apple crumb.

I leave Vienna, Sacher-Torte and Christmas cookies in hand, with a smile on my face. But I have something else tucked away in my carry on: a Hotel Sacher Christmas ornament.

When I arrive home to my apartment in New York City, I hang it on my tree with love, and each time I look at it I’m reminded of that time I lived in Vienna, when the most important decision to be made was which newspaper to read next at which cafe.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her travels on Twitter @anniefitz.

Comments

  1. John
    western Massachusetts
    June 30, 2013, 7:23 pm

    The Prinz-Eugen-Torte is also worth trying. I actually like it better than the Sachertorte. The melange of chocolate and mandarin oranges is really something special. A homemade Apfelstruedel, a good Linzertorte, or Palataschinken (Austrian crepes) are special treats that will always lure me back to Austria.

  2. Matt
    United States
    December 13, 2012, 4:47 pm

    I live in Texas and I have had plenty of Sacher Tort replicas. When I tried the Sacher Tort in Vienna, I was kind of disappointed. Not because it wasn’t good, but because the one I have in my hometown is just as good, and Vienna is filled with the best cakes of anywhere I’ve ever been. The streets are lined with bakeries that have cakes that make me want to pause my eating just to tell someone else about it. I would suggest everyone who visits Vienna to try an original from Hotel Sacher, but then go to one of the many traditional coffee shops (Cafe Demel, etc.), maybe go with a friend and get different cakes for variety.

  3. Julian Greene
    United States
    December 9, 2012, 1:09 am

    “Whenever I’m in Vienna…” is an inspiring line. I’ve lived a rich, full life, but I’ve never been to Vienna. I think it is something I must aspire to.

  4. Chasing Ruins (Vibri Wulandari)
    Vancouver, Canada
    December 6, 2012, 10:57 am

    Tried both Sacher at Cafe Demel and Cafe Sacher. Cafe Sacher wins!

    http://www.chasingruins.com/

  5. Zoran
    December 6, 2012, 6:48 am

    I visit Vienna very often, but I think that Sacher Torte is just nice cake, nothing special :-)

  6. Sophie Carr
    London
    December 6, 2012, 6:40 am

    I was in Vienna in Feb 2011 and went into the Café Sacher for the famous Sacher Torte and was horrified at the smokiness in the place – had to leave and eat the cake elsewhere. Lovely city somewhat spoilt by people still being allowed to smoke inside.

  7. Christian Rene Friborg
    Germany
    December 5, 2012, 6:43 pm

    I was also able to try this Sacher Torte during my one week trip to Vienna and I can say it is indeed one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever tasted!

  8. Ximena
    France
    December 3, 2012, 5:54 am

    I agree!! Sacher Torte is the best dessert in the world, it is my favorite and I’m glad to find another fan ! I will be in Vienna next january and I’m going to this place for sure. Thank you very much.

  9. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    http://www.thetravelchica.com
    November 30, 2012, 5:30 pm

    I attempted to try every traditional cake in Vienna when I was there for 3 days several years ago. I think I tried between 10 and 12. So delicious!

  10. Lakshmi
    November 30, 2012, 1:59 pm

    Brought back very fond memories of each March when I headed to Vienna and did what you did….with one difference. I had their hot cocoa as well! Since you lived in Vienna, you might enjoy reading our post on cafe hopping in the city (including Cafe Sacher). http://bit.ly/SYLbXT