SACHERTORTE AND ITS NAMESAKE HOTEL
text ©2007 by Lucy Gordan
Vienna, March 29, 2007
Like the Hassler in Rome, the Sacher Hotel in Vienna is one of the few
top hotels worldwide to have always been family-run. The Sacher is also
unusual in another way. While most great hotels became famous for their
hospitality first and then their cuisine, the Sacher Hotel owes its take-off
to a cake. In actual fact, the hotel was opened in 1876 by the Eduard
Sacher, the son of the inventive pastry chef Franz.
Thanks to the generosity of the Austria Tourist Board in New York, the
Vienna Tourist Board, and Reiner Heilmann, the Managing Director of the
Sacher Hotel, Lucy Gordan visited the off-limits Sacher bakery and interviewed
Franz's present-day successor, Alfred Buxbaum, for Epicurean-Traveler.com.
His charming wife Tamara, also a Sacher Hotel employee, was the translator.
LG: How many Sacher-Torte head chefs have there been all together?
AB: That's a difficult question. I've held this position since 2003. Before
me for 27 years it was a Mr. Pflieger. I began to work at the Sacher Hotel
under him in 1989, when I was 19.
LG: A brief history of the Sacher-Torte?
AB: The first Sacher-Torte was created by Franz Sacher, a 16-year-old apprentice
chef at the court of the Austrian State Chancellor Prince Clement Wenzel
von Mitternich. The afternoon before an important banquet the head chef,
who was supposed to invent a new sweet for the high-ranking guests that
evening, fell ill, giving young Franz his chance of a lifetime. In spite
of his success, however, Franz did not become a confectioner, but one
of the greatest court chefs of all times. He is the father of "Viennese
Alfred Buxbaum at work, photo © 2007 Lucy Gordan
LG: How did you happen to become a pastry chef?
AB: I loved baking cakes with my mother and I started very young as a
pastry apprentice in a small café.
LG: Were there other pastry chefs in your family?
LG: Essential qualities for being a top pastry chef?
AB: A good professional relationship with colleagues; creativity and innovation.
LG: Other pastry chefs you admire?
AB: Franz Schumacher, who's retired now but used to have his own pastry
LG: When did the bakery move here from the Hotel's kitchen?
AB: On March 15, 1999. It's much better here. In the hotel's kitchen it
was very crowded. Here we have much more space. All the machines and ovens
are only for us, for cakes, and not other foods. We even designed our
machinery to fit our exact needs.
LG: How many people work under you?
AB: Twenty-one in production and 18 in ordering and packaging, which is
all done by hand.
LG: Your typical day?
AB: I come here every morning at 6 AM; I prepare the day's ingredients
and then tell the chefs under me their jobs for that day. Next I control
all the special orders, only private individuals not cafés or shops
except at the Sacher Hotels and Cafés here in Innsbruck, Graz,
and Salzburg, and at the Vienna airport. This Sacher-Torte you see here
with a diameter of 80 cm. is a special order for a 75th birthday, but
they are very popular for weddings.
Next on the agenda my team and I cover all the cakes with chocolate icing
and then move on to doing our traditional [chocolate seals], seasonal
or special-order decorations which include marzipan roses, Santa Clauses,
and Easter bunnies. Last but not least, I deal with paperwork.
LG: Are you a sweet-tooth?
AB: Yes, especially ice cream, any kind of chocolate, and the Austrian
warm dessert, "Kaiserschmarren"— shredded pancakes served
with plum sauce.
LG: Tomorrow I'm going to visit the chocolaterie of the "Schokolade König"
or "The Chocolate King", Mr. Wolfgang Leschanz, who was a pastry
chef at the Sacher Hotel and at Demel's, perhaps the most famous Viennese
café. Were you never tempted to open your own shop?
AB: No comment.
|photos © 2007 Lucy Gordan
LG: Do you bake other types of cakes besides the Sacher-Tortes?
AB: Yes, four: the traditional Viennese Gewürzguglhupf flavored with
ginger and other spices; Anna Sacher Schnitte, a fluffy layered sponge
cake with orange and hazelnut praline cream filling with a hint of cointreau
and covered in chocolate; a large chocolate-covered wafer Sacher Eck;
Schokerlkuchen, a fudge cake with egg liquor. They and many other Sacher
products can be ordered by e-mail: email@example.com or from the website
LG: How many Sacher-Tortes do you make everyday?
AB: On average we produce between 500-800 Sacher-Tortes per day. We make
c. 350,000 every year. Our busiest time of the year is Christmas, when
we bake c. 3,000 cakes a day. Annually we use more than 1 million eggs,
25 tons of castor sugar, around 75 tons of icing sugar, 64 tons of apricot
jam, 23 tons of butter, and 20 tons of flour. We use three types of chocolate,
which is free of preservatives and made by hand. As you can see, the dough
is mixed in machines, but the rest is all hand-made, including the wooden
boxes they're packed by hand in.
LG: Where are your customers?
AB: Around a third are exported to Germany, the USA, Switzerland, Italy
and Japan. DHL is our courier. Delivery time to any destination in the
world is between three and six working days. For maximum freshness, Sachertortes
should be stored at a temperature between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius. Once
opened, they should be eaten within two weeks. The best way to enjoy them
is with an cup of coffee topped with unsweetened whipped cream.
LG: Doesn't it get monotonous to make the same cakes over and over again?
AB: No, every day is a new challenge.
LG: I know the recipe is a secret and that the filling between the layers
is an apricot jam made exclusively for you, but what are the ingredients
and the essential steps in baking a Sachertorte?
AB: Sorry, the recipe for the Original Sacher-Torte is strictly secret.
It's kept in a safe at the Hotel because lots of pastry shops worldwide
sell Sacher-Tortes but not "The Original". However, Alexandra
Gürtler, the daughter of the present-day owner of the Sacher Hotel
the cookbook author Christoph Wagner, and the
Hotel's Executive Chef Hans Peter Fink included my simplified version
in their cookbook, The New Sacher Cookbook: Favorite Austrian Dishes,
published in 2005 and for sale on the Hotel's website.
LG: Can you summarize the production steps for me?
AB: There are essentially 7 steps. 1) Break your eggs separating the whites
from the yolk. 2) Mix sugar, chocolate and yokes together. 3) Add in whipped
whites and flour. 4) Bake in an oven at 180 degrees for an hour. 5) Cut
in two. 6) Spread the apricot jam filling between the two layers. 7) Cover
with hot chocolate icing and let cool.
We make Sacher-Tortes in four standard sizes. The smallest called "Piccolo",
which means small in Italian, is 12 cm. in diameter, weighs 400 grams
and serves 4; the others are 16 cm., 700 grams, and serves 6; 19 cm. in
diameter, weighing a kilo, and serving 9; 22 cm. in diameter, weighing
1.2 kilos, and serves 12.
LG: Many top chefs have collections; what about you?
AB: I collect sunglasses and watches.
LG: If you hadn't become a pastry chef, what profession would you have
AB: Probably a bank employee.