A Continental Christmas: Cake Fit For A Prince

There seems to be a theme developing here and it can only be explained by my love for chocolate. We are carrying on this theme, and this time we’re tackling a ‚Sachertorte’. Originally made by Austrian-born Franz Sacher for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in 1832, this cake consists of an airy chocolate cake layered with sweet apricot jam, covered in marzipan and then draped in a coat of glossy chocolate ganache. I was lucky enough to try a slice of this cake in Konditorei Buchwald (Berlin) this summer. You guys know I take my chocolate cake very seriously, and the moment this luxurious sponge touched my tongue, I fell in love. Though Konditorei Buckwald is renowned for their „Baumkuchen”, I would run from England to Berlin just to get my hands on one small morsel of this cake. After researching how to import a traditional ‚Sachertorte’ to England, and then discovering the cost of this activity (more than I would like to spend, let’s just put it that way), I decided it would be a fun learning experience to attempt to make it myself. What could go wrong?

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After much deliberation, I found a very well received, traditional ‚Sachertorte’ recipe which was reassuring.  Though the recipe calls for a 9″/22cm circular tin, I decided to halve the recipe and go for a deeper cake (settling on a 6″/17cm circular tin). This made it easier to cut the cake in half, and also cuts the cooking time down significantly as the cake was baked for almost an hour in the original recipe, whereas my cake was only in the oven for 35 minutes tops – who needs delayed gratification anyway?

 

To make the cake, you begin by making two elements – the meringue-like mixture, and the heavier chocolate-butter mixture. The meringue-like mixture is the half which will give the cake its light, spongey texture, and the use of butter in the sponge is what gives it such a rich decadent flavour, and brings out the richness of the dark chocolate. Any dark chocolate you use in the recipe should have at least 70% cocoa solids to give the cake a deeper flavour and a richer, fuller colour. As I’ve mentioned recently, when working with dark chocolate, it’s much easier to microwave than melt over a double boiler, as I find it’s less temperamental that white chocolate (and that’s coming from a serial chocolate splitter).

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After placing the cake in the oven, all that is left to do is wait. Similar in texture to the roulade batter, this cake goes slightly crisp on top when baked, however still springs back when pressed lightly. If you’re in any doubt, the skewer-through-the-centre-trick is my go to technique. As long as it comes out clean, it’s all good. My cake was particularly domed when I removed it from the oven, but after it had cooled down for a while, and levelled off, it was ready to have the finishing touches added. In other words, bring on the marzipan, apricot jam and chocolate ganache!

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When you see traditional‚Sachertorte’ being made (something you can watch here) you can see them smother the cake in apricot jam, which acts as a sort of layer to lock in all the crumbs (and as a glue to which the marzipan can stick). As if the cake weren’t already moist enough, the apricot jam adds to this and means even days after you make it, the cake still retains this delicious texture of a freshly baked cake. In terms of the marzipan, I decided to only cut a disc to stick to the top of the cake, instead of bringing it down the sides as well, only because I think it’s a bit of a faff trying to make sure the sides are all even, and the same thickness, but if you are willing to put in a little extra effort, it really can make a difference. And finally the ganache. This is the literal icing on the cake, and if you can get a super glossy finish, you will almost be able to see yourself in it. The trick to this is a teaspoon of honey in the ganache to give it the wet paint look which not only makes it look stunning but gives it a subtle sweetness which ties everything together. If this isn’t fit for royalty, I don’t know what is.

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THE RECIPE

Ingredients

For The Cake

  • 70g Butter, softened
  • 55g Icing Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Free-range eggs, separated
  • 65g Dark Chocolate
  • 55g Caster Sugar
  • 70g Plain Flour

For the Filling

  • 150g Apricot Jam (or enough to fill and cover the cake generously)

For the Ganache

  • 200ml Double Cream
  • 175g Dark Chocolate
  • 1 tsp Honey

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c/350 Fahrenheit/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Line the circular (springform) tin with baking paper, and grease the sides generously with butter.
  3. Place the soft butter in a large mixing bowl and add the icing sugar and vanilla into the same bowl. Beat them together until light and fluffy.
  4. Add in the egg yolks one by one beating all the while until fully incorporated.
  5. Melt the dark chocolate (either in the microwave or a double boiler), and add to the bowl along with the plain flour.
  6. Wash the beaters of the hand mixer with hot soapy water, and dry. Make sure there is no residue on the beaters or the egg whites will not whip up properly.*
  7. Now beat the egg whites in another bowl until soft peaks are formed.
  8. Slowly add the sugar until stiff, meringue-like peaks form.
  9. Add half of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and use a metal spoon or spatula in large round movements to fold them in until the mixture becomes a little looser.
  10. Add in the rest of the meringue-like mix, taking care not to knock out any air whilst folding.
  11. Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed.
  12. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin. Leave to cool completely before moving on to filling or decorating it. If you need to speed up this process, you could place the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  13. Level the top of the cake with a bread knife or cake leveller, and then cut in half.
  14. Sandwich with warmed apricot jam, and then cover the whole cake in the jam to lock in the crumbs.
  15. Cut a disc of marzipan with the same diameter as the cake (i.e cut around the loose bottom of the springform pan) and place on top. Press down lightly to ensure the disc sticks to the cake.
  16. Prepare the ganache by heating the chocolate, cream and honey in a jug in the microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring in between each one until the chocolate has completely melted, and the ganache has a thick, glossy consistency.
  17. Place the cake on a grate (e.g. a drying rack) and pour the ganache over the cake to coat the top and sides evenly; let any excess ganache run off.
  18. Decorate with your choice of decorations, and leave to set up before slicing.
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