There are days when I miss the pastry kitchen.
I miss coming home with my hands smelling of sugar and vanilla.
I miss the collaboration of making cakes with a battery of people: one who takes care of the sponge; another of the filling; a third who handles the frosting and the artist who puts it all together.
I miss the banter of a kitchen full of cooks talking about life and love as they go about whisking, kneading or piping.
I miss the smells of chocolate, berries, banana, freshly baked dough wafting out of the double ovens.
Nowadays, I still bake on commission or, privately, I experiment with sugar and gluten substitutes – with varying degrees of success – but both pursuits are usually mine alone.
On the days when I miss the coordinated chaos of the professional kitchen, I find excuses to bake “a project”.
Last week I mentioned that “I ran home to bake a Sacher” for Valentine’s Day, making it sound like the work of a moment. A bit smug of me, I admit.
But, even if I have the added advantage of years of working professionally, my advantage is mostly an organizational one. I know how to time, how to prep and how to coordinate several tasks probably better than an average cook, but anyone with a love of baking (as you know if you have been watching The Great British Bake Off) can achieve professional results.
There are desserts that many proficient bakers won’t touch because they are deemed too labor intensive. The Sacher torte is one of them. Although the original Sacher torte recipe is a guarded secret, there are many recipes consistent with the Sacher still served at the namesake hotel and patisserie.
For culinary history buffs, the Sacher was created by Franz Sacher, an apprentice in Prince Wenzel von Metternich’s kitchen in 1832, when the Prince asked for a special dessert for some special guests. With the head chef taken ill, 16-year-old Sacher came up with the cake pretty much as we know it. While it appeared the torte was much appreciated it did not become famous until Sacher’s son, Eduard, who studied patisserie and ended up opening the first Sacher Hotel, perfected his father’s recipe and began serving it at his establishment.
The Sacher is just a chocolate cake (a genoise sponge to be precise) with a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle and a chocolate icing. There are only a few things to keep in mind if you make it:
- When folding the egg whites into the yolks/chocolate mixture, use a spatula and as few sweeping motions as possible, in order not to deflate it.
- When making the icing, which calls for boiling water and sugar on the stove and then adding chocolate to melt, let the sugar completely dissolve and boil for about 5 minutes. It will not be caramel yet but it will harden, together with the chocolate, to that shiny and glossy consistency the cake is known for.
- Use the best chocolate you can afford.
After going to bed with full bellies on Valentine’s day, the cake lived on in my fridge for another three days – a small slice goes a long way. It was delicious but, mostly, I reveled, not so much in its taste, but in the process and in its ultimate perfection.