Research. A rather dull word, right?
It conjures up images of poring over mile-high stacks of books, feverishly typing notes, hands permanently stained with highlighter and pen marks.
But just add a simple adjective to “research” and you’ve got something terribly exciting: travel research. It’s one of my favorite parts of traveling; finding those “hidden treasures” in a city, like a sculpture, or the best waffles, or a local festival. I can spend hours standing at my desk, clicking away on my computer, finding the best tips from forums, blogs, or city websites.
So, when I was researching Vienna, I knew I had to try the Sachertorte, a chocolate cake originally created at Hotel Sacher in Vienna. I turned to the web for suggestions, which people had strong opinions about, such as:
- insisting on only trying it at Hotel Sacher; apparently anywhere else it wasn’t as good,
- denouncing it as “dry” and “tasteless,”
- swearing by the Schlagsahne (unsweetened whipped cream) on the side to mitigate the dryness,
- complaining about paying nearly 5 euro for a slice of cake.
My excitement in trying the apricot-jam sandwiched chocolate cake was quickly waning. “Dry? Tasteless? I don’t even like whipped cream!” But wanting to “cross that off the list,” I decided to take one for the team.
Off to Hotel Sacher we went, though slightly confused by the opening times. It read, “8:00 – 1:00.” “That’s odd,” I thought. “Why would such a well known cafe only be open until 1:00 pm?” It was around 12:45, and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try it.
We asked the hostess standing outside the cafe if it indeed closed at 1:00, and she confirmed. I started to mumble something about being disappointed and going elsewhere, when I looked up and saw the confused look on the hostess’s face. Then, it hit me: it was open until 1:00 AM, not 1:00 pm, as I had thought. Whoops. The 24 hour clock will get you every time.
A bit embarrassed, I asked for a table. Compared to my last Viennese cafe experience, I was less than impressed. The cafe seemed more like a moneymaker than a place to relax over coffee and cake. It was all bustle-bustle, with waitresses banging against your chair as they delivered slice after slice of the fabled torte.
I proudly ordered by torte in German (which honestly isn’t that commendable, haha) and was rather dreading the supposed dryness of the cake. Not three minutes later, the cake arrived with a sharp plunk!, as the waitress set the plate down upon the table.
I surveyed the pastry. I was presented quite beautifully: a white and gold paper napkin, the Hotel Sacher logo facing outward, folded gently as a border to the cake. A plain silver fork anchored it to the plate.
The cake itself looked perfect: two soft layers of chocolate cake, a thick stripe of dark apricot filling, a robe of firm chocolate ganache, with cleanly cut edges. A large puff of white whipped cream garnished the side of the cake, like a white flower adorning a woman’s dark hair.
Bravely, I cut into the edge with my fork and tasted the cake sans whipped cream, to test if the cake really was dry. I was expecting a cake that crumbled in your mouth and left you parched from the lack of moisture, but as I chewed, the cake was definitely not that. It was soft like a sponge-cake, with just a touch of dryness, which was definitely improved by the whipped cream.
I ate it slowly, alternating bites of the cake and filling with the whipped cream with pieces of the chocolate ganache, with tasted like a thicker version of the icing on Texas-sheet cake: super sweet and slightly gritty. Nevertheless, it was my favorite part of the cake.
The verdict? It was good, but not great. I probably wouldn’t get it again, but it was nice to have tried it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some travel research to do.
What’s your favorite pastry you’ve tried?