Posts tagged ‘vienna’

July 21, 2011

The Great Dessert Search, Edition No. 1: The Original Sacher-Torte

Original Sacher-Torte from Sacher Hotel

Guests at the Sacher Hotel receive small squares of Sacher-Torte in their rooms. (Copyright photo by Julia Pelish)

VIENNA — About a year ago, a friend of mine came up with the name for The Great Dessert Search — a compilation of the absolute best sweet treats on the planet (or at least near Toronto). With space in the Toronto Star Travel section tight, we haven’t been able to start it up there. So, I’ve decided to run the series here. If you’ve got a dessert you’d like to nominate, let me know, or write about it yourself and send in photos if you have them.

First, though, we start with one of the world’s most famous and decadent desserts: The Original Sacher-Torte.

This treat has everything a renowned culinary creation should: a global following, a history as rich as its ingredients and the ever-present term “secret recipe” attached to it. First invented in 1832 by Franz Sacher, the treat will remind you of a Black Forest cake but with a much smoother, firmer chocolate icing and a more elegant fruit spread between the two cake layers.

The cake’s great history includes a fight over its ownership. When Sacher invented it, he was a 16-year-old apprentice to the personal chef of a Viennese prince. His son, Edouard, reputedly perfected the recipe while working at Demel bakery. Edouard then started the Sacher Hotel in 1876 and brought the cake with him. A lawsuit ensued between the hotel and Demel for rights to the name “sachertorte.” Cafe Demel and the Sacher, which are about 600 metres apart in the lovely historic district of the Austrian capital, now serve their own versions of the cake. “The Original Sacher-Torte” (about 4.90 euros, or $6.70, a slice) is what you find at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna and Salzburg, and the “Demel Sachertore” (3.70 euros, or $5.05) is on the menu at the popular café that employs only women in the kitchen.

READ ABOUT WHY ELSE YOU SHOULD GO TO VIENNA

Cafe Sacher menu in Vienna

Cafe Sacher at the hotel details the history of its most famous treat. (Copyright photo by Julia Pelish)

It’s become custom for visitors to Vienna to try both to decide which is best. It’s not a taste test anyone I know of has passed up. While the Sacher Hotel says it still holds the original recipe, the main ingredients are well known. The chocolate sponge cake layers are separated by apricot jam. Dark chocolate icing covers the cake and a chocolate medallion with the Sacher name is pressed to the top of servings at the hotel. A dollop of whipped cream comes with it on the side and a cup of melange (cappuccino-style coffee) is recommended to accompany it.

Sounds divine, right?

To tell you the truth, the first time I tasted sacher-torte I wasn’t all that impressed. It was earlier this year at Roy Thomson Hall, when a delegation from Vienna were in town for a performance from the city’s famed Philharmonic Orchestra. They brought with them pounds and pounds of the cake to share with Torontonians. I thought it was a touch tart and the chocolate flavours not memorable enough. After a recent stay at the Sacher Hotel, though, I’ve joined the cult.

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July 11, 2011

Having a ball in Vienna

Ballet dancers at Fete Imperiale in Vienna

Ballet dancers loosen things up at Fete Imperiale in Vienna. (Richard Tanzer photo for the Vienna Tourist Board)

VIENNA — This enchanted city’s Fête Impériale began the way I expected a Viennese ball to unfold, with pomp and circumstance in the form of a marching band and speeches by politicians and organizers. A crowd of about 3,000, including luminaries such as Frank Stronach, attended to witness performances of ballet, opera and the waltz on Thursday night. I jetted over for the spectacle, which I believed would be fittingly grandiose but also as stuffy as a tuxedo collar. After all, it was a black- or white-tie affair, and such evenings can descend into the unbecoming sight of very wealthy people measuring each other up.

Turned out, though, that Vienna did what it so often seems to — it surprised and amused.

As the “William Tell Overture” played, ballet dancers emerged — with the men dressed in Fred Astaire-like long tails and the young women in slinky red gowns — to perform wonderfully for 15 minutes to a medley of classical favourites. Nothing unusual about that. But just as some of us in the audience were thinking the men had to be sweating through their bow ties, they stripped. Ripping off their tuxedos and pants, and baring themselves to boxers short of the full monty. With their clothes went any notions the ball would be overly mannered.

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June 7, 2011

The Story of ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt

Detail of Klimt The Kiss at the Belvedere Palace Museum in Vienna

Detail of "The Kiss" at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna. (Julia Pelish photo)

[A trip to Vienna was delightful for a lot of reasons, not least of which was the surprise opportunity to speak with the curator of the museum that houses one of the world’s great works of art, “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt. Here’s a story on that experience, as published by the Toronto Star on June 6, 2011.]

VIENNA — Unlike the Mona Lisa, which disappoints when you confront it and the crowds gathered around the salle in the Louvre that holds it, “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt surpasses expectations. For one thing, it’s not nearly as celebrated a painting, so public fascination isn’t high to begin with. More importantly, though, it does what a great piece of art is supposed to do: Hold your gaze, make you admire its aesthetic qualities while trying to discern what’s beyond its superficial aspects.

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May 12, 2011

In a battle of Vienna vs. Vancouver, both win

St. Stephen's CathedralVIENNA — Vienna or Vancouver? What’s the better city? They duel annually for the distinction of the world’s best metropolis to call home. Vienna this year topped the Mercer Index for Top Quality of Life while Vancouver was named The Economist’s Most Liveable City in the world.

I lived in Vancouver for five years (and intend to return to my home there one day) and I just got back from a four-day stay in Vienna. Picking a winner would be difficult. This is Ali vs. Fraser, or Halle vs. J-Lo, or Dom vs. Cristal.

Vancouver wins on scenery, hands-down. Vienna, from what I could tell, comes out on top in standard of living.

Vancouver is a little better on its overall food scene, but Vienna has Steirereck, one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Vancouver has mountains, Vienna palaces. Vancouver has the Shangri-La, Vienna has the new Sofitel, with the hot Le Loft restaurant at the top. Vancouver has Stanley Park, Vienna has the historic village of Grinzig and the forest surrounding it. Vancouver has Granville Island, Vienna the Naschmarkt. And you can go on and on.

When it comes down to it, though, there’s a reason people find these two cities to be so terrific: The atmosphere. In Vancouver, you head to English Bay, Third Beach or the seawall on Coal Harbour and you instantly escape. Vienna relaxes you with its wide streets, friendly people and truly amazing modern art installations, many of which will make you to smile.

Of course, it also has more history than any North American city, with ruins dating to Roman times and churches as old as the 13th century. The art collection from the former Hapsburg empire is loaded with great works, including Vermeers, Rembrandts, Raphaels, van Goghs and Titians. There’s also Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss,” a treasured painting that holds the viewer’s gaze with its beauty and intricate details. The 103-year-old painting is at Belvedere Palace, which boasts a number of other great works.

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