by gina depalma
Bolzano, the jewel capital of Alto Adige and the gateway to the Dolomites, is a city that celebrates and nurtures its harmonious blend of Italian and Tyrolean culture and history. A cosmopolitan European city in every sense, Bolzano was a favorite watering hole of the Hapsburgs. The city itself was part of Austria longer than it was a part of Italy. The cuisine is heavily influenced by this deep connection to Austria, yet somehow manages to encompass many elements of the sunny Mediterranean cooking of the Italian peninsula. Yes, there are ravioli, but here you will find them made with rye flour. The local apples, which may very well be the finest grown in Italy, meet their destiny when rolled into a strudel. And in a Bolzano café, you are welcome to enjoy a cup of deutscher kaffe, or German coffee, instead of a cappuccino. To go along with that cup of German coffee, chocolate lovers will surely want to have a slice of Torta Sacher, or in German,Sachertorte.
The cake was created in 1832 by a pastry apprentice 16-year old Franz Sacher, who worked in the kitchens of Prince Metternich of Austria. On one fateful day he found himself an unlikely substitute for his superior, who had fallen ill (surely a cautionary tale for any of us pastry chefs who decide to phone in sick). Prince Metternich had ordered the creation of a special dessert, to delight the palates of some special guests. Thus was born one of the most famous sweets on the planet, the Sachertorte. The components are simple: chocolate cake, apricot jam and a rich chocolate glaze, but to this day the exact recipe of the cake remains a secret of the magnificent Sacher Hotel in Vienna.
Sachertorte, or Torta Sacher in Italian, is a favorite in the coffeehouses and cafes of Bolzano, where the street signs are in German as well as Italian. The recipe is quite easy, and the final presentation is understated and elegant. The glaze is cooked to a specific temperature, ensuring that it will harden to the proper consistency. Don’t forget to try your hand at writing “Sacher” across to top of the cake, or, simply place a graceful “S” at the bottom.
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, use the paddle attachment to beat the butter and confectioner’s sugar together until very light and smooth. Beat in the egg yolks, two at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between additions. Beat in the melted chocolate.
In another bowl, whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until foamy and light. Slowly beat in the granulated sugar until the egg whites form soft peaks. Fold ½ of the egg whites into batter. Transfer the flour to a sifter and gently sift it over the top of the batter. Fold the flour partially into the batter, then add the remaining whites and fold everything together gently until no streaks of egg whites or flour remain.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake until the center tests clean and springs back from your finger when touched lightly, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then gently run a knife around the sides of the pan and remove the sides. Allow the cake too cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, prepare the apricot filling by placing all of the ingredients into a small saucepan and bringing them to a boil. Pass the filling through a fine meshed sieve or chinois to remove any lumps of fruit.
Using a long, serrated knife, gently split the cake into two layers horizontally. Place the bottom layer on an 8-inch cake cardboard, and put it on a wire rack. Brush the bottom cake layer generously with the apricot mixture, then top with the second cake layer. Brush the remaining preserves onto the top and side of the cake, and allow the cake to set for one hour, leaving it on the wire rack.
To make the chocolate glaze, place the water and granulated sugar into a small saucepan and bring them to a boil. When the syrup reaches 220 degrees with a candy thermometer, stir in the chocolate and continue to cook the icing until it reaches 230 degrees, or the thread stage.