Web Exclusive: There’s No Sachertorte Like Home’s
With feet still sandy but thrust into shoes and hair tangled from a day of sun and water, we’d pile into my mom’s mile-long Mercury and drive from the old rambling cottage overlooking Lake Michigan where we stayed each summer in the Grand Mere area of Southwest Michigan up the road to Bit of Swiss Bakery. Amongst the wooden shelves stacked with freshly baked breads and rolls and the glass-fronted display cases crammed with cream puffs, Linzertortes, Black Forest and German chocolate cakes as well as adorable animals made of marzipan and so much more, I always had a favorite: their Sachertorte—layers of rich chocolate cake spread with apricot preserves mixed with just a little rum, buttercream and almond paste covered with a chocolate ganache.
Back home in Northwest Indiana, my mother and I tried to make Sachertorte following recipes in Joy of Cooking and other cookbooks. While the results were tasty, it wasn’t the Sachertorte we bought at Bit of Swiss.
Back then, the bakery was owned by Hans Kottman, who had learned to make Sachertorte in Austria before moving to the U.S. When Tim and Pat Foley bought the business, the old recipes were part of the deal. Decades later it remains my favorite.
Sachertorte became a quest. Traveling, I’d order Sachertorte when I saw it on a menu only to find it disappointing no matter how beautiful it looked—just another slice of chocolate cake. But last summer, in Vienna, I thought I would achieve the ultimate at the Hotel Sacher where the recipe originated in 1832. Charming and historic, the hotel was like what you would imagine—coffee served in delicate china in elegantly painted rooms by waitresses dressed in period outfits. And, of course, platters of Sachertorte.
The first bite was disappointing—somewhat stale and dry. It wasn’t the Sachertorte I expected or knew. After a few more tastes, I pushed the plate aside. Though the restaurant offered pre-packaged Sachertortes to pack in your suitcase, I thought, why bother? It certainly wouldn’t taste any better by the time I got it home.
“I don’t tell people this,” Tim Foley told me when I shared my experience, “but when I went to the Hotel Sacher I didn’t think it was very good either, and other people have told me the same thing.”
In ways, this may be best. When I need my Sachertorte fix it’s easier to travel down the street to Bit of Swiss than to find my way back to the Hotel Sacher.
Bit of Swiss
4333 Ridge Rd
Read Jane's Summer 2016 exploration of other local cakes and the people who bake them in Sweet Celebrations.