A Lesson in Baking & Life – Sachertorte A La Rose

Last night, I continued my baking journey at the ABC Cooking Studio for the class of Sachertorte A La Rose. Naively, I thought that the photo looked really stunning and it was a chocolate cake, how could I resist?? Little did I know that it was one of the hardest classes in the cake course!

Apart from that, it was wonderful to know that there is a history behind this cake which is famous in Vienna, Austria.

According to the Food Culture website, the first cookbooks explaining the preparation of a dessert similar to Sachertorte dates back to the beginning of the Eighteenth Century. It seems that the official debut of this sweet delicacy took place in 1832, at a dinner hosted by Prince Metternich. The nobleman assigned his cook with the task of making a cake for the important personalities who were invited: it’s easy to visualise his disappointment when, a few hours before the beginning of the meal, he was informed that his servant had fallen ill and could not perform his duties. The Prince was therefore forced to entrust the delicate assignment to a simple apprentice, Franz Sacher, who at the time was only sixteen.

Legend goes that Prince Metternich said:

“Dass er mir aber keine Schand’ macht, heut’ Abend!”
(“Let there be no shame on me tonight!”)

The young Franz Sacher, well aware of the great opportunity he was given, rolled up his sleeves: inspired by the Austrian culinary tradition, he invented a dessert that was greatly enjoyed by the guests: the Sachertorte. According to rumours, the talented young chef pulled the recipe out the bag while under pressure to create a new dessert for the Prince and his guests. Imagine having to create something on the spot for royalty, I can’t think of a more stressful assignment!

The cake that Franz Sacher created could not have been more delicious. The original Sachertorte in Austria is still handmade using Franz Sacher’s original recipe to this day, and is best enjoyed with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

Coming back to my experience, I then peered at the recipe instruction and discovered that there were 27 key steps! As an amateur baker, I knew that this was not going to be easy and it was going to be a long night! There were four of us in the class and one was a quiet 11-year-old boy, a teenager who had high expectations of himself, a lady who had never baked before and then there was me! We were listening intently to every word of our seasoned instructor who was extremely meticulous. While we tried our best to emulate his actions, it was quite clear that all of us needed more practice and experience!

Frosting the cake was the most pain-staking part and the instructor had warned us that most people often give up easily. Spreading the frosting smoothly over the surface of the cake required precision. The four of us were complaining at our lack of precision as it was not smooth. It also didn’t help that some of the cakes we baked were not at an even height and there were cracks in between! I could also see the apparent frustration on the teenager’s face as he eyed his uneven cake but he was still in a good mood throughout the class!

Finally after 3 long hours, our cake was done! By then it was already 10.30pm and the 11-year-old boy kept telling his mom who was waiting patiently that he wanted to go home and sleep already!

As I continue my baking classes, it was quite apparent that there is a lot of work and effort that goes behind each creation. While we may sometimes question the prices of goods at bakeries these days, it is quite clear that the workmanship does add to the cost. It has also provided me a newfound appreciation for artisans who create items with their own hands.

Baking also requires a lot of focus and patience. It requires us to be present in the moment and to pay attention to the small details. Throughout the class, the instructor peppered us with a lot of tips and tricks to elevate the cake. This ranged from the way we should fold the mixture, the consistency of our mixing, the texture of the mixture and to the timing of our handling.

The only thought that ran through my head was that this kind of advice is only possible from a person who has baked for thousands of hours with multiple experiments! While I definitely was not able to absorb everything he said, it was a mental reminder that if we want to make something incredible, we should not overlook the small details because this is what separates an average result to a stunning one.

Before I left the class, the instructor told me I should watch a video on making a Strawberry Shortcake because that was my next class selection. He warned me that I still needed some work on the frosting method and the frosting for the Strawberry Shortcake would be even more challenging!

In short, I was thankful that we had the instructor who guided us patiently along the way and it was a good reminder that when we do something new, we can’t expect everything to be perfect at the first attempt! The instructor had added that most times, the students end up feeling disappointed in themselves because their cakes did not look exactly the same as the recipe cards. He said he did not want us to have the same experience and mentioned that what is more important is that we were willing to learn a new skill and make mistakes along the way. Afterall, we can’t compare our first attempt to another person who has made countless attempts at making the same thing. Isn’t that a lesson that we can apply to the other areas of our lives?

It should not be the perfection that we seek, but the lessons that come along the journey.

Anyhow, I was still pleased with the end result and I decided to record the steps that were involved in making the Sachertorte A La Rose. Hope you enjoy it!

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