Memories of Sachertorte

My family has many rich food traditions, most of which revolve around birthdays and special holidays. Growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s and 80s, we celebrated most birthdays with a home-cooked meal chosen by the celebrant, and a Sachertorte – a delectable chocolate cake filled with apricot preserves, originating from the Sacher Hotel in Vienna.

As a kid, I loved celebrating family birthdays, mainly for the cake (as most children do). My mom would invite me to drive over to Fantasia Bakery in Laurel Village with her to pick up the Sachertorte. She would usually sweeten the deal with a delicious little pettifor – a bite-sized cake that was elaborately decorated. Not that the deal really needed to be sweetened. Sadly, Fantasia is long gone; however, my family’s collective memory of this enchanting cake remains strong to this day, and can easily lead to some lamenting over the missing Sachertorte at birthday celebrations.

I haven’t enjoyed a slice of birthday Sachertorte for almost two decades. Since my family had plans to get together on Sunday night at Juan’s Place in Berkeley, I got it into my head to bake this family favorite (my first time), then bring it to the restaurant where we were all meeting up to celebrate four birthdays.

I woke up early on Sunday with Sadie’s first feeding and decided to get baking. At first, I was a bit intimidated by the recipe, but as I completed each step, I realized that it was not out of my league by any means. After Caleb woke up, he assisted with the final steps: spreading the apricot preserves and glazing the cake with the bittersweet ganache.

Before the family dinner, Mateo and I took the kids to the Berkeley Jewish Community Center where we participated in a wonderful Purim festival. Caleb’s friend Jordan and his family joined us, and we had such fun together in the calamitous, kid strewn carnival.

After the Purim party, the cake drove over with us to Juan’s and was a huge hit with my family. It was delicious, but certainly wasn’t the Sachertorte of my childhood memories. I’d say it was a pretty fair attempt. I mainly enjoyed watching Caleb, Mateo, my sisters, and my father, as they gobbled up their slices. It’s just the best, having homemade cake when everyone gets together.

At the end of a long week and a weekend packed with plans, I wonder how I could have any remaining energy to bake a Sachertorte. Am I crazy? Very likely. Am I overextending myself? Uh, yeah, totally. But, after thinking about it for a while, what comes to me is that I get energy from doing the things I love most and I love to cook. Even more, I love to cook with my Caleb.

What I loved most about baking the Sachertorte with Caleb was that I was directly exposing him to a family tradition that holds such fond memories for me, and at the same time teaching him to make it on his own when he gets older. For me, hopefully! Is that wrong?

[Click for Sachertorte recipe]

Caleb’s Birthday Cake

We celebrated Caleb’s 5th birthday this weekend with a trailer-trash themed potluck gathering. Don’t ask. In preparing for this event, Caleb and I made his birthday cake on Saturday morning and it was a huge hit that evening. Now, I enjoy sharing my recipes with others, but this is one that I’m almost embarrassed to give out. It’s an amazing cake recipe and someone inevitably asks for it (then thanks me years later because they’re still baking it and receiving rave reviews), it’s just not entirely from scratch. Perfect trailer-trash fare, it includes sour cream, cake mix, chocolate pudding, and chocolate chips.

Standing at my side at the kitchen table, Caleb carefully added each ingredient to the mixing bowl and stirred until smooth. We then transferred the mix, which we had doubled, into two buttered lasagna pans and placed in the oven. Almost an hour later, our home smelled like a chocolate factory and we were all excited to enjoy the cake, but had to delay our satisfaction until evening.

A small group of Caleb’s friends and their families began gathering around 5pm, each arriving with a white-trash-errific dish. Soon, our table was covered with Velveeta-stuffed pigs-in-a-blanket, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese done two ways, tuna noodle casserole, green bean casserole, vegetarian chili, quiche (we had a French friend in our midst who insisted that because she wasn’t an American, she was exempt from cooking “white-trash” – this being fine with us as the quiche was terrific, if not slightly out-of-place), ambrosia salad, and dinner rolls.

After a much-enjoyed dinner, our stomachs felt like lead weights, but despite that, the kids were running circles around the house and enjoying themselves in the basement play space. Once I had a chance to light the candles on the special cake that Caleb and I had made together, we gathered everyone around and sang to our soon-to-be five-year-old (Nov. 15). After blowing out his candles, Caleb was so proud to dig his fork into his big slice of cake, and then silently enjoyed each bite. I was so proud to have made it with him and enjoyed it with our guests.

Happy (almost) 5th Birthday Caleb!

White-Trash Chocolate Cake (passed on to me by my sister, Niki)

4 eggs

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup oil

1/2 cup sour cream

1 package chocolate pudding

1 box chocolate cake mix

1/2 bag semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven at 350F. Beat eggs, then fold all ingredients together. Pour into baking pan. Bake 45 minutes – 1hr. Toothpick should come out clean. Makes great cupcakes, but would need less oven time. Add your favorite frosting – we used Trader Joe’s boxed chocolate frosting. This cake also works without frosting – just bake in a bundt pan, then sprinkle with powdered sugar. Enjoy!