WORLD'S BEST : Sacher-to-Me

Here's an impressive holiday splurge--a classical Viennese Sacher (sounds like soccer ) torte. How classical is it? Only made in the kitchens of the Hotel Sacher itself, that's all.

This is the famous cake that was invented in 1832 by a 16-year-old Viennese pastry chef's apprentice named Franz Sacher. It proved such a hit that the Austrian royal family ordered Sacher tortes delivered to the palace every day for decades. It has a moderately dense crumb, a whiff of apricot flavor and a robe of sweet dark chocolate all over. The traditional way to serve it is with whipped cream and coffee.

The Hotel Sacher credibly claims that it alone has Franz Sacher's original recipe. On an ordinary day, it makes 500 Sacher tortes, some for serving at the restaurant and the rest for shipping; the hotel has been sending tortes all over Europe for over a century. During the Christmas season, the production goes up to as many as 5,000 cakes a day.

They're shipped to this country second-day air delivery, and they'll keep, preferably in a cool place rather than a refrigerator, for a week. The tortes are packed in handmade wooden boxes with gift wrapping. (There's a nutritional information sticker on the box, but trust us, you don't want to read it.) Size I (6 1/2 inches in diameter) serves eight and is priced at $52, including shipping; size II (7 1/2 inches) serves 12 and is $63.

The cakes are made to order, so you have to place your order two weeks in advance of the day of delivery. That means that the latest date for delivery by Christmas is Dec. 11. To order by credit card, call (800) SWEET-63.

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