Central European and Eastern European desserts are a hidden gem. From the sweet inventions of Austro-Hungarian coffee houses like Cafe Ruszwurm and Golem-shaped chocolates in Prague, to more well-known specialties like Babka and Honey-Cake, desserts of Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary are a mouth-watering delight of puff with a filling of rich culture, tumultuous history and human creativity.
Chimney Cakes (Tredlnik)
Known by the name of Kurtoscalacs in Hungary and Tredlniks (Turtle Necks) in Czech Republic, these chimney-cakes are made by rolling dough over a medieval spit and roasting them over a spit-fire.
Sometimes, sugar-crystals are sprinkled on top during roasting which caramelizes over fire giving it a brown glaze. Then, you can drizzle them over with more sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey and nuts.
When I visited Central Europe, I found these to be available 24/7 and extremely light in their original form. However, dark times have arrived and today these are sold being slathered with chocolate sauce, ice-cream and extra-whipped-cream on top reducing their status to merely structural holders of these shenanigans. And most people find the bells and whistles to be too heavy and then lose their attraction towards chimney-cakes, never having tried the simple, light original ones.
I have used the term chimney-cakes, these are also called spit-cakes, and their origin is highly controversial and deeply ingrained in the ethnic pride of Cesks, Slovaks and Magyars. I made the mistake of calling them “Czech” in a Hungarian bar and nearly found myself fending off an angry mob.
In Budapest, the Jewish district is characterized by Dohany Synagogue – one of the largest synagogues in the world, ruin pubs and bars and an unfortunate history of quarantine zones made by Nazis which were liberated by Soviet forces. It was here that Theodore Herzl, grew up, and out of despair from constant anti-Semitic pogroms decided to push for a Jewish-centric nation.
I had a Hungarian Jewish delicacy inside a Synagogue quarter called the Flodni cake. The rules of Kosher here were very strict in this part of Budapest, including entire cafes either not serving milk or meat.
The Flodni Cake is a pastry of 3 layers supporting with apple, walnut and poppy-seed fillings. The result is a mature and complex flavor, that is simultaneously light but also deeply satisfying and filling.
I’ve had the Beigli – crescent shaped pastries in Bratislava, Slovakia. Known by different different names including Babka, Babci etc. after Babushka (Grandmother), the Jewish-American take on it is more modern with chocolate filling instead of flavors from the Old World.
The above, for example is Chocolate Babka from California, based on the New York style Jewish Delis, which form a central part of American cuisine. It’s an interesting take to compare New York Deli foods like bagels, babka and sandwiches to their equivalents from Eastern-European stores.
Honey Cake (Medovik)
This cake has a beautiful layering of a large stacking of numerous thin sponge layers with honey. It was created in Imperial Russia and gained popularity after Empress Elizabeth Alexeievna, who hated honey, fell in love with it.
The picture is from 20th Century Cafe in San Fransisco which specializes in Central and Eastern European fare like Austrian Apfelstrudel, Hungarian Tokaji and Medovik cake. But beware, there are long lines for this that go beyond the block.
Central and Eastern European delights have been long overshadowed by French and Italian fare and it’s high time they get their deserved place in the international understanding of European food culture. I fell in love with the region’s cuisine and you should too.
Other posts about Central Europe –
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