Winter is the best season to taste this typical Central European pastry. A lot of ephemeral food stands will sell you these cakes in the streets of Czech or Hungarian cities. You can warm up near the wood-fire, above which they are slowly glazed, you can divide them and share them with friends. And if you don’t know any better, as I did this afternoon in Budapest, you can also eat an entire cake alone. You won’t eat again until the next day…
It is called kürtőskalács in Hungary, cozonac secuiesc in Romania and trdelník in Czech Republik and in Slovakia, but it’s still the same even if it’s all about the details… It’s a hollow cake, crusty outside and soft inside.
One shapes a streamer with the batter, made with wheat flour, butter and sugar and flavoured with spices. The streamer is then put into coil shape around a little wood cylinder measuring approximately 50 centimeters in length (a trdlo in Czech, which gave the name trdelník). In Hungary, the cake is iced with sugar that will become caramel during the baking, and you can add flavours according to your preferences: cinnamon, vanilla sugar, ground almonds or hazelnuts… In Czech Republik, the cake is smaller and it is rolled up in a mix of walnut flour and sugar, which gets caramelized when it is broiled and makes the cake shiny. These details make the kürtőskalács or the trdelník inimitable on either side of the borders.
This delicacy apparently comes from Transylvania, as the Hungarian say. Czech and Slovakian people say that it comes from the little town of Skalica, today in Slovakia. That’s where an Hungarian general, József Gvadányi, also poet and philosopher, retired during the Enlightenment. At his service, a cook from Transylvania brought in his suitcase the recipe of this delicious chimney-cake. The kürtőskalács traveled until Skalica where it became the Czech trdelník. That makes everyone see eye to eye.
It’s quite the same story as the Sachertorte: at the root of these emblematic Central European pastries, an aristocrat, a gourmet of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, contributed to the rich culinary heritage of that region of Europe.
The kürtőskalács or the trdelník became popularized to such an extent that it is now sold and eaten down the street, on the markets, and in the most modest bakeries. Sometimes, you can even find it on the Parisian food stands of the Christmas market… So, keep an eye open!
Nevertheless, the kürtőskalács is not given away: it is protected like a national treasure. Indeed, in 2004, the association « trdelník of Skalica » was created to ride this wave of recovered success in the Czech festivals and to protect the designation and the original recipe…