There is something special about finding a place that makes food just like it is in the homeland, and dessert is no exception! As we devour our treats we might visualize being transported to our favourite destinations, like the Piazza Navona in Rome or maybe Montmartre in Paris. If you have visited Budapest you will have been mesmerised by the history, the architecture, the majestic Danube River and the rich food culture. But what were you eating for dessert? There is a humble pastry which is adored by the Hungarians, but still little known in Australia.
Let's start with the name - "Kurtoskalacs", pronounced Kurt-ursh-kalach. It translates literally as chimney (kurtos) and cake or sweet bread (kalacs). Don't worry, the name is typically shortened to "Kurtosh". It belongs to an unusual family of "spit" cakes that originated in Medieval times (1400s). Its origin is linked to various legends, but all seem to relate back to the battlefields. Some have even linked it to the first conquest of Hungary by the Huns. It is said that fighters made this hollow cake out of the scant ingredients at their disposal. A dough was formulated and rolled onto a wooden club and inserted into the fire. This baking style is an integral part of the pastry's charm, and is responsible for the quirky twisted and cylindrical appearance. The first documentation of the kurtosh recipe was actually not until the late 1700s in Transylvania (at the time).
At the start of the 18th century the dish was reserved for the Hungarian nobility, but by the late century had become widely accepted as a distinctive Hungarian cuisine in regional and urban areas. The dish remained alive due to the old-fashioned cooking techniques being preserved throughout the 1900s. Astonishingly though, it was not until 1989, with the regime changes across Europe, that borders opened to tourism and this ancient dish was (re)discovered.
Only in the last 10 to 20 years has the dessert experienced a renaissance of sorts and is now prominent on the streets of many European cities like Budapest, Prague, Bucharest and Berlin. The dish became an instant favourite with travellers, who have boosted its popularity further in recent years through social media (#kurtoskalacs, #chimneycake). Returning travellers have been so inspired infact that they have started their own businesses, and many vendors are currently popping up across the US, Canada, Dubai, Paris and even Singapore.
This old world pastry is now inspiring a whole new generation of admirers. It may have taken a few centuries to get here but "Kurtosh" may finally become a household name after all!
We are excited to bring this authentic icon of Eastern Europe to Melbourne. Discover where we are baking next by following our Instagram & Facebook pages.