If you have been to Budapest and Prague, and haven’t tried their traditional spit cakes at least once, know that I am judging you! My excuse is that food is a very important part of a country’s culture, so I always make sure I don’t miss anything worth trying when I travel, but the truth is that I don’t really need an excuse, as I love cakes, pastries, ice-cream, and whatever is sweet enough to be able to turn a bad day around!
Spit cakes are simple yet super yummy cakes that are nowadays made in many European countries, and vary in appearance, texture and taste. Baked on a log over an open fire or in special ovens, these cakes date back to 400 B.C, when Greeks used to make “Obeliai”, a type of bread, by winding dough on a spit about two meters long, which was then carried to the sanctuary of Dionysus. The tradition of baking on a spit was later adopted by Romans, and spread across Europe with the expansion of the Roman Empire. The original version is described as a strip of risen dough brushed with egg wash and rolled around a rotating baking spit, but new versions appeared over the years. In the past, spit cakes used to be associated with special occasions such as weddings and Christmas, but nowadays you can (luckily) buy them whenever you feel like having one. Available across Europe, you can have a Baumkuchen if you are in Germany, a Prügeltorte in Austria, a gâteau à la broche in France, a šakotis in Lithuania, a sękacz in Poland, a spettekaka in Sweden, a kürtőskalács in Hungary, and a trdelník in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I ate my first spit cake in 2005, when I visited Prague with my mum and my cousin. We were in Old Town Square, and noticed a cute little kiosk that had these amazing looking pastries rotating on a log, so I had to try one. Well, after trying one, I went back every day for the whole week we stayed in Prague! Although I had already been to Budapest when I was in high school, I only tried the Hungarian variation when I went back in 2014, and trust me, it is truly delicious! I love both the Hungarian and Czech spit cakes, although the Hungarian version holds a special place in my heart and is particularly adored by my taste buds!!!
Kürtőskalács or Chimney Cake (from Kürtö, which is the Hungarian term for chimney stack, and Kalács, which means cake / brioche), is considered to be the oldest pastry in Hungary. The super yummy pastry is believed to come from the Székely Land in Romania, which is mainly inhabited by Romanians and Hungarians. Popular among the Hungarian nobility at the beginning of the 18th century, it became an important part of both rustic and urban cuisine in all the Hungarian speaking regions by the end of the century. Despite being replaced by newer pastries in some regions, the kürtőskalács remained a tradition in all the areas inhabited by Szeklers. Still the main wedding cake in Transylvania, this spit cake is nowadays baked not only on special occasions, but it has become part of everyday consumption. The main ingredients are flour, yeast, sugar, salt, butter, egg and milk. Flattened strips of the risen dough are brushed with egg wash, wrapped around the tubular baking spit and rolled in granulated sugar, which will caramelise and create a crispy crust on the cake’s surface. Baked over charcoal, the kürtőskalács is usually 25-30 cm long, and resembles a tube once taken off the spit. The most common topping is cinnamon, which is also my favourite one, but you can also have it rolled into crushed walnuts, vanilla sugar, cocoa, poppy seeds, coconut flakes, almonds and chocolate. When I was in Budapest I tried this delicacy at different places, and I can ensure you that the ones they make at Molnár’s Café are hands down the best in town, plus, the café is conveniently located on the main pedestrian street, and close to the Danube Promenade. Once I found my favourite kürtőskalács bakery, I literally went there for breakfast almost every day, and tried all the different ones except the one coated with poppy seeds. If you cannot decide which one to choose, you can always ask them to roll the two halves into two different toppings (of course I did!). The cake, which is definitely better enjoyed when warm, will cost you about 700 calories, but it is so worth it that I strongly advise you to include it in your list of “things to do” when you visit the city.
For the Molnár’s Kürtőskalács Kávézó official website click here
Address: Váci utca 31
Closest metro stop: Ferenciek tere (M3), 2 minutes’ walk away
Czech Republik and Slovakia: Trdelník
The trdelník is what introduced me to spit cakes over ten years ago. The kiosk in Prague’s main square, where the inviting pastries were being made, was still there when I went back last May. This time I had done some research though, and chose to try a different one each day from the best reviewed bakeries and kiosks in town. Very similar to the Hungarian kürtőskalács, the trdelník takes its name from trdlo, which is the wooden stick the dough is wrapped around during the baking process. This spit cake has a long tradition in the Slovak town of Skalica, and is nowadays very popular among tourists visiting the Czech Republic. The original recipe, brought to Slovakia at the end of the 18th century, was later modified by locals, and the pastry is now also known as the Skalický trdelník. Made with the same ingredients used for the kürtőskalács, its dough is not flattened down before baking, and it is usually coated with a mix of cinnamon sugar and crushed walnuts. Nowadays you can eat trdelník with different fillings, including ice-cream. Last May I stayed in Prague for three days, and, believe it or not, I had four trdelník! On my last day I just couldn’t resist having a second one later in the day, as it was going to be my last one for a while. I did walk around eighteen kilometers per day though, and that made me feel better. I tried the yummy pastry at four different places, and the best one was definitely the one I had at Creperie U Kajetána, located down the hill from the Strahov Monastery. I chose the trdelník filled with plum jam, which they baked while I impatiently waited. The pastry was warm, soft and delicious, and I could have eaten another one if my friend hadn’t stopped me! Another great one I had was the ice-cream filled one I tried at Trdelník, which was conveniently located one minute walk from my hotel (I swear I didn’t do it on purpose!!!). The ice-cream filled trdelník is delicious, but I think I prefer it with other types of fillings, mainly because you can’t enjoy the pastry warm if it’s filled with ice-cream, which means you cannot have it freshly baked (yes, I am picky). The other two I tried in the Old Town and by Charles Bridge in Malá Strana were also nice, but if you had to choose, I would definitely recommend you go to Creperie U Kajetána, as their trdelník really made me want to eat ten in a row!
Creperie U Kajetána: Nerudova 278/17, Malá Strana
Trdelnik: Karlova 190/1, 110 00 Staré Město
I hope my post has succeeded in tantalising your taste buds…As for myself, I cannot wait for Winter Wonderland to open in London, so I can sink my teeth in a chimney cake again. I know it won’t be the same as the ones I am used to eating in Budapest, but it is still better than nothing, right? Have a lovely week everyone, and as usual…Have fun exploring!!!