Not the easiest word to pronounce. The literal translation of ´chimney cake´ is a little easier on the palate.
These quirky cakes were created in the 15th century by Hungarians living in the Szeklerland region. This historic area is in the centre of present day Romania and still heavily populated by Hungarians, so both countries lay claim to this unique pastry.
Kürtőskalács are a popular street food snack in Hungary and a mainstay of festivals. The word is getting out and anyone from Sydney will probably be familiar with the chain Kürtősh which also sells these beauties.
Kürtőskalács are so revered in Hungary that they get their very own festival which travels around to the major cities. I thought I was dreaming when fellow kürtőskalác aficianado Neven and I stumbled across the festival in Budapest one sunny Saturday.
The festival was held at the stunningly beautiful City Park, in front of the Vajdahunyad Castle which was designed to look like a Transylvanian gothic castle.
It was the queues I spotted first. Despite there being at least eight individual stands selling kürtőskalács, the line for each was at least 100 strong.
We were in our queue for 90 minutes! I don’t think I´ve even waited that long for a baked good.
It did give me plenty of time to observe the production process though. Each one is handmade, taking at least ten minutes from start to finish and requires dexterity and patience.
A soft dough made from flour, milk, yeast, sugar, eggs and butter is rolled out and cut into wide strips. The strips are then wrapped around a cylindrical mould in an overlapping spiral motion. The wooden mould has been brushed with butter to keep the dough from sticking.
The pastry is brushed with more butter, rolled in sugar and placed on a rotisserie to cook above charcoal cinders.
Each kürtőskalács takes around five minutes to cook through and achieve a glossy, caramelised crust. Once cooked to perfection, it will be finished off with your topping of choice; cinnamon, nuts, coconut or vanilla sugar. I´m always torn between cinnamon and nuts, both work beautifully with the pastry.
Was this one worth the wait? I was a little disappointed to be honest. Due to the massive queues, the staff (understandably) were rushing the cooking process so ours was perfectly crisp on the outside but doughy and verging on uncooked on the inside. I basically stripped away the uncooked inner layer to focus on the outside layer and I was happy.
The entire festival had a wonderful convivial feel and under every tree in the park was a family or group of friends devouring a kürtőskalács or two between them, tearing each one apart strip by strip.
It was also the day of the Budapest Marathon so a couple of enthusiastic runners demonstrated just how how much they love these prized local treats by dressing in kürtőskalács costumes.
Has anyone tried a kürtőskalács outside of Hungary?