21 March 2014


I got a lot of heat for my last post on Hungarian food, but I’m hoping that this time around there won’t be so many hurt feelings because I have nothing but good things to say about kürtőskalács. Kürtőskalács is the sweetbread of my dreams. Strips of bread are wrapped around a cylinder, painted with butter (the best kind of paint), rolled in sugar, and then roasted over coals. The sugar caramelizes into a kind of crust, and then some sort of topping is added to it, like crushed walnuts (gross) or cinnamon (delish) or coconut (grossest).
It is actually a dream of mine that one day I will be cast on some sort of game show in which you have to eat
your way out of something, and that this will be the something that I have to eat my way out of.
 This is such a Fall Fair food, and I really wish that it had accompanied the 100,000 Hungarians that rolled into Canada following 1956. (Speaking of Hungarian-Canadians: did you know that Alanis Morissette, William Shatner, and Elvis Stojko are all Hungarian-Canadians?) Can't you just picture yourself strolling the fair grounds at Rock Creek eating one of these things? It would be a way better addition to the fair-fare than Rotary's kettle corn, which is awful and I hate it. Right? There's something about these tubes of sweetened bread--they were made to be put in those cellphane bags and to be sold at an inflated price!

According to Wikipedia—and by the way, you have to read the entry because whoever wrote it really, really cares about this tube-cake—kürtőskalács was popular among the Hungarian nobility, which is really strange because its design demands a kind of playful consumption that totally negates any sort of refinement of the aristocracy. Like putting your arm through it. Or holding one end in your mouth and then unraveling it and trying to stuff the entire strand into your mouth. Or crumpling one end of the cylinder and then putting it in your mouth so it looks like a horn. It's also hard for me to believe that these were ever the food of the aristocracy because now I can't think about them without thinking about Rock Creek.
These are the only Hungarian aristocrats I am aware of. Rakoczi is obviously everyone's fav, but between Baroness
Orczy (perhaps better known to you as Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orczi),
author of "The Scarlet Pimpernel," and
Erzsébet Báthory, mass murderer and blood enthusiast, I'm not sure which
one is worse. One thing is for sure: they all enjoyed kürtőskalács (except Báthory, who dined solely
on the blood of virgins).
It's worth pointing out that these chimney cakes are not exclusive to Hungary, but appear to be a popular treat in many places throughout Central and and Eastern Europe. I wonder what that means. I wonder what the hollowness symbolizes. Do you think that they have a gaping void where everyone else has a soul? Do you think that the hollow kürtőskalács is an emptiness that echoes back our own sadness? Do you think that if you long long enough into an abyss, the abyss looks back at you? Do you think the breaded coils signify that we are trapped in a meaningless and empty world, doomed to repeat itself over and over again, just as the sweetened dough wraps around the ever turning spindle? Do the coals signify the ever-burning fires of hell? Does the sugar coating represent the way that we deceive ourselves from recognizing the emptiness that resides inside us all? Do you think that the reason Alanis Morissette's mouth is so big is in order to fit around the circumference of a kürtőskalács? Do you think she will use it as a horn from which issues forth the eternal note of sadness?

It's weird that I am so into these chimney cakes because I've actually only ever had one. I bought it on a whim during a pub crawl of the seedy bars in all three of the Hungarian train stations. A man was walking up and down wearing a sandwich board advertising kürtőskalács, and although his sign put the idea in my head, these things look so good that they pretty much sell themselves.

I won't forgive Hungary for its cold-fruit-soup
But their losses they have managed to recoup
For make no mistake:
This Hungarian chimney takes the cake.

No longer reserved for the aristocracy—
From their gnarled, inbred grasp we snatch
The highly-coveted and deliciously-tubular kürtőskalács—
And now Hungary is a true democracy.

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