In the picture above you can see a man in Budapest making Kürtőskalács (I know, I don’t even attempt to pronounce it). In spite of its unfriendly name, this bread is a heavenly sweet treat made from sugar, wheat flour, butter, milk, eggs, yeast, and salt. The yeast dough (raised dough) is made into a strip which is spun and then wrapped around a truncated cone and rolled in granulated sugar.
The kürtőskalács (chimney cake) is baked above charcoal cinders while greased with melted butter until its surface gets a golden-brown color. During the baking process, the sugar stuck on kürtőskalács becomes a caramel and forms a shiny, crispy crust on the bread. The surface can then be sprinkled with additional toppings like ground walnuts or cinnamon powder.
When I was strolling the streets of Budapest, the smell and the vision of this bread caught my attention and I had to try it. I picked a cinnamon powdered one and devoured it. One was enough to share between two people. The freshly warm chewy baked bread was absolutely heavenly.
The origins of the Kürtőskalács date back to medieval times from a manuscript around 1450 but the first known recipe originates from Transylvania, in the 1784 cookbook of Countess Mária Mikes of Zabola. But it has no mention of any sweetness. About 10 years later, in 1795 a recipe from Kristóf Simai’s cookbook in Upper Hungary (present-day Slovakia) first mentioned “sweetening subsequent to baking”.
Almost 100 years passed before the first mention was made of the next step in the evolution of kürtőskalács, the appearance of a caramelized sugar glaze, in Aunt Rézi’s 1876 Cookbook, published in Szeged, Hungary. The recipe suggests “sprinkling sugar (sugar almond) on dough on spit prior to baking”. I think we all ought to thank Terézia Dolecskó, the writer of this cookbook.
The kürtőskalács can be mainly found in Hungarian-speaking regions including Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovania and Ukraine. You may also find it by the name of Trdelník and variations of it such as the German Baumkuchen, Polish sękacz and Lithuanian šakotis.
If you ever come across a kürtőskalács, please buy two. One for you and a friend and a second one in my honor. If you eat both you only get the calories of one if you do the other one in my honor. The calories will travel across light and find me, don’t worry.