I didn't expect this, necessarily. Germany had rid me of the illusion that all European nations, by geographical definition, must spin out ethereal, other-worldly sweets. German cookies are stiff, ideal only for dunking or cracking a tooth. The croissants are hit-or-miss. The pastries are drenched with sugary icing and sticky fruit flavors. Each time I enter a Germany bakery (Bäckerei) my sweet tooth winces, pained by the lengthy glass case displaying 20 variations on bread.
Hungarians understand better the full range of the sugar, butter, flour equation.
Hungarian cake slices are striped inside, multiple thin layers of sponge cake alternating with creamy filing, jam, or nut. The chocolates -- and the best chocolate bar I've had in my life -- are filled with marzipan. Nothing is overwrought with dough, even the doughiest treat.
Which may, in fact, be Kürtőskalács. We had been on the watch for this traditional dessert after hearing a travel-show host rave. Kürtőskalács (or "chimney cakes") is created from dough twirled around a rolling pin, sprinkled with sugar, and baked on a spit over an open fire or oven. A cinnamon roll on a wide stick, without the stick.
We ran across Kürtőskalács stands on Castle Hill, on the tourist path from Matthias Church to the Hungarian National Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery.
Check out the rolling pins to the left. Strips of dough get wrapped around each one, then placed in the oven.
The choices included classic (sugar), coconut, chocolate, and cinnamon. (See photo of a similar lineup.) We went for the cinnamon for 500Ft (forints), or about $2.
The tube of warm, doughy goodness comes tucked in a crinkly cellophane bag. You tear it apart much like a cinnamon roll, except the walls are thinner, more like an Aunt Annie's pretzel stick than a Cinnabon monster. The outside is encrusted with sugar, crisp and slightly crunchy. The cinnamon sugar glaze creates a light sand-papery feel that matches beautifully with the doughy, pliable interior walls.
Clearly, one was not enough for two people.
A few minutes later on our walk, we spied another stand. (Alas, the rules of supply-and-demand dictate that prices rise closer you are to tourist attractions. This one was 700Ft.) I picked the classic version, curious as to what the Hungarians themselves must like. (Coconut and chocolate just seemed to beam tourist promotion.) Shiny and slick, the classic version tasted more like a sweet bun.
Moral of the story: When in Germany, go for the bratwurst and the beer. When in Hungary, go for the sweets.