Originally chimney cake was known as Kürt?skalács, but I have to be honest here and say that I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce that word. I’m told that it literally means “chimney cake” in Hungarian, and that’s good enough for me.
So chimney cake is Hungarian, then? Yes, but not exactly. It hails from Transylvania, which once made up the eastern portion of Hungary, but ever since 1945 has made up western portion of Romania. Which I suppose makes it technically Romanian, but then hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Hungarian-speaking people still live in Transylvania. For them not much has changed other than the location of the border. Which I guess really makes it Hungarian. I dunno, it’s a tough call.
Food lore states that a chimney cake is called a “chimney cake” because originally the dough was wrapped around hot chimney pipes. I find that a stretch, no pun intended, since there are more than a few cakes of this style — so-called “spit cakes” — in Europe, and most of them date back to well before the time when tin chimney pipes were in common use.
What’s a spit cake? Why obviously a cake that’s roasted on a spit over a fire. What else could it be? Don’t answer that, I just ate lunch. Examples of spit cakes include German Baumkuchen, and boy do I ever have fond memories of eating that at Lutz Café on Montrose in Chicago. They make great Napoleons there too, but I’m on a different topic now so I’ll just leave that alone.
But where was I? Oh yes, Polish s?kacz is a spit cake, French gâteau à la broche is a spit cake. Spit cakes are, or at least were, pretty much everywhere in central Europe at one time. These days spit cakes are disappearing for reasons that are fairly obvious: health codes would never permit the word “spit” to appear on a menu. Also most people bake in ovens now.
Yet they’re due for a revival, at least in my estimation. They’re not difficult things to make. All that’s standing between most of us and a spit cake is a spit. Which I’m going to show you how to make this week, so stay tuned.