Tuesday, March 15, 2016

a dessert of dreams

The trdelnik "chimney"
There was a great disturbance in the Internets when the monster of pastries in the picture was released the other day. Cyberspace exploded and the shockwaves passed through the comments section of many silly tourists thinking they know the true history of the thing. “Oh, that’s so common in Budapest and can only be found there!” said one. “You can only get those at Christmas in Vienna!” said another. Well, I’m here to set the record straight. Living here in Prague, I can tell you all about those amazing little spirals of sugar and thinly sliced walnut covered dough.

A modified trdelnik cooker
Here in Prague, the treat is interchangeably called trdelnik and trdlo, which are both equally impossible to pronounce. It has its modern roots in the Slovak town of Skalica, where in the 18th century the Hungarian general, Jozsef Gvadanyi, decided to retire. A poet and philosopher, he had a clear sweet tooth, which was reflected when he hired a Romanian chef from Transylvania who brought the dish with him. In Skalica, the locals refined the treat and gave it its name. The name comes from the tool which is used to cook it – a metal chimney that the dough is wound around. It’s then placed and rotated over a coal pit until the dough is golden brown, after which they remove the pastry and dip it in sugar and sliced walnut mix. The treat is available year around in Prague and many other locales – especially in the Czech Republic and Slovakia – though in other places like Vienna it might be an only seasonal dish. It costs anywhere from 1 euro to 2 depending on what part of town you’re in. The two best trdelnik stands that I’ve found are on Na Porici, near the Mustek metro station, and at Malastranska Square in front of the tram stop. In most places they also cover it in Nutella for a few crowns more.

Good Food and the line
Recently though, a place has been serving a new variation of trdlo (pictured above). Seeing the sudden immense popularity of it, and that the trdlo is one of my and my wife’s favorite winter treats, we decided to go and investigate this Bavarian bounty of dulcitude. As we approached Charles Bridge walking down Karlova street, we saw many people with all sorts of delicious variations of it. Our excitement was growing. When we found the place that was serving it, Good Food Coffee & Bakery, at Karlova 160/8, we found a line that seemed to go on for some one hundred meters. We jumped in and got lucky, many people gave up and wandered off.

We found that Good Food had modified the design of the trdelnik to make it into a cone so that various things can be put inside. They have the standard “chimney” option, which is filled with ice cream, and they also have a strudel option, with apples, walnuts, and raisins, as well as one with strawberries and cream. Most of the options are from 80 to 120 crowns.

To be honest though, after tasting it, I couldn’t figure out what the fervor was all about. The pastry itself was not the best I’ve had – which can be found at the above places – and the soft serve ice cream was pretty substandard. The popularity seemed to be based off the pure novelty of the product rather than the actual thing itself, and the fact that all these tourists probably didn’t realize that there were trdelniks everywhere for much cheaper and with far better flavor.

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