Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Le Gâteau à la Broche

Every so often, I go back to the Wikipedia pages on spitcakes for various reasons. On the šakotis page, I saw the following new addition to the page: "In France, it is known as gâteau à la broche and is mostly found in the Massif Central and Pyrenees, especially in Aveyron where it is a very popular party dessert."

Gâteau à la broche? A French take on a Lithuanian cake? I'd never heard of such a thing! So I got on my trusty Internet machine and off I went. I found a fair amount of basic information right away, but a lot of details are still elusive. For example, why did I not know about this sooner? Where is the closest place where I can obtain this pastry? Anyway, here's what I do know:

Gâteau à la broche is native to the French half of the Pyrenees, though it is also made in some isolated parts of central France and a little squirt of Basque country. Like its cousins in the spitcake family, it was traditionally made only for extra-special occasions, like when rich people get married. Also like its cousins, it has become available outside of rich people's weddings—although as far as I can tell, in the case of gâteau à la broche, its reach has only extended to a handful of farmer's markets in tiny towns that are practically inaccessible without a car. That's not a huge deterrent, though. I can hitch-hike. I think I could feasibly obtain one of these!

Gâteaux for sale! [source]

A cut-away section. Much more irregular layering. [ibid.]

How it's made! See the resemblance to the Lithuanian version? [source]

A giant cake that also shows a resemblence to the Lithuanian version. [source]

A cake even bigger than the giant šakotis! I'm looking for more info, but so far I've got nothing. Also, a stuffed tiger. [source]

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chimney Cake

Did I mention that I'm in Spain right now? I don't think I did. Anyway, that's where I am this semester, which opens some new cake-related doors.

Well, in February I went to Budapest, home to its very own spitcake called kürtőskalács, or "chimney cake." It's quite unlike baumkuchen and šakotis! Instead of layers of batter, it's made by rolling out a long, thin strip of sweet dough (kürtőskalács is a yeast cake). This gets wound onto a conical form, so you get a nice tapered tube. The dough is dusted with sugar and stuck in a special kürtőskalács oven, which spins multiple individual cakes, each on its own spindle. The result is a sweet, dense, bready pastry with a thin crispy shell of tasty burnt sugar. When it's taken off of the conical form, the cake can stand upright, fragrant steam pouring out the top, leaving no doubt how it got its name. While still hot, there's the option of dusting the cake with a topping of your choice—traditionally, walnuts or more sugar, but other options include cocoa powder, cinnamon, dried coconut, or vanilla. Some places even make savory kürtőskalács, topping them with meats and cheeses and savory herbs and spices!

And it's cheap, too! In Budapest's Nyugati Pályaudvar, there's a shop that sells nothing but chimney cake at 380 forint (1.90 USD).

A modern kürtőskalács oven. [source]

A more traditional way of baking chimney cake. But not too traditional; observe the axle motors on the back wall of the grill. Also, notice the helical structure from the way the dough is coiled. [source]

Baked and flavored cakes! Oh lordy, that looks good. [source]