The Bite: The Chimney-Shaped Cake That Ended a War, Probably
Peace never tasted so sweet.
December 19, 2018
The Vancouver Christmas Market could also be called the Market of Delicate Handmade Decorations That I am Afraid to Handle. The tiny wooden nutcrackers, glass-blown angels and lemon-shaped soaps prompt me to shove my hands in my pockets for fear of accidentally destroying something. At the heart of the fete, however, lies the goods that are made to be broken or, more specifically, chewed: the food. From schnitzels to schweinshaxe (that’s roasted pork shank, for those of you who need to brush up on your German), there are plenty of toasty treats to choose from. This season, I muscled my way to the Transylvania Chimney Cakes stand, where the local Transylvanian Traditions Bakery serves piping-hot funnel-shaped pastries.
If you, like me, assume that the name “chimney cake” alludes to the inconvenient but traditional port of entry for Santa Claus, then you, like me, are wrong. According to the bakery, the chimney cake was likely invented by Transylvanian Hungarians, or Szeklers, as a war strategy. When Mongolians invaded the country in the 13th century, the Szeklers retreated into caves. The Mongolians had planned to starve them out (read: 13th-century Mongolians were definitely on the naughty list). However, the Szeklers invented the hollow chimney cakes as a way to trick the Mongolians into thinking they had plenty of food. Legend has it, the Mongolians fell for the ruse and eventually gave up. In other words, traditional chimney cakes can be compared to modern potato-chip bags: an empty illusion.
In today’s world, the hollowness of the lemony cakes is also a plus: they’re guilt-free. I mean, it’s mostly air, right? At least, that’s what I told myself when I ordered the hulking pastry with no intention of sharing. The image of a brick wall lined up and down with sweet, slightly tart dough rolled onto cylindrical wooden forms is totally drool-worthy. After being oven-baked and developing a caramel crust, the cakes are dressed in your choice of four toppings (almond, cinnamon sugar, coconut or walnut) with optional fillings (apple cinnamon, cherry, Nutella or lemon curd) available. I chose a classic cinnamon sugar chimney with apple-cinnamon filling.
It’s fitting that the Transylvanian chimney cake warms you up from the inside out. The hot pastry’s caramel crust is crunchy, while the interior is soft and doughy. The lemon flavour holds its own, even when mixed with cinnamon sugar and cooked apples. It’s not the easiest treat to consume, unless you can unhinge your jaw. But through trial and error—and zero casualties—I managed to defeat the sweet beast.
Despite being hollow, chimney cakes are more filling than they seem, so you might want to spread the cheer and share with your favourite festive friend. But like the Transylvanians, I can definitely see the cake’s peacekeeping qualities—I’m never more jolly than when my stomach is full.
Transylvanian Chimney Cakes, $8.50 each
The Bite is a monthly column that sees writer Alyssa Hirose sampling the city’s weirdest, coolest and most tantalizing plates. For more food news, subscribe to our newsletter!