Between leaving America and arriving in Seoul, Dan and I spent five weeks traveling through Central/Eastern Europe and Istanbul. Almost every time we'd tell people our trip plans the response would be "Oh, going to visit the motherland?" and yes, I am Ashkenazi and Dan is Ukranian but we don't have any family we know of in our respective motherlands. The truth is, we were going to visit food. Dan wanted Varenyky every day and I wanted Dobos and Sacher Tortes, Retes and Rugelach. With moderate success, we tried to hit at least one bakery or cafe a day for my ongoing pastry education. Here are my favorites by city.
We were only in Prague about 60 hours so we didn't manage too much in the way of dessert but what we had I loved. These are traditional pancakes with cream cheese and raspberries from Mistral Cafe. The pancakes were yeasty, not too sweet and had a bit of a sourdough flavor. I really need to do some research on how to make these. The cream cheese was more like creme fraiche and in July the raspberries were perfect. The contrast of the sweetness of the raspberries with the tart creme fraiche and pancakes made for a great Summer time dessert. I'd love to go back and eat some of the other pastries at Mistral Cafe.
DEMEL. We went to Demel twice in our five days in Vienna. We would have gone more but on our first trip the service was so slow that I think we were there for almost an hour for just coffee and pastry. I recommend sitting inside if there's room as the service on our second visit was much faster. Of course the reason we went back a second time is quite simply that Demel really is the best. Having had many an apple strudel in Vienna, I feel confident in saying that the one at Demel is the only one where the price matched the quality. The apples weren't overly sweet or mushy and the pastry was flaky and crisp. The poppyseed strudel was also quite good but it's almost like a poppyseed cake wrapped in strudel pastry which wasn't quite what I was expecting. On our last day in Vienna I felt like I just couldn't leave the city without having at least one cake from Demel. I opted for Black Forest Cake which I believe had a generous soaking of both rum and kirschwasser, a very nice, light chocolate sponge and perfectly smooth mousse and cream. It might actually be the platonic ideal of a Black Forest Cake.
Obviously, a pastry chef cannot visit Vienna without an obligatory visit to Cafe Sacher. I would not recommend getting anything on the tourist priced menu other than Sacher Torte. It is definitely worth the visit to this piece of culinary history but its efforts to appear frozen in time come across as a bit staged and stuffy. The cake was light and not too sweet. I found it a bit dry but you cannot argue that a Sacher Torte at Hotel Sacher wasn't made exactly as it should be.
Budapest is where my pastry and cake eating abilities were really put to the test. While my husband wanted paprikash for every meal I was trying to figure out how much pogaca could be worked into my diet. There were so many different Hungarian baked goods I wanted to try that I limited myself to one of each. So I was left with a conundrum, if I was only going to eat one slice of Dobos Torta, the most Hungarian of cakes, where would it be? Gerbaud's is to Budapest what Demel is to Vienna. If I was only going to have one Dobos Torta I wanted it to be the best. A bit on the pricy side, but well worth it, this Dobos Torta was fantastic. The sponge was light but with enough texture to not get lost between all the layers of buttercream. We also did a tasting menu at Onyx and in our small take home giftbox was a fresh mint macaron and a chocolate from Gerbaud's. The macaron was so lovely that even my sweets hating husband remembers it fondly.
One Kremes. One Flodni. Kremes is the Hungarian version of a Napoleon. Thicker layers of vanilla cream between flaky puff pastry and topped with powdered sugar instead of sticky sweet fondant. This one from Angelika Kavehaz was a fine rendition. When we went it had just started raining and the indoor dining room was a little stuffy for just coffee and pastry but the terrace overlooking the Danube seemed like it would be quite nice. Frohlich Cukraszda in the Jewish Quarter is the only place I saw Flodni, a traditional Hungarian Jewish dessert with layers of apple, walnut and poppyseed. We also had Dios Beigli (Hungarian nut roll) and Pogaca there. The Beigli was a little dry and the walnut filling was bitter but I loved the poppyseed filling in the Flodni and the Pogaca made excellent food for our overnight train trip to Lviv.
I don't have any good pictures because we ate outside in low light, but Elso Pesti Reteshaz (First Strudel House of Pest) is also well worth a visit. Dan did not like the Almas Retes here as much as the Alma Strudel at Demel because it was much more heavily spiced but I liked it quite a bit. The savory retes was good as well.
Surprisingly some of our favorite pastries on our trip were from Lviv, Ukraine which we expected to be just a giant varenyky and stuffed cabbage fest. The desserts in this small town were unpretentious and highlighted the terrific berries that were in season. The first (poorly lit) cake is from Cukernia, a cake shop we found on accident thinking it was a coffee shop we had been looking for. It was packed and the coffee was not good but the roll cake was fantastic. My husband gave me some serious side eye when he thought that I had just ordered a cake with an insane amount of buttercream but the filling actually tasted like a lightly sweetened cream cheese and sour cream mix which contrasted fantastically with the sweet fresh raspberries. If we had not stumbled across this cake shop, I probably would've put far less emphasis on trying pastries in Lviv.
Lviv's Strudel Haus might actually be where we had our favorite strudel all trip. We had tried ordering sour cherry a few places before but each time were disappointed when the strudel would arrive with black cherries. Black cherries are good, but the Strudel Haus in Lviv had the only true sour cherry strudel. In Ukraine, Strudel is always served with sauce so at the Strudel house you choose your strudels and then self serve different sauces. The true way is to cover the pastry in sauce but wanting to keep the integrity of the pastry, I put my vanilla bean sauce on the side. The sauce was good but added more sweetness than I really wanted.
Our favorite coffee shop in Lviv, Cbit Kavy, had a small selection of fresh baked cakes every day. The coffee cake with fresh blackberries and raspberries and the blueberry version of the same were simple and delicious.
Veronika has literally the best Varenyky in the world and they left me so full I didn't have anything from their bakery until we were at the Lviv airport! This almond and black cherry tart was the perfect way to end our trip to Ukraine.
Now that I'm done drooling on my keyboard, I think I have some recipes I need to work on. Korea may be king when it comes to soft serve but if I want good cake, I'm going to have to make it myself.