Much like the paczki evolved from a pre-Lenten Polish treat to achieve widespread popularity in cities across the United States, another ethnic dessert, the chimney cake, has the potential to become a household name. The barbequed pastry that originated in the Hungarian neighborhoods of Transylvania has found its way to Chimney Cake Island in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, where Romanian émigrés Mara Jozefi and Alex Pescaru hope the dessert will become cemented in the local culture.
Chimney cakes, or kürtös kalács, take two and a half hours to produce, starting with a sweetened yeast dough that is briefly fermented. The dough is sheeted and cut into strips. Each strip is wrapped around a wooden spindle, brushed with oil and sugar, and baked in an electric rotisserie oven that the owners imported from Romania to mimic the traditional method of barbequing over hot coals.
Once the sugar melts, the pastries can be served or rolled in additional toppings ranging from the traditional walnuts or cinnamon to American favorites, such as Nutella, coconut, peanut butter and chocolate sprinkles. Once the end is broken, the pastry unravels in a long spiral, much like a cinnamon roll. Chimney Cake Island’s best sellers are the original sugar and walnut. Prices range from $4.99 to $5.50, depending on the toppings.
“We tried to cover our costs when we did our prices because everything gets really expensive given the specialty ingredients like walnuts and coconut,” co-owner Jozefi says. “Everything is handmade and takes a lot of physical work.”
Although chimney cakes can be purchased and wrapped to take home, customers are encouraged to eat the cakes fresh out of the oven, as Jozefi and Pescaru bake two to three batches each day.
“It’s a treat that you buy hot and eat right away,” Jozefi says. “We’ve created a recipe that keeps for a longer time, but the best time to eat them is right away.”