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The origin and family of Kürtősh Kalách

Kürtősh Kalách – as we know and love it today – has been a typical festive treat of Hungarians from Transylvania, more specifically the Szeklers. Nevertheless, it is most likely that people of miscellaneous nationality would feel familiar with this delicacy in vogue served at a Szekler wedding. Kürtősh Kalách is a timeless classic among festive sweet cakes also known by Saxons immigrants from Transylvania as well as Swedes, Lithuanians, Polish, Germans, Austrians, Checks, Moravians, Slovakians from Szakolca/Skalica and French from the Pyreneans. An essential fixture is the ritual of rotating the tubular sweet dough over cinders.

The Hungarian ‘Kürtőskalács’, the German ‘Baumkuchen’, the Old German ’Ayrkuchen’ or ‘Spiesskuchen’, the Austrian ‘Prügeltorte’, the Saxon ‘Baumstriezel’, the Swedish ‘Spettekaka’, the Slovekian ‘Trdelnik’, the Check ‘Trdlo’, the Lithuanian ‘Ragoulis’ or ‘Sakotis’, the Polish ‘Sekacz’ and the French ‘gateau-a-la-broche’ are all closely related.
The relationship is on the ‘blood line’, since the same cake has been adapted by another nation and may have been ingeniously modified. This cake family could have descended from the same precursors. The question is: which ones? Or maybe several similar procedures have evolved irrespective of each other (in biology this process is also known as ‘convergent evolution’).

In European culture

A lot of things seem to have evolved from the ancient Greek.

Reconstruction of ‘Obelias Bread’ (made by Fritz Hahn, confectioner from Heildelberg upon descriptions of the period)

It is most likely that the origin of this cake group will be traced back to ancient times as way back as 400 B.C., when the Greeks – probably the first culture to show evidence of advanced baking skills – prepared dough wound on spit for Dionysiac feasts (as documented by confectioner Fritz Hahn, expert of the field in case). The ‘Obelias Bread’ was ab. 2m long and carried by two men on the shoulder. Several historical researches suggest the ancient Romans also used this baking method, supposedly adapted from the Greek or irrespectively of them.


Medieval sources of listed recipes show a much closer proximity to the cake family as we know it today.

First written record of ‘Spiesscuchen’(Spit Cake) from ab.1450. Original can be found at University Library of Heidelberg.
A manuscript that dates back to 1450 says: ’When making spit cake (kuchen an eyne spiss) wind dough on a wooden spit, brush with egg yolk… so that it stays compact and do not bake it too hot.’ Another document found at the Nurnberg Police of the year 1485 proclaims the number of potentials wedding guests invited for the ‘Egg Cake’ (‘ayrcuchen’). A cook book belonging to the Dominican Order from 1539 gives detailed description as for the recipe.

Reconstruction of ‘Spiesskuchen’(made by Frithz Hahn, confectioner from Heilderberg, upon sources dating from ab.1450).

Other documentary evidence shows this festive delicacy was popular also in the German, even Italian gastronomy in 15th-16th centuries.
The end of 16th century brings a turning point in the evolution of the cake family, i.e. the first real ’intersection’. The medieval dough, spun in spirals, survives in Hungarian and Check speaking regions (or was it invented there regardless of others?)
Let us now have a look at innovations throughout Western and Northern Europe.
The first innovation appears in Balthasar Stain’s Cookbook from 1547:

The dough wrapped around the spit in form of spirals threads is replaced by dough that has been stretched previously and then placed on the surface of the spit

Extract from Balthasar Stain’s Cookbook (Dillingen, 1547)

’take spit,…take dough…put it nice and easy on spit,…make it evenly thick and flat…brush dough with salted yolk,…take a long string and tie around dough…’ The Hungarian based Marx Rumpolt, suggests similar baking procedure in his famous German Renaissance Cookbook, which was published in 1581. The book was translated into Hungarian on the request of Anna Bornemissza, wife of Mihály Apafi, Duke of Transylvania. Maria Schellhammerin’s Cookbook, which was published in1697, already contains an illustration of the baking procedure. Christoph Thiemen’s Cookbook from 1682, with a similar recipe is described under the name of Moravian Cookie’ is a proof the cake’s ‘migration’ to Moravia too.

Illustration of Spiesskuchen prepared from dough, taken from Maria Schellhammerin’s Cookbook from 1697
Note: this is the first book to mention the Germanelõször ‘baumkuchen’: ‘Placentae cylindricae: Baum-Kuchen. Placentae per five Syringites, Spiess Kuchen: ...’ The relevant baking procedure has survived the centuries: Saxons from Transylvania, who immigrated to Germany, especially from the Barcaság region, prepare their festive treat called ‘Baumstriezel’ by having expanded the baking method.
Baumstriezel made by Saxons from Transylvania on an event in Germany. Source:
Baumstriezel can be confectioned from thinner or respectively thicker dough. It needs no string to fix. It is no longer baked on a cone – shaped, but rather, cylinder – shaped spit, e.g. a rolling pin. The cake then is rolled in granulated sugar, which melts and forms a caramel crust around it, just like with Kürtősh Kalách.

German developers proved to be very inventive:

Besides the solid dough used so far they introduced the liquid dough as well.

The first written document related to it was found in Susana Gewandtschneiderin’s Cookbook, which was written in 1585.

Extract from Susana Gewandtschneiderin’s Cookbook from1585, which contains the first known recipe of the cake made from liquid dough and baked on spit.
’take spit… and heat it for half an hour until hot enough…place dough pouring on it nice and easy,… then pour again…’ This is the point where we have reached another ramification of the family tree, or putting it more ‘scientific’, we arrived at its ‘philogenesis’ (entity repeats species).
The liquid – based dough evolved in 3 types: the German Baumkuchen, the Lithuanian - Polish Ragoulis-Sakotis-Sekacz, adapted by the French and labelled Gateu-a-la-Broch and the Swedish Spettakaka.
We must not forget about the Austrian ‘Prügeltorte’ either. To the present day it is made according to the recipe for the group of liquid base cakes, which dates back to 16th century. Biologist would call it a ‘living fossil’, whereas anthropologist would label it with the term ‘survival’.
Let us now make a review of representatives for liquid base cakes.


Preparation of Prügertorte (‘Roasted Cake’) Source:
This cake is mostly common in Austria, particularly in the Tyrolese villages along the River Brandberg . As this very simple recipe goes: work dough till a liquid, yet very viscous consistency, with all ingredients combined at a time. Run slowly dough on spit covered by baking paper. Rotate slowly spit heated from below or from sides. Where dough is solid pour some more. Unbroken layer will probably cover only part of cake surface. Dripping dough will form small bulges on cake crust.
For all royalty conditions at disposal, the Tyrolese have not taken the time to get it patented.


Extract from Markus Looft’s Cookbook dating from 1769 This cookbook contains the first known recipe for modern Baumkuchen (‘Cake in the Tree’)
Baumkuchen is the Germans’ national cake, also called ‘king of cakes’. A small town called Salzwedel in the Saxon Anhalt region having the product patented at the EU proclaimed itself ‘town of Baumkuchen’, which is an excellent strategy for tourism as well.

Preparation of Baumkuchen: by cutting out a new layer of dough. Source:

At first sight Baumkuchen differs from its 16th century ancestor in that it consists of regular, concentric layers, which cover the whole crust.

Plus the dough shows some novelty: first combine egg yolk to sweet dough, which contains relatively much butter. Stir egg white with a bit salt and combine with dough. Such solutions are used by modern chemistry too for obtaining a relatively stable emulsion, i.e. foam (and are often referred to as ‘colloid systems’). The first recipe appears in Markus Looft’s Cookbook from 1769: ‘scrape 1£ butter …beat in 20 egg yolk – 1 at a time,…add 1£ fine sugar,…add 1 pot flour,…blend well,...whip 16 egg white…add to dough…’

Baumkuchen version. Source:

The cross – section of Baumkuchen. Source:
A popular German legend says the origin of Baumkuchen has to be traced back to Hungary.
The secret of cake making is said to have been imported from Hungary by a chimney sweeper.
Following period instructions you take a metal bar that has been placed by a hot surface and dip it in bowl with liquid dough (or pour dough on metal bar with bowl underneath). Small part dough spreads on bar, then sticks. After dough bakes till brownish add another layer on baked layer. The number of layers may even add up to 20 -25. In some further variations the relatively smooth surface of cake is made wavy by random cut offs produced on a new layer that is still liquid. Eventually, provide Baumkuchen transparent sugar glaze or chocolate glaze topping.


Preparation of Ragoulis-Sakotis-Sekacz (‘peaked’,’ branchy’,’ bobby’) based on a recipe from a cookbook published in Poland at the beginning of 20th century. Source:

It probably derives from 16th -18th century. A historical legend renders 16th, whereas stage of evolution more likely hints at 18th century. Etymological data: Ragoulis – Sakotis (in Lithuanian means ‘peaked’, ‘branchy’) Sekacz (in Polish it means ‘bobby’). Related documentary evidence is rather scarce. Most likely the recipe of cake made from liquid dough hopped over from Germany to Poland and Lithuania, opening new ways of evolution. Lithuanians take it for their national cake, which they presented at the Café Europa event (started by the Austrian EU Presidency) as the country’s cultural symbol. Nevertheless, the cake has not been patented yet at EU.

Preparation of Ragoulis-Sakotis-Sekacz Source: JR Fine Products GmBH
Baking Ragoulis-Sakotis-Sekacz requires baking kit similar to kit used for preparing both Baumkuchen and Prügeltorte, except that spit is to be spun much more quickly. Dough is made in two parts – just like in case of Baumkuchen. First combine butter and sugar with egg yolk, flour and a little rum until creamy. Beat egg white separately with a little salt and add to dough. What you get is dough very rich in eggs, hence much more viscous, which means dough will not spread the length of the spit, but will form stalactite – like drops, because of dough’s weight and of the centrifugal drive. Nor is the cross - section so regularly layered like of Baumkuchen. Sakotis-Ragoulis-Sekacz is dry cake that stays fresh for more months if stored under proper circumstances.

Preparation of Giant Sakotis-Ragoulis-Sekacz

Believe it or not, a pastry named ‘Gateau-a-la-broche’, similar to Sakotis-Ragoulis-Sekacz , is baked as a delicacy also on the other side of Europe, in the Pyrenees. Could it be that globalization started centuries ago and was carried out not via multinational companies, but via multinational crusades? Oral tradition says Napoleon’s soldiers took gastronomic delight in the cake in case, and so took the recipe back home to France. This German ‘immigrant’, though regional in nature has been preserved unaltered. Maybe in a few centuries the two types of cakes will depart from each other, but so far the time span has not been long enough to give way to ‘allopatric evolution of species’ ( technical term used in biology to mark: originating in or occupying different geographical areas).


Extract from Susanna Egerin’s Cookbook from 1733 with the first known recipe of Spettekaka (‘Spit Cake’). Source:

Preparation of Spettekaka

This cake, the dough of which is made of potato flour, is widely known in South Sweden.
It looks like it came from the first part of 18th century. The first written reference is to be found in the 1733 Swedish edition of the German Susanna Egerin’s Cookbook.

The ingredients listed here are very different from what we know as present ingredients.
It is a brilliant example of regional adaptation.


Spettakaka with sugar embellishment

Prepare dough from butter, sugar, eggs and potato flour and pour into bag cut at edge. Potato flour might be preferred because the colder, hyperborean climate is probably more favorable for this corn, hence the difference in ingredients.

Press a thin strip of dough on the cone –shaped spit covered with baking paper, until dough strip covers whole length of spit in form of grids.
Place dough over open fire or other heating source to dry. Add another dough layer.
Repeat procedure until number of layers reaches up to 10 even. The end result is a cake of porous structure, fairly dry and long lasting. Crust can be embellished with color sugar glaze.
The Swedish county of Scania has had Spettakaka patented at the European Union.

Let us now turn back to the first ramification of the ‘cake tree’ and review

delicacy whose dough is rolled on spit in a spiral form.

Trdlo or Tredlenice (Check country and Moravia) andTrdelnik (baked on Szakolca – Slovakian Highlands)

(Meaning: ’cake on spit’)
Serving of Trdelnik (‘cake with spit’) from Szakolca
This cake shows the closest vicinity to the old German Spiesskuchen – Ayrcuchen. Nevertheless the way dough surface is treated while wrapped on spit differs a lot from the present procedure applied at preparing Kürtősh Kalách or Baumstriezel for baking.
With Trdlo – Trdelnik – Trdeelnice dough is not sprinkled with sugar before baking, neither patted down smooth. What they sprinkle on it is ground walnut. As a result surface is less smooth and there is no formation of caramel crust like in case of Kürtősh Kalách or Baumstriezel. While baking dough is now and again brushed with butter and later bountifully sprinkled with vanilla icing sugar.
Check Trdlo: Last step of preparation. Source:

The people of Szakolca had Trdenik patented at the European Union. Documentation is relevant as to the way the cake arrived in their town in 18th century. It is said to have been imported by the cook of a Hungarian general, József Gvadányi. Indeed the Székler – Hungarian Kürtősh Kalách of 18th- 19th centuries is much closer in nature to the present day Trdelnik probably because these cakes have not backed away so much from their ‘mutual ancestor’(technical term used in biology).

The first written record of theTrdelnik from Szakolca dates back to 1911 and was made by Gyula Juhász, Hungarian poet, at the time professor in the local high school. By the middle of 20th century the cake disappeared almost entirely. There is no mention of it in Fritz Hahn’s publications either. It was only in 1938 that a recipe similar to Trdelnik (mentioned as the ‘Check Trdelnice’), was published in the Austrian professional magazine ‘Wiener Küche’.
The big revival started at the beginning of the 2000s and the cake has been ever popular on events organized in bigger Slovakian and Check towns.

Kürtőshfánk/Funnel Cake (fried in oil)

Funnel Cake fried in oil. Source:
It is hardly related to Kürtősh Kalách at all. There might be some resemblance in shape, but the size is much smaller. On a general rule length does not exceed 20 cm. It entered mainstream Hungarian and German – speaking countries, but unlike its counterpart, the Kürtősh Kalách, this treat is not connected to festive events in folk traditions. Base dough is similar to Kürtősh Kalách dough, except that it is not rolled in sugar, and having been wrapped on a tiny spit, is fried in hot oil. After baking it is rolled in icing sugar or ground walnut topping.
It probably caught on Hungarian – speaking countries in the 19th century.

We have eventually arrived at the subject matter of our analysis: the cultural – historical mapping of the

Szekler – Hungarian Kürtősh Kalách

The neology’Funnel Cake’ was first mentioned in a draft found in Uzdiszentpéteri (county of Kolozs, Transylvania). The original document is to be found in the Kolozsvár State Archive.
The first written record dates back to 1679 and was found in the village of Úzdiszentpéter, in the county of Kolozs of the Transylvanian Principality.
The cake was obviously well – known by the Transylvanian nobility and even the elite of the neighboring Moldavia seemed to have a liking. The proof is a letter dated 22 December 1723, in which a noble woman, wife of Count Bertalan Feratti (née Ágnes Kálnoki), who lived in Iasi, the capital of Moldavia enquires her aunt, Mrs. Péter Apor (née Borbála Kálnoki) about the Kürtősh Kalách recipe, at the request of the Moldavian principal’s wife. ‘I take up my pen to write to You on behalf of our Honored Countess and embrace the opportunity of asking You a favor. Dear Auntie , the Countess prays You if She could send You a butler in the hope perchance You would have the good will and take him apprentice and teach him kindly some art of baking Kürtősh Kalách withal Loaf, Paste and other tender viand.’ (Note: In Moldavia the period is marked by the reign of Mihai Racovita )
Extract from Mrs. Feratti, née Ágnes Kálnoki’s letter ( Jászvásár, 1723), which is the first mention of the neology ‘kürtő kaláts’, i.e. Kürtősh Kalách. The original letter can be found in the Kolozsvár State Archive.

Strangely enough there is no mention of this cake amongst Hungarian dishes of a glorious past listed by Péter Apor in his work ‘Metamorphosis Transylvaniae’, although the above letter extract is an eloquent example that Kürtősh Kalách was already an existing delicacy in his wife’s gastronomic repertoire. It looks like Apor, a nobleman from Torja, was too conservative to mention the Kürtősh Kalách in his memoirs. He most probably considered it some vogue, which came from Austria - for all that it was rather popular in Transylvania among the social elite of the time. At one point he openly revolts against the current sweeping changes in gastronomy: ’For aught I know we eat not our Fathers’ customary viand unless we have a German chef’. Consequently, it is most likely that:

The early form of Kürtősh Kalách was imported to Hungarian – speaking regions via Austrians and Saxons.

However documentary evidence is scarce as far as to the explanation of why adaptation is different with the Szeklers and the Saxons. The former prefer the spiral form dough, while the latter adapted the cake made from flat dough. Also note that in some Saxons villages Kürtősh Kalách circulated under the name of Baumstriezel.

Extract from the cookbook of Mária Mikes, count from Zabola, (published in 1784). This book contains the first known recipe of Kürtősh Kalách.

In Transylvania the first written record of Kürtősh Kalách, spelled in one word as ’kürtőskalács’ as well as the first recipe appears in the manuscript cookbook of Mrs.István Dániel, Count Mária Mikes, entitled ‘Treasure House of Womanly Wisdom’, dated in 1781.
The related cookbook heading is Kürtősh Kalách a la Mrs. Poráni, and goes:

‘Take 5 yolks and stir in small pot with hindquarter tepid milk, 1 tsp. sour cream and bit of salt. Sift in kneading tub, add 1 tsp. yeast, 1 tsp melted buttermilk and comely flour. Knead until dough gets off you hands. No more flour is to be consumed, thus add 1 tsp butter and knead favorably. Be it raised properly, neither too much, - perchance of breaking off –nor too little. Stretch on board. Be it at rest. Grease cake pan with butter and when hot lay dough on it. Whilst baking, brush dough with butter. Perchance sour cream will be omitted.’
Note: recipe does not mention sweet topping of crust.

By the end of 18th century Kürtősh Kalách made its ‘grand conquest’ not only in Transylvania.

Virtually it was adapted in all Hungarian speaking regions on a whole spectrum of miscellaneous names.

The recipe of Kürtősh Kalách (‘Spit Cake’) from Kristóf Simai’s manuscript cookbook from 1795.This is the first recipe that contains sweet topping.
The different names used in Central Hungary such as ’Cake on Spit’, ‘Dough on Spit’, ’Roll – Up on Stick’ are no more than mirror translations of the German ‘Baumkuchen’. The first written mention of the cake baked on baking spit is in the text of a comedy written in 1789, the author of which was born in Komárom.
Kristóf Simai’s Cookbook, ‘Preparation of Certain Viand’, which dates back to Körmöcbánya, 1789, lists the cake made of dough and flavored with raisin as ‘Dough on Spit’ It also provides a rather detailed recipe of the cake, with an ‘avant – garde’ extra ingredient: subsequent to baking surface was sweetened by a sort of sugar solution of the time called cane honey.

‘Dough on Spit (Roll up on Stick, Kürtősh Kalách, Cake on Stick): Take ¼ £ nice white flour, 3 Dl. mulled milk – make sure it is tepid – 2 or 3 yolks, 2 tsp. liquid yeast, add to milk and combine with flour. Take ¼ pound good butter, melt until tepid, add to flour and combine small pieces of raisin. Knead dough until ready to stretch. Grease spit with butter. You want to twine the dough as long and thin as it can be nicely wrapped around spit. Spin onto spit. Stick beginning and end part on spit and rotate above flaming fire like you rotate roast joint. When brownish pull nice and easy off spit and cover with cane honey’.
This is the first recipe to indicate sweetening of Kürtősh Kalách crust.
1. Recipe mentions sweetening ulterior to baking. The cane honey mentioned marks cane sugar of syrup consistency, which later will become solid. (Granulated sugar, as we know it today, is an invention of 19th century).
2. Recipe mentions use of liquid yeast used for lifting dough, the same as the yeast used for producing beer. (Procedure was customary up to mid 19th century).
Procedure of producing crushed yeast – as we know it today -, as elaborated in Vienna in 1848.

Strangely enough there is no mention of Kürtősh Kalách in the ‘Booklet of Cook Craft’, which appeared in Kolozsvár in 1771. (Unlike Cabbage a la Kolozsvár, a very popular dish of the time, described at length). Possible explanation could be Kürtősh Kalách was not immanent to gastronomic culture of modest families of Transylvania of the time.

Later, nevertheless Kürtősh Kalách proved popular enough to stick around in folk culture in Transylvania.

A writing that dates back to 1772 was found among the financial documents of Count Mikó family. It contains a list of kitchen equipment of the contemporary Kolozsvár, and mentions some kitchen tool called ‘Kürtősh Kalách baking pot’. Another document is from 1773 and was found in the archive of Count László Teleki. It takes note of ‘Kürtősh Kalách mould’, used for baking Kürtősh Kalách. Yet another document enlists a so – called ‘Kürtősh Kalách baking wood’ among the stock of a mason house found in Mezőőr, county of Kolozs, in1811.

Also, Mihály Szijgyártó Trintsini’s (Marosvásárhely1810) list of personal effects contains ‘Kürtősh Kalách baking wood’.
Some archive research made by Dénes Cs. Bogáts reveals that the name of Kürtősh Kalách baking spit appears quite often only in censuses made in the first trimester of 19th century in Háromszék (Szekler land): ’1pc. Kürtősh Kalách baking wood covered by pot’ (1810),’1pc.Kürtősh Kalách baking spit’ (1834),’4pcs.cutting boards and 1pc. Kürtősh Kalách baking spit.’(1838)

In the first volume of ‘Description of Székler Land’(1868), Balázs Orbán writes about a legend related to Máréfalva, in which Kürtősh Kalách seems to be an important contributor to the great ‘ feat of arms’, and which is a proof that:

By the end of 19th century Kürtősh Kalách got deeply imprinted in the life of the Szeklers.

Recipe from Aunt Rézi’s Cookbook’ from 1876
It is the first to contain sweetening dough a priori to baking, i.e. by spreading granulated sugar on cake before baking in order to get caramel – glazed crust.

The legend goes: ’Tartars ravaged the land and chased the people of Máréfalva up to caves… then up they climbed the hills whilst defenders shot storms of arrows and killed their leader…At this Tartars burst into a fit of rage and started attacking caves. But the shelter was so well – positioned that no enemy could get through…So they resorted to blockade and waited for the Szeklers to starve or surrender. Finally both attacked and attackers ran out of food, when defenders in the cave made a huge Kürtősh Kalách from straw, showed it to the enemy and called “See, we have food a plenty, and you will starve to death”. At which the Tartars left after ravaging the village…

Almost 100 years after the Simai recipe, the Kürtősh Kalách recipe) from ‘Aunt Rézi’s Cookbook’ (Szeged, 1876) is evidence of Kürtősh Kalách having reached a new phase of evolution.

It is recommended to spread granulated sugar (or sugar almond) on cake even before baking.
As a result, other flavors appear besides sweet flavor. Due to heat sugar is caramelized, and enters the chemical reaction called ‘Maillard’. Not before long sugar almond is replaced with icing sugar (which contains no almond seed), and soon after baking sweetening will disappear altogether. Ágnes Zilahi’s cookbook from 1892, entitled ‘The Real Hungarian Cookbook’ presents such a recipe.

Recipe from Ágnes Zilahi’s cookbook from 1892 with the first recipe of Kürtősh Kalách that implies spreading granulated sugar on dough and leaves out spreading kernel of shelled fruit before baking.

Pál Kövi: A Transylvanian Feast (1980)

The Szeklers and Saxons did not only adapt earlier recipes, but also added to the appeal of this unrivalled delicacy, the prototype of which is undoubtedly Baumstriezel.

Stretching dough on board as well as rolling cake in granulated sugar before baking must be a Transylvanian invention by all means. Whether the idea came from the Saxons or the Szeklers is not known, but perhaps this is not so relevant. With the Szekler Kürtősh Kalách the subsequent spirals of the dough strip wound around the spit are pressed against each other, rendering it a smoother surface and a more compact structure. What you get is a more elegant cake, with a character which is unique of the cake elaborated by Transylvanian gastronomic ingeniousness.

Note: Topping with granulated sugar got a wider application in Szekler and Saxon villages only at the end of 19th century. The first sugar factories in Transylvania were open in the middle of 19th century (Brassó, 1837, Kolozsvár 1838, and the most significant plant was built in Botfalu only in 1889).

The first ulterior caramel topping, made of vanilla sugar, can be found in ‘Aunt Rézi’s Cookbook.’ Whereas ground, chopped or sugared nut kernel used for after topping spread only in the second trimester of 20th century. Pál Kövi’s cookbook ‘A Transylvanian Feast’, which came out in 1980 seems to be the first source with the tip of applying sugared nut kernel after topping. The wide spectrum of cinnamon, coconut, cocoa, etc toppings became popular merely at the end of the previous century.

Subsequent variants of Kürtősh Kalách can be sorted in ‘generations’. The Greek ‘Obelias Bread’ made by Fritz Hahn, confectioner from Heidelberg can be taken as first generation, second would be represented by dough without surface topping, third generation would be type of cake topped with sugar after baking, (similar to the present Trdelnik from Szakolca), the fourth generation is the cake with caramel crust, and the fifth may be the present Szekler Kürtősh Kalách.

Kürtősh Kalách baking spit from Kalotaszeg and the Szekler Land from 19th century
Source: Balasssa – Ortutay: Magyar Néprajz –
(Hungarian Ethnography)

As we have seen in the preceding, the word ‘Kürtősh Kalách’ was coined at the end of 18th century, most probably in Transylvania and became common at the beginning of 19th century. The Hungarian etymology hints at a double connotation: if spelled with ‘ö’ –‘kürtös’ means ‘trumpeter’ (reference to form of instrument), while ‘ő’ in ‘kürtős’ changes the meaning, i.e. to ‘with vent’, (which also indicates cylinder shape).
Attila T. Szabó, scholar and philologist from Kolozsvár, suggested the use of ‘kürtőskalács’.
…When cake is taken off spit in one piece it gets a shape of a 25 – 30-cm-long vent or tube.
Since cake preserves shape when served for both family and guests, consumers are faced with this cylinder - like image of cake tearing off in strips. Therefore the etymology is obvious.
While vent is common knowledge both in urban and rural regions, trumpet is less familiar
Theory is underlined by the Saxon name of Kürtősh Kalách, ’Schornstein – kolatsch’, which is a mirror translation of the Hungarian ‘Kürtőskalács’. Colloquial usage nonetheless allows more phonetic alternatives, easier to pronounce, so quite often the name of the national Szekler cake will be pronounced with short ‘ö’.

Modern Kürtősh Kalách baking spit

Magyar Néprajzi Atlasz (Hungarian Ethnographic Atlas) says this festive ‘gem’ of dessert came in varieties throughout the counties of Bihar, Hajdú, Szatmár and Ung, and was likewise popular in Szilágyság, historical Transylvania, particularly the Szekler Land, the Gyimes region, also with Szeklers living in Bucovina and with Csango – Hungarians from Moldavia.
In villages of the Kalotaszeg region a longer and thinner spit was used for baking, as compared to the device applied by the Szeklers. Standard cake of weddings, New Year celebrations and Carnivals, Kürtősh Kalách packed in basket has been the traditional cake brought to childbearing mothers.
Some questions arise: Why has the cake kept going only in the Szekler Land?

Why has it vanished from the folk tradition of Hungarian speaking regions?

Similarly to ‘Trdlo’ that disappeared from Check, or Sekacz from Polish folk culture.

Szekler fireplace Source: Magyar Néprajzi Lexikon –
(Hungarian Ethnographic Encicyclopaedia)
A plausible explanation is that as a result of civil evolution and urbanization some cakes, like Kürtősh Kalách gave way to more urban, civil cakes. Naturally it does not stand for the Szekler Land. On the eastern edge of Hungarian speaking regions, on the periphery of the Szekler Land, baking tools in the form of fireplaces survived all along till end of 19th century. Families that belonged to the social elite of Marosvásárhely thought it was prestigious to have a fireplace in the house. Such open fire or the front part of bread baking ovens, made it possible to stick to the practice of baking Kürtősh Kalách over cinders.
Thus Kürtősh Kalách became the ‘prince of Szekler cakes’, unrivalled by other festive delicacies until the second half of 20th century. It was only with the process of urbanization having taken full swing and the period of civil turn that festive menus started to add miscellaneous cakes to their lists. Up to the present day Szekler families regard Kürtősh Kalách baked above cinders as an ingredient of the wedding menu, served along with pálinka before dinner, as appetizer.

In the second half of 20th century, following the ideological loosening that took place in Romania in 1968, Kürtősh Kalách started to stretch out its ‘big conquest’ over territories in Romania, beyond the Szekler land, mainly in seaside and mountain tourist resorts. After the turning point of 1989 (change of regime) Kürtősh Kalách became the traditional local treat offered to Hungarian tourists visiting Szekler villages. It has also become the symbol of popular, local festivities. At the turn of 21th century

Kürtősh Kalách undoubtedly became a Szekler – Hungarian symbol.

With tourist agencies permanently promoting Kürtősh Kalách as indispensable to the Szekler – Transylvanian image, the gastronomic tradition hitherto preserved in rural communities gradually leaked back to the elite culture, mostly due to tourism.

At present the longest Kürtősh Kalách in the world, made in 2011 on village day in Oroszfalva
Photo: Bartos Lóránt
The Szekler Land is located in the geographical center of Romania, with a population of Hungarian majority, i.e. 75%, yet a minority in the big ring of Romania, subjected to constant pressure applied by the state power centralized in Bucharest (e.g. prohibition on use of local symbols, constraint on use of Hungarian language). All these contributed to the specific phenomenon of over – representation: tendency to bake over – sized (10 -12m) Kürtősh Kalách instead of the standard 40 - 50 cm – cake. The big race has been on ever since, with lots of Szekler communities striving

at making the longest Kürtősh Kalách ever.

The people of Uzon/Ozun (Háromszék), who in the last 10 years had been selling Kürtősh Kalách even on the street for trespassers and tourists, first made a 2.5m – long Kürtősh Kalách for village days in 2007. Then in 2009 they made a 10 m – long cake, which was exceeded in the same year by the people of Szentivánlaborfalva/Santionlunca, who prepared a 14m – long cake. In 2011 a 16.5m – long cake was baked over open fire at local feast in Oroszfalu/Tg. Secuiesc - Ruseni (near Kézdivásárhely).

In summary, the genuinely German cake, which had become mature in the Szekler land, and was later preserved by the Szeklers, ultimately became a symbol of Szekler –Hungarian identity.

Symbols undergoing a similar metamorphosis are e.g. the tulip that came from Turkey to become the symbol of Holland. Or chocolate that originated from Central America, with production elaborated in England, to end up as a Swiss specialty.

Kürtősh Kalách has basically three main versions. Recipes are miscellaneous, like a folk song’s variations of the same theme.

The recipe of the traditional, homemade Kürtősh Kalách became standardized at the beginning of the 20th century. Ingredients are firmly specified and it is usually baked above cinders. Inherent ingredients are exclusively: saccharose, wheat flour, butter, milk, eggs, yeast and salt. Ulterior topping is restricted to ground or chopped walnut, almond, cinnamon powder or vanilla sugar made from natural vanilla powder.

The fair or carnival variant, which is sold by street vendors, was formed in the last third of 20th century. With this version the recipe is more flexible so that it can be manufactured in smaller, mobile places (can be baked even above electric oven), rendering it much cheaper. Eggs produced on farms can be replaced by egg powder, but this ingredient can also be left out. In exchange grated lemon zest, natural citrus essence or citrus juice, rum or vanilla sugar can be added to dough. Ulterior topping can be anything that bears the flavor and aroma of pastry. However cakes with coating of salt, meat or cheese do not rank in the Kürtősh Kalách category.

Another type of Kürtősh Kalách is the alternate Kürtősh Kalách that appeared at the beginning of 21st century. Recipe is even more flexible: it can be made from non- wheat flour and can be gluten free. Inner, tubular part can also be provided ulterior coating and can abound in other natural ingredients (e.g. pieces of fruit) specific to confectionary usage.

The pastry that has a similar shape yet lacks in ingredients of animal origin (milk, eggs, butter) is called Böjti (Fast -Vegan) Fánk.
Kürtősfánk (Kürtős Donut) should also be mentioned as a similar shaped pastry baked in oil or fat and topped with sugar after baking or stuffed with whipped cream.

Presently Kürtősh Kalách is a welcome cake that is not restricted to be offered to Hungarian, Romanian or foreign tourists visiting the Szekler land. Smart entrepreneurs trade it at each significant habitat.
Owing to international migration of labor, first of all, and secondly thanks to tourism Kürtősh Kalách has become a timeless world classic, prepared throughout the world.
It is no more limited to a gastronomic symbol of Hungarians or Szeklers.

It has ultimately become a European pastry, a globalized gastronomic symbol.

Prognosis for Kürtősh Kalách is further spreading because it is quick to prepare and practical to consume.

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The Kürtősh- making tool

The traditional baking tool is made of hard wood and has the shape of a truncated cone. Its size is between 25/6/5 centimeters and 40/9/8 centimeters (length/larger diameter/smaller diameter). The most widely used variant has size parameters of 35/8/7 centimeters. One may also use metallic tools (made of pure iron, silver or gold), but them use of aluminum, zinc, copper or any other alloy is forbidden, because this might be harmful to human health. The tool has a thin metallic axis which exceeds 50 centimeters in length. A handle is attached on the side where the wooden part is larger, for manual operation. Commercial bakeries use several, electrically driven tools simultaneously.

The Kürtősh-making stand should allow the placing of tools at various heights above the coal.


Present Kürtősh Kalách baking tool


Kürtősh Kalách baking spits from Szekler land and Kalotaszeg (Transylvania, end of the 19th Century)
(Balassa-Ortutay: Hungarian Ethnography)


Earthen Kürtősh baking tool
(19th Century, Csángó Ethnographical Museum, Zabola)

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The longest Kürtősh Cakes of the world

Oroszfalva, Transylvania (2011) - 16,8 meters (Source: Bartos Lóránt)


Oroszfalva, Transylvania (2010) - 15,8 meters (Source: ArtDelinco)


Uzon, Transylvania (2009) – 10,2 meters (Source:


Torda, Transylvania (2007) - 10 meters (Source:


Bogács, Hungary (2010) – 6 meters (Source:


Székelyudvarhely, Transylvania (2007) – 5.37 meters (Source:

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