The menu is short and confident – hearty breads, espresso drinks, tea, and the star of the show, chimney cakes, or kürtöskalács, which translates from Hungarian to “chimney-like sweet bread.”
The provenance of this unique dessert is a little complicated. Chimney cakes originated in the rural, Hungarian villages of the Transylvanian region of Romania. Anna Kozma, who owns the shop and does the baking herself daily, hails from this community and brought kürtöskalács with her to Queens, opening Chimney Cake at 10-50 Jackson Avenue in Long Island City (GMAP).
Chimney cakes start with a simple yeast dough consisting basically of flour, eggs, milk, oil (traditionally the fat is butter), and a tiny bit of sugar. The dough is kneaded and left to rise. It’s then rolled out, cut into strips about an inch in width and wound around a wooden pin that resembles a rolling pin. Traditionally these pins were very large – about a yard in length and about five inches in diameter. Anna’s stock are about a foot long and three inches across. She also has a smaller version that makes skinny, snack-sized cakes.
Now covered in dough, the wooden pin is rolled in a light covering of sugar (which will carmalize during baking, giving the cakes some crispness) and then placed on a rack to let the dough “rest.” Anna can tell by looking when the raw cakes are ready to be baked. When they are, the pins go in a special oven for about five minutes. They almost immediately plump up and turn golden brown.
Kürtöskalács were made on hearths in rural villages, the pins rested alongside the fires. So, the cook would spin the pin, allowing all sides of the cake to heat up evenly. This was a quick process, rendering a fun and plentiful dessert that was primarily made for gatherings such as wedding and other celebrations.
When the cakes are done, Anna will roll them, directly from the oven, in toppings such as crushed walnuts, cinnamon, coconut, or sesame, although traditional chimney cakes are served plain. Anna also makes homemade chocolate specifically to be crushed and applied as topping. The cakes are then slid off the pins and set out to cool.
Although the cakes are tubular and basically have about the same volume as any muffin, since they’re dramatically tall, people tend to buy them for book club nights or house warming gifts or morning office meetings. However, in the afternoon’s stream of enthusiastic customers, one young man told his girlfriend, “I had a whole one this morning!” He seemed to be back for another.
All regular sized friss (fresh) kürtöskalács are $4.
Chimney Cake, 10-50 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101; (718) 786-1818; chimneycakenyc.com