Q: What is the Central European stove pipe cookie?
The assumption that the cake was baked on a stove pipe came from "reverse engineering" in some people's thinking. Rather than from the way it is made, the name has come from its shape. Freshly made, the spit-roasted, flue-shaped cake can stand upright with aromatic steam rising from the inside making it reminiscent of a chimney. Its version called Skalický trdelník can be made only in Skalica and its vicinity, as the European Union lists it among its Protected Geographical Indications. The ingredients can come from elsewhere, though, for instance, the ground walnuts on the crust are mostly imported from the United States, Ukraine, and Hungary.
It is called just trdelník elsewhere in Slovakia and in Czechia. Spit-roasted cakes are known under different names in other Central European countries. The Slovak recipe is similar to that of the kürtőskalács in Hungary and parts of Romania. While also spit-roasted, the Baumkuchen known in parts of Germany, and its more closely related sękacz made in north-eastern Poland, šakotis in eastern Lithuania, Prügeltorte in western Austria (Prügelkuchen in Saxony), and gâteau à la broche in western France use somewhat different recipes.
The Slovak name is based on trdlo, a historical and regional word for "a churn-staff" (or a pole employed as a farm tool in general), which was probably used as the spit when roasting the cake in the past. The oldest record comes from nobleman Anton Bernolák's dictionary compiled in 1787-1797 (it was published later). He gave the German equivalent of trdelník as Ringkuchen, "ring cake."
Nobleman and professor Juraj Palkovič's 1821 translation of trdelník to German was Prügelkrapfen, "stick/staff doughnut," commonly used in Austrian German. References to trdelník appeared in Slovak press and literature sporadically throughout the 19th century, a few sources said it was also called kotúč ("circle, disk"). While the preserved references indicate it was known among the Slovaks in various places from at least the 18th century on, one author's lack of information about its spread (he wrote in 1891, mistakenly, that the word was peculiar to the Banská Bystrica area) also suggests that trdelník may not have been among the widely recognized desserts.
Trdelník's Skalica story
Local Central European legends place the emergence of the spit-roasted cake to the distant past – in Lithuania to a popular 16th-century queen, in Hungary to a German cook who arrived in Transylvania, in Skalica to a nobleman from the 18th century. Whatever its real early beginnings, the available evidence suggests that the "chimney cake" had not started turning from noblemen's delight into a folk dessert in the areas until later in the 19th century.
The first written record attributing trdelník to Skalica dates to the 1910s and says it was already famous in the area. Its commercial-bakery production started there in the middle of the 20th century, and its reputation grew to the degree that the town was able to persuade the European Commission in 2007 to include Skalický trdelník, i.e., with the attribute "of Skalica," as one of the European Union's legally recognized Protected Geographical Indications, which mandate that a registered food item must not be marketed with the local attribute unless it was actually made there (the regulation does not restrict the use of the name trdelník itself, nor of any other name under which it may be sold).
The recipe for the trdelník and its parallels in Romania and Hungary requires that the yeast-raised dough be rolled into a long cable, which is then wound around a thick, cylindrical spit and roasted over the fire with no more dough added. Among the longest tredlníks was one made in Skalica in 2014 that was 6.8 ft. long and weighed 7.7 lb.