Before my sophomore year of college, I knew little about Eastern Europe and even less about the little country of Hungary. Back then, I was a self-proclaimed francophile, and in true French spirit, I also had an interest in Japan. (To be fair, my interests lay in Japan’s “economic miracle” rather than the artistic glorification of Japanese culture, but close enough.) I took a class on the the history of financial crises and completely by chance, my academic focus changed completely.
Each student had the opportunity to choose a country that had been affected by the 2008 financial crisis. I was (surprise, surprise) sick on the day we chose countries, so I missed out on Japan and France. My professor suggested Hungary. I agreed, apathetically believing that I would have to write yet another paper about a topic for which I cared little.
However, Hungary turned out to be more enthralling than I could have imagined. Since that initial paper about how Hungary was one of the countries in the Eurozone hit hardest by the crisis, I have since studied everything from why the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 failed, to brain drain and refugee inflow problems post-1989, to the evolution of Hungary’s citizenship policies. The political culture of Hungary has proved especially fascinating, as more extremist parties gain power amidst riots and general social unrest.
When I started this blog, I knew it was a matter of time until Hungary made its inevitable appearance. Friends who’d visited Hungary while abroad raved about the food and the beauty of Budapest and I realized that while I might intimately understand the political culture, the simple culture remained an unknown. I came across a recipe for Budapest coffee Bundt cake and decided to do a little research on the name. Turns out, Hungary once had a thriving coffee house culture before even Paris or Austria. Not only did Hungarians brew great coffee, but they also made delicious cakes and pastries in accompaniment. Artists and writers, many of whom had no heating in their homes, flocked to coffee houses for the warmth, but also the company and the refreshments. (The stereotype of ‘starving artist’ has deep historical roots – just look at what happened to poor Mozart.)
However, Hungary fell under the iron curtain after World War II and the Soviet Union, fearing that the coffee houses would become hotbeds of dissent, moved to shut them all down. In the 24 years following the fall of the iron curtain, coffeehouse culture has made a sort of comeback, though many coffee shops are frequented by tourists rather than locals.
While I continue my quest to learn everything (literally, everything) about my new favorite country, I’ll content myself with enjoying moist, cinnamon-cocoa slices of Budapest coffee cake and imagining the day when I can actually visit the vibrant coffee houses of Budapest. One day.
Budapest Coffee Bundt Cake (adapted from the Food Librarian)
For the streusel:
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 heaping tbsp cocoa
1 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, 3/4 cup diced, 1/2 cup halved
For the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks of butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups sour cream
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a standard 12-cup Bundt pan.
Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa. Toast the walnuts (I put them on a frying pan for about 5 minutes at low heat, occasionally stirring them, until they browned) and mix into the streusel.
Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt into a large bowl. Then using a stand mixer with paddle attachment (or an electric mixer) cream the butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add one egg at a time. Scrape sides of bowl. Beat at high speed until mixture is light and creamy, about 1 minute. Mixing at low speed, add dry ingredients in three additions, then sour cream in two additions, alternating between the two.
Spread a thin layer of batter on the bottom of the prepared pan. Top with 1/3 streusel mixture. Repat until you have 4 layers of batter and three layers of nut filling, with batter as the final layer.
Place pan in the oven (with a tray placed not under the Bundt pan, but on the rack below to catch drippings) and bake for 50-60 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove and let cool on rack for 5 minutes. Invert and serve.