trdelník
Gastronomy Recipes Eating & Drinking

Trdelník – History and Recipe

Trdelník is a traditional Czech, Slovak (and more) dessert of Transylvanian origin. Let’s talk about its history and I’ll also show you how to make it at home.

What is trdelník?

trdelníkTrdelník is a type of spike cake, soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. It’s a sweet pastry from leavened dough that’s cut in stripes that are rolled on a wooden roller (trdlo) in a spiral. It comes with toppings such as sugar, cinnamon, nuts or anything else really. Lately the modern versions have become quite popular and so you can get trdelník filled with chocolate cream or ice cream.

History of Trdelník

Although the popularity of trdelník started to spread all around the Czech Republic in the 1990s, the eastern part of the country (especially Moravian Slovakia and Wallachia) knew it at least 100 years before then. In the area of the borders it was a traditional pastry since the Austrian-Hungarian empire.

The first people to bake trdelník were the Hungarians living in Transylvania, more specifically in Székely Land (Székelyföld). The first written recipe comes from 1784 (cookbook by Transylvanian princess Mária Mikes). They brought this dessert to Hungary and thanks to the cook of the duke Gvadányi, it crossed the borders with Slovakia and later to the Czech lands (around 1850 or before). In Hungary it’s known as kürtőskalács, in Austria as Prügelkrapfen and there are varieties of this cake even in Lithuania or Sweden. The version from the Slovak town of Skalica, Skalický trdelník, was registered in December 2007 as protected geographical indication in the European Union.

Marie Úlehlová-Tilschová mentions trdelník in her work Česká strava lidová (“Czech Folk Diet”) in the part that focuses on the memoires of the people of Slovácko (Moravian Slovakia) and Podřipsko (area around Říp mountain) from the mid 1800s. The author explains that trdelník was made over the dying fire after people roasted meat.

Augusta Šebestová mentions a trdelník recipe in her work from 1900 (Lidské dokumenty a jiné národopisné poznámky – Human Documents and Other Ethnographic Commentaries).

trdelník

Antonín Václavík informs in his 1930 ethnographic book Luhačovické zálesí (Luhačovice Forest Area) that where fire was made specifically to bake trdelník, only beechwood was used and the pastry was baked in the ashes.

The Dictionary of Etymology of Czech and Slovak (1957) also explains that trdlo was used for baking the pastry, although this author uses the term trdlovec. According to Ludmila Tarcalová, this pastry used to be prepared also for Masopust (article Jídelníček našich předků. Co se jedlo o masopustu a půstu in Malovaný kraj : národopisný a vlastivědný časopis Slovácka 48). Dana Kohoutová mentions trdelník as a traditional dish of Wallachia and the authors L. Kubásková and J. Jírovcová mention trdelník as a “very old type of ceremonial pastry of  south-eastern Moravia” (in Kulinární tradice moravských a slezských regionů – Culinary Traditions of Moravian and Silesian Regions, National Museum of Agriculture). According to the same publication, this pastry used to be baked in the whole south-Moravian region, from the borders with Slovakia through Mikulov and Znojmo, and while some subregions abandoned their productions, they were still often prepared in the 1930-50s in Vlčnov at Fašank for the carolers and also for women in the šestinedělí period (period of six weeks after giving birth). This last aforementioned work contains much more interesting information on the topic of trdelník and its evolution in what is now the Czech Republic, so I really recommend it for those who speak Czech.

zakrasnejsivimperk.cz

So is it a Czech tradition or not?

It is, although not of Czech origin and it’s a regional one, based on publications by recognized authors and, of course, the memories of people from the areas where trdelník has been commonly prepared. It’s probably better to call it east-Moravian regional tradition. It has been present in the area of the Czech Republic long enough, probably even a little longer than the Christmas tree (which came to us from Germany in the 19th century) and definitely longer than such traditions like the Christmas collection or potato salad.

Nowadays, trdelník has become very popular around Christmas and especially by foreigners which is why the locals sometimes call it a tourist trap (it’s sold for up to over 150 CZK at some Christmas markets which some view as an inexcusably high price for a piece of dough with sugar). This combined with the fact that some people believe that things they don’t know despite of being Czech can’t be well-known in other regions, gave origin to the thought that trdelník has nothing to do with the Czech territory. However, it is a product made and consumed here for well over 100 years, although its origins aren’t Czech.

What is not traditional, are the modern versions of trdelník filled with chocolate or ice-cream or sprinkled with dried raspberries.

Trdelník Recipe

Supplies

  • 500 g/17.6 oz of fine flour or all-purpose flour (and a little for the table)
  • 20 g/0.7 oz of fresh yeast
  • 80 g/2.8 oz of powder sugar
  • 90 g/3.2 oz of butter or lard
  • 280 ml/9.5 oz of lukewarm milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 20 g/0.7 oz of vanilla sugar or 1 tbsp of vanilla extract
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • aluminum foil
  • baking parchment

For glazing

  • about 100 g/3.2 oz of butter or lard
  • egg whites

Topping

Anything from the following:

  • sugar
  • ground cinnamon
  • ground nuts
  • vanilla sugar
  • coconut

I usually make trdelník with sugar and cinnamon.

trdelník

How to make it

Pour  milk into a bowl and add yeast and a teaspoon of sugar. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes. The yeast will form bubbles. Then add flour, sugar, butter, egg yolks, nutmeg, salt and vanilla and combine. Knead until you have smooth and lightly sticky dough. It might take a while but it’s worth it.

Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place, it should double in volume.

Roll out the dough to be about 0,5 cm/0.2 in thick. Cut it in vertical slices of about 3 cm/1.2 in.

Prepare the dough rollers – you can or cover them with aluminum foil or with flour. I prefer flour.

Roll the stripes on the dough roller in a spiral. The stripes have to overlap, at least half of the previous stripe has to be covered by the next one. I need three stripes for one large trdelník.

When you’re done, there are two ways you can bake the pastry. Or you place the dough roller on a baking tray like in the picture at one of the previous steps. This is more traditional but the dough will probably be falling to the tray a little. Or you can just place the dough rollers on a sheet of baking paper in a tray. I choose the latter. The dough will flatten at the bottom but it doesn’t bother me and I find it more comfortable.

Smear them with melted butter and egg white and into the oven with it!

Bake for 15 minutes on 200°C/392 °F in a preheated oven. A little after the half-time, you should turn them over so they bake evenly. Don’t forget to smear them with the butter and egg white again. If you’re lucky and you have the gear to make them over fire, you can smear them more often (traditionally also with milk and honey). Don’t do it more than once in the over because you don’t want to lose much of the heat.

Meanwhile, prepare the topping. In my case, it’s sugar and cinnamon.

trdelník

Push the trdelníky gently down and off the roller. If you haven’t used aluminum foil, you might have to insert a knife between the pastry and the roller because sometimes the pastry sticks to the roller although just in a few places. If you think it still needs some baking, you can pop it back into the oven without the roller for another three minutes.

trdelník

Smear the hot trdelník with butter or lard…

trdelník

…and sprinkle with the topping.

trdelník

Eat while warm!

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