Strolling by a cukrászda (a bakery with CAKE and other sweet delights), my heart skips a beat. I get nervous; my palms sweat, my mouth is dry. I make brief eye contact with a layered chocolate sponge cake topped with decadent ganache and a sliver of candied caramel, and I quickly look away, bashful. I steal one more glance before I turn the corner and catch my breath.
My relationship with cake has turned into a full fledged love story. Let’s go back to the start.
You see, it’s in my DNA. I was born into a life of confections. My grandpa had a sweet tooth so strong that he once took our family out for ice cream and ordered 20 cones for the five of us. My mom is essentially a local hero in my small hometown, known most famously for her luscious cheesecakes and other mouth-watering concoctions. As a child, I was surrounded by exquisite, gorgeously decorated, homemade desserts. I’d open the refrigerator to find the shelves lined with cups of delicate mousse. That’s right, seven-year-old me knew the proper consistency of chocolate mousse. I was doomed from the start, the sweet taste of a rich cake sending me into a fit of sugar-infested endorphins that I’d never be able to escape.
But despite my impending fate, I proudly kept my cravings in check, only occasionally indulging. In fact, it wasn’t until my recent move to Budapest that my innocent flirtations morphed into a love affair. And for that, I can thank Europe’s extravagant cake culture, one that Hungary proudly upholds. You can hardly walk two blocks in Budapest without eyeing a cukrászda, shamelessly tempting each passerby with twenty different variations of my personal kryptonite. And despite the endless options, each bakery is filled with its faithful customers. On Sunday morning, you can barely find a seat on the bus as people carefully balance their treasured cardboard boxes filled with cakes and sweets. There is no one occasion for cake in Hungary; but rather, every day is a reason to treat yourself.
Before Dan and I moved to Budapest, we took a two-week trip to Central Europe, making stops in Prague, Vienna, a few towns in the Austrian countryside, and, of course, Budapest. With great anticipation and thoughtful research, I dogeared Vienna for splurging on sweets. After all, to the idealistic American, Vienna is essentially synonymous with coffee, cake, and cafes, right? Sacher torte and a Viennese coffee, anyone?
Well, fun fact: in the early 20th century, it was Budapest (not Vienna… not even Paris) that ruled Europe’s romantic cafe culture, housing nearly four hundred cafes frequented by artists, writers, poets, and philosophers. It’s no wonder they beck and call every time I pass, their grandiose chandeliers casting gentle light upon wooden tables; patrons leaning over frothy cappuccinos, dusted with cinnamon, properly presented on silver trays; and the cakes (oh, the cakes) perched proudly on delicate china accompanied by dainty forks resembling a bygone era.
And so I cake. It starts innocently, my suggestion of a sunny weekend stroll to Dan holds pure intentions. But before I know it, we are standing in front of one of the greats, admiring patrons shoveling forkfuls of the sweet stuff. Soon enough, we join them, reclining in lush leather chairs and sipping macchiatos, with little memory of how we got there. What’s one piece gonna do? We’re here, aren’t we? We might as well just go inside…
Some may call me weak, but love is a crazy thing.