When Tunde Tar was a child living in central Romania, she learned how to make chimney cakes from her grandmother. She remembers baking the sweet, tubular cakes over a wood-burning oven and rotating them by hand. When she ate them, it was a crumbly affair.
“I was usually putting them on my arms (like bracelets) and eating like a kid, and I was all messy. This was a whole [lot of] fun for us, and we were rotating it by hand, and we didn't have these kind of machines,” she says, pointing to the specialized rotisserie oven behind her.
Today, Tar lives in Vancouver, and is the owner of the Davie Street Transylvanian Traditions Bakery, which is operating a lively booth at the Vancouver Christmas Market. Although principally German-themed, the food available at the fair includes food from other Eastern European countries.
The team at the Transylvanian Traditions hut works at a fast-pace. - Tessa Vikander
There’s a tale to these cakes, too. "My grandma used to say that when it was the war, and people didn't have anything to eat… the enemy tried to keep them hungry,” she says. With what little food they had, they would make dough and cook it on sticks. Once baked, the story goes that the embattled people would hold the sticks, covered in chimney cake, and wave them at their enemies.
“They were showing them that they still had something to eat and that they won't give up ever… but I don't know if it’s the truth, it's just my grandma's stories,” says Tar.
At the Christmas market, Tar and her fellow employees move about the hut quickly, rolling the lemon-flavoured yeast dough onto special wooden sticks and baking it on-site. But before the raw dough hits the rotisserie oven, it is rolled in coarse sugar.
Tunde Tar holds up a completed baked chimney cake. - Tessa Vikander
"As soon as the sugar is caramelized, the outside [of the chimney cake] is going to be crunchy and the inside is going to be nice and soft,” Tar explains.
Once baked, the cakes are slid off the sticks and rolled in ground walnuts or coconut, to be served piping hot in a white paper bag.
The verdict? Hot, steamy and lemony, these cakes would be easy to share, though you will probably want one all to yourself. Although they’re baked, and not fried, they give the good old North American doughnut a run for its money.
•The Vancouver Christmas Market runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 22 through Dec. 24 at Jack Poole Plaza. Tickets $5-$10.