Highlights from the Bakeation in Eastern Europe

Read more about the Bikers' trip to Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

The journey begins in Bratislava, Gateway to the East.

The Shtoor Café is our first stop. The owner, Mirka Bajanikova is a self taught baker and head chef at the café. She prides herself on serving traditional Slovak recipes alongside those inspired by outside influences, including British TV food programmes.

Overlooking the river, Si and Dave bake the Eastern European take on bread and butter pudding packed with fruit – zemlovka. 

Next stop - Hungary!

The Bread Museum

Komorom is a border town divided in two by the Danube. It’s dominated by a large fortress. Within its forbidding walls lies a bread museum. 

The Auguszt Bakery is one of the oldest ‘sweet bakers’ in Hungary (5 generations have survived revolutions.. gulags….and communism). The bakery is now run by the great granddaughter of its original founder. Their most popular pastry is called a Kremesh, much like our vanilla slice.

As Si and Dave travel eastwards, they encounter one of their favourite roadside snacks – langos.

Lángos is a Hungarian food specialty, a deep fried flat bread made with a simple dough of flour, yeast, salt and water. Traditionally lángos was baked in the front of the brick oven, close to the flames. It was made from bread dough and was served as breakfast on the days when new bread was baked. Now that people no longer have brick ovens and do not bake bread at home, lángos is virtually always fried in oil. It is eaten fresh and warm, and traditionally topped with sour cream and grated cheese!

The Hairy Bikers next stop is a UNESCO world heritage site, the village of Holloko! The living village has been preserved by the Hungarian equivalent of the National Trust and is now used as a holiday and educational facility for Hungarians looking explore their history and culture. Women in traditional dress cook pastries with cottage cheese and honey in the communal wood-fired oven.

Si and Dave borrow the oven to cook their Pork Crackling Scones and rustle up a Goulash Soup as a one-pot meal. 

The next part of the journey brings the bikers to the region of Tokaj, famous for its fine wines. 

Tokaj wine has EU regional designation…and has been drunk by such notables as Louis 14th of France, Queen Victoria and Napoleon. Communism did for wine the same as it did for bread - effectively decimating a once thriving industry. Hungarians want to reinstate the region as a world leader in wine production again.

The sweet essence of Tokaji dessert wines is a product of late-picked grapes that have been left on the vine to make an incredible transformation. A normally undesirable windborne fungus - Botrytis cinerea to be specific - takes hold on the grapes, feeding on their organic acids, but leaving their sugar untouched. This is known as "noble rot." The grapes subsequently shrivel as they lose water. It is during this process that a most unique flavour is developed, and Aszú comes into being.

Aszú (pronounced UH-soo) is the name given to these late grapes, which are collected in tubs called puttonyos. This is mentioned because the puttony is used as a measure of sweetness of the wine, referring literally to the number of tubs of Aszú added to the must before fermentation. This gives us the grades that are marked clearly on every bottle of Aszú, from 3 to 6 puttonyos (sometimes abbreviated to putts). The body and richness rise with the number, as does the price.

The circumstances that lead to a perfect batch of Aszú are in themselves rather extraordinary. Factors such as the vine's flowering time finishing early enough in June, ample rainfall in July and August to negate the scorching effects of the sun, and dry weather from mid-August to October to prevent a high moisture content, are all important requirements on which production depends. Furthermore, the rain must return in late October in order to soften the grapes' skins, and this should be followed by a cool dry period in which the grapes will begin to dry and wither. Fortunately, the Hungarian weather is very accommodating. 

In fact, those who have sought to transplant to other areas the vine varieties form which we get Tokaji have inevitably met with failure - the genuine king of wines can be obtained only from the hills of Hegyalja, in the region of Tokaj. 

As Si and Dave cross the border into Romania, they are met by Dave’s wife, Lil, who will guide them to Sighetu Marmatiei to visit a local bakery that she has known since childhood. 

In this part of Romania, many houses are built of wood with intricate carvings on balconies and eaves and Si and Dave cook their next dish in a wood-workers yard which is closed for a national holiday.

In anticipation of a family party, they cook up a range of Curly Pies, filled with inexpensive ingredients like local sheep’s cheese and spring onions.

The trip culminates in a family gathering with Dave’s in-laws and extended Romanian family.

Related links