THE AMERI-CONE DREAM
Our trip to Hungary was amazing! We stayed with my grandmother, who lives about an hour outside of Budapest, for 10 days. It was 10 days of eating, cooking, washing dishes, and repeat, until bedtime. Preparing food and cleaning up is a little different when you have a tiny kitchen and no dishwasher. My grandmother is 84 years old and has been doing things her own particular way for a long time. Like me, she likes order and cleanliness to the extreme. Because she can no longer stand for a long time, or get around very easily, she directed me around the kitchen, which made for a great learning experience, but also some funny frustration at times. I didn’t get as many photos of us making the kürtős as I would have liked, because she kept yelling at me to “pay attention and put my phone away” while we were cooking.
Everyday we got up early and stayed up late chatting, it is amazing how we never run out of things to talk about, and she always has funny and interesting stories to tell. She told me a lot about when she started her business and we even searched for some photos, but unfortunately we couldn’t find any. Her set up was a more permanent location, in a rural market, during communist times. In addition to experimenting at home, she tried and practiced onsite for 2 weeks to perfect the recipe and process. Her and her husband even became frustrated at one point, because the recipe wasn’t working, and she said her husband threw the whole batch on the ground and said they were done with this business, in front of the other vendors! Imagine all the wasted dessert!!
The most difficult part of this process for me, has been the legal paperwork, permitting and dealing with the department of agriculture. I asked her how all that worked back in communist Hungary, assuming it was much easier. But apparently, during those times, all the permitting, health inspections and tax auditing was very intense, and you had to be very careful with every aspect. She said undercover auditors would come count how many you sold in one day, a couple times a year, to get an average, in order make sure you were claiming the correct amount of money each year! One of the most important realizations I came to on this trip is that everyone goes through a learning curve when starting a business, and I need to remember to be patient.
Because the basic yeast dough that kürtős is made from is very common in Hungarian cooking, grandma thought that it was “too easy to practice more than 3-4 times”. So, in addition to a couple rounds of making kürtős, she taught me how to make a few other things. Pörkölt with nokedli, túrós csusza, pogácsa, somlói galuska, meggyleves, madártej, gesztenyepüré, and beigli, were just a few of the dishes I learned. If you aren’t Hungarian and want to know what these are, feel free to ask!! I am happy to share the deliciousness with the world.
In addition to tons of discussions and practicing with my grandma, we visited (and sampled of course) a couple other street vendors in Hungary and Austria. We were able to watch their process and ask a few questions, like thickness on the roller, time in the oven, etc. People were actually very helpful and excited that kürtős was going across the pond!
I am happy to say that after all that, we did perfect the recipe, and even came up with some exiting menu items! Next step is going to New York next weekend to pick up my equipment. The gentlemen selling everything to me are kind enough to show me the process with the actual equipment I am purchasing, to help ease some of that learning curve. I can’t wait to bring everything home and get things really started!
On another note- check out how beautiful her garden is- she can barely walk and she still does this all herself!!
EXPERIMENTING IN THE KITCHEN
To continue from my last post about Ryan and I experimenting and researching Kürtős, in the summer of 2016 we decided to try a few recipes from my great grandma’s recipe book. We didn’t have the proper equipment, so being the daughter of an engineer, I figured I could fashion a device from some simple items from the hardware store. After a few epic fails (and a couple edible ones), pictured below, I called my grandmother and she walked me through a few recipes and tried to teach me her skills over the phone. I do have a bachelors degree in Chemistry, but this apparently does not transfer to baking. It is definitely more of an art!! We found it difficult to describe the texture and appearance of the dough, especially with the language barrier. Although I am fluent in Hungarian, it is more conversational and some would call it Hung-Lish (Hungarian-English). Being that my grandmother speaks 0 english, these recipes were becoming a bit frustrating.
By this point I had put together a business plan, did my market research, even wrote a menu and brainstormed names for a possible business. I had even been in contact with a few other businesses in the US that had been selling Chimney Cakes. The recipe was the only part that was still not quite right. So, the only thing left to do was go to Hungary and stay with my grandma to learn! Ryan and I will be traveling overseas tomorrow to do just that (and of course some market research and taste testing)!!
My grandmother’s name is Magda, and I definitely wanted to use her name in my business name, but I couldn’t decide what to use, as I don’t have one creative bone in my body. That is more Ryan’s strength. One night we were brainstorming names, and Ryan came up with MagDough, after I had said Madga’s Dough out loud. The business was born!!
Through high school and college, I became busy and wasn’t able to take as many trips to Hungary due to school, schedules and finances. In 2012 my great-grandmother turned 100 years old, so my father and I took a trip to celebrate her birthday. I definitely couldn’t miss that one. This trip quite literally changed my life. This is when I first realized how fortunate I had been growing up how I did and how many opportunities I had, that might not have existed if my parents stayed in Hungary. That story will be for another post. Her and my grandmother’s stories rekindled my excitement and passion for my Hungarian culture and since then, I have made it a point to go every year to visit family and explore the country.
Although I had seen a lot of the sights during my visits growing up, it is absolutely a different experience as an adult. When I met Ryan, my now husband, in 2014, I knew I had to take him there for him to fully understand who I was. In 2015, the day after Christmas, we left on our first European vacation together. We explored Budapest, Ryan met all of my extended family, tasted all the foods and drinks, and fell in love with the culture. On New Years day, Ryan proposed in the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular, and the rest is history!
One of our favorite treats, while eating our way through the Christmas markets, were the Chimney Cakes. I had been eating these my whole life, as they are a very popular central European street food, but this was new for Ryan. When we got back from our trip, we reminisced about all the foods we ate and wished we could get them here in the states. My whole life, when I would talk to others about Hungarian food, I always wanted to be able to provide a taste! One discussion lead to another, and that summer, we decided we wanted to bring the Hungarian food culture to the Triangle, and started experimenting with making chimney cakes at home.