When I was in kindergarten, my teacher put on a pageant for the parents, and I was part of the Angel Band. Nine of us little angels stood in a line with tinsel halos and cardboard wings covered with aluminum foil. Each held an instrument. After the other eight angels played their triangles and shook their rattles, I was to give my drum one giant wallop. Well, boy did I. When my turn finally came, I banged that drum so hard, one cardboard wing snapped off and my halo went flying. It was one of my proudest moments.
In Budapest, there’s a special drum you don’t play, but you do get to eat. It’s called Dobos Torta. Dobos means drummer in Hungarian. World famous, this show-stopping pastry consists of six thin layers of vanilla sponge cake smothered with chocolate butter cream and topped with thin wedges of caramel-glaze. Because the caramel layer looks like the skin of a drum, many assume that that’s where the cake gets its name, but it isn’t so. The pastry was invented by master Hungarian chef József Dobos in 1884. In an era when cooling techniques were limited, Dobos’s aim was to create a cake that would last longer than other pastries. The caramel topping keeps it from drying out.
When Dobos introduced his new showy dessert, it was an immediate sensation. Dobos Fever hit Europe, and orders poured in from all over the continent. One of the reasons for the cake’s huge success was its use of buttercream, a little known ingredient that Dobos picked up in France. Up till then pastries were filled with whipped cream or custard.
For decades, other pastry chefs tried in vain to re-create Dobos’s famous recipe, but Dobos kept it a closely-guarded secret until he retired. Surrounded in scandal, these attempts to divine the secret even became the basis for an operetta. If they ever revive the show here in town, I’m going to go to the auditions and try out for the drummer. As you know, I’m very good at it.