Hungarians Make the
Yep, Christmas, Easter, and
weddings all call for the spicy dough.
You might already know about Hungarian gingerbread.
After all, in 2018, a set of cookie-decorating videos made their way around the
internet. In them, a pair of hands busily lays line after line of white icing
with the mathematical accuracy of a 3D printer. Incongruously, the baker pipes
a vaguely Old World piece of embroidery atop the cookie in mere minutes. The
videos, which were many people’s first introduction to the elaborate,
painstaking art of Hungarian gingerbread, went viral.
Such masterful work,
at least to me, seems to exist almost entirely on the internet or in the realm
extraordinaire. But gingerbread artists walk among us.
Hungarian Christmas fair, I saw traditional gingerbread art by Klara Repas.
While Repas is not the baker in these viral videos (that honor goes to
decorator Tunde Dugantsi),
her creations were equally stunning, and prompted me to ask for a
A week later, I
visit Repas at her sunny New Jersey home, overlooking the Hudson River. (I’m
ignoring my coworkers’ jokes, inspired by Hansel and Gretel, about fleeing at
the first sight of a human-sized oven.) There’s a tiny gingerbread house on an
entryway table, mitten and star cookies along a sideboard, and deep Tupperware
bowls filled with undecorated cookies on the counter. Repas herself is
soft-spoken and elegant, donning a pair of eyeglasses every time she needs to
peer at the fine pattern of her gingerbread, or mézeskalács.
While it’s mainly a Christmastime treat in countries such as the
U.S., Repas says gingerbread is a year-round affair in Hungary, made by bakers
for weddings, Easter, and birthdays. In this respect, her homeland hews to
“very old tradition,” she says. Ancient Greeks enjoyed an ancestor of
gingerbread, cakes made with honey, and put it in the mouths of the dead for
the trip to the afterlife. In many countries, bakers made honey cakes for all
kinds of events, such as saint’s days.
In the days before icing, the dough was pressed into carved wooden molds, and
esteemed bakers had their own proprietary designs.
Clancy's comment: Not only, it's good for you. A friend recently made some of those gingerbread houses and they were simply gob smacking.
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