Hungarian edible works of art an important cultural heritage

Click  on link to see how to decorate an Easter Egg cookie:
How to decorate an Hungarian Easter Egg Cookie

Easter will be here soon, and with it are the traditions – like food.  I found this delightful article in the pages in Saveur magazine and other resources about these amazing edible works of art and could not resist sharing them with you.
I grew up enjoying the delicacies hand-made by my mother and grandmother, watching them carefully decorating every single cookie or ‘mezeskalacs’ as I remember them with tiny little mirrors in the center of the hearts.  We looked with eagerness to see which ones we would find in our Easter baskets, and were never disappointed.

Today, this fine art of cookie decorating is not as common as in decades past, but you can find some who still carry this tradition today and make these delicious sweets.
Read on, to find out more and watch a master at her work designing these beauties. Art of Making the Most Beautiful Cookies in the World

The Collection of Cookies gives a glimpse of Hungary’s History and Customs in a unique way.
It is part of the national pride and heritage handed down generation to generation. From district, village and towns,  these cookies tell stories about the people and who they are.
Mezeskalacs, intricately decorated Hungarian cookies, are edible works of art with an important cultural heritage

Mastering the art of Hungarian gingerbread cookie decorating takes a lot of practice. With the right sized silver-tipped piping bag a simple cookie by a master artist turns it into intricate lace embroidery and paints floral designs that mimic the colorful patterns of traditional Hungarian folk handiwork. Whirls of white surround a small square mirror set into a red heart-shaped cookie.

SzivmezeskalacsSo special and detailed are they, that the recipient of one knows that they are in the center of your heart.  The only problem is, you won’t want to eat them. No. You’ll want to put them in a frame and hang them on your wall. Because these are no ordinary cookies. These cookies are art.

Anniko is one of the few bakers in America that practice the centuries-old art, one that over the decades has become uniquely Hungarian. And she is a Hungarian Girl Scout. Their goals go beyond merit badges for outdoor survival and physical fitness, the Hungarian scouts study the traditional folkways of their ancestors. Every summer Aniko joins with other scout leaders at a summer camp in upstate New York to teach their troops the Hungarian way to cook, dance, sew, sing, speak, live, and breathe Hungarian.  Once every five years the camp is host to an international jamboree where 700+ Hungarians born outside of Hungary (everywhere from U.S. to U.K. to Venezuela) gather to celebrate Hungarian culture. Naturally, mezeskalacs abounds.

Hungarian honey cookies

Matt Taylor-Gross

If left in a well ventilated area, the cookies will naturally dehydrate. Anniko uses some of them, like this swan, as Christmas ornaments.

A little about how to make Mezeskalacs –
Mezeskalacs begin with typical baking spices: a little cinnamon, some clove, a dash of dried ginger. But their tawny color and characteristic lightness come from a slurp of honey, which brings not just flavor, but also moisture that converts into steam in the oven, plumping the dough high and giving the finished cookie plenty of air bubbles and a slight crispness. This light, mild cookie is now the perfect base for the master to do the work of piping  Hungarian themed floral patterns (mezovirag),  cross-hatched lace, as well as Christmas and Easter designs.

Anniko didn’t learn the art of mezeskalacs from her mother who doesn’t decorate cookies. She actually picked it up watching videos on YouTube that have racked up tens of thousands of views. Go ahead, try watching just one. Before you know it you’ll have spent hours gaping slack-jawed at the time-lapse creations of cookies just beyond your grasp.

“It’s taken years of practice to learn how to do the designs right,” Aniko tells me. The multi-colored floral patterns have been the most difficult for her to master, but now she paints  her own whimsical designs with ease creating new ones as she’s piping.

To deepen Aniko’s knowledge of Hungarian culture beyond her experiences as a teacher in a Hungarian school, she explored other avenues of Hungarian culture which led her to the art of making intricately decorated cookies.  “The Hungarian culture is so important to me. With it I don’t feel alone, and I know I can give whatever I know to the next generation.”

Another Hungarian Entrepreneur who specializes in decorating mezeskalacs is Tunde Dugantsi, making use of YouTube to upload videos as marketing for her online gingerbread business, where she sells her mezeskalacs and how to decorate your own instructions.

Watch video to see how it’s done:
Watch how to make the best Hungarian lace cookies

Hungarian honey cookies

Matt Taylor-Gross
The mirror in this heart-shaped cookie isn’t edible, but “you give it to someone,” Aniko says, “to show they’re in the center of your heart.”

Passing of tradition is especially important to Hungarians, many of whom fled to the U.S., Canada, Australia, and parts of Latin America following a bloody revolution in 1956. With such a widespread dispersal, local community ties are vital for healing and identity.  Hence the Hungarian scouts, and their emphasis on traditional folkways.  Aniko’s mezeskalacs, which are as much about community identity, a bit of homeland and commerce.

Hungarian honey cookies

Matt Taylor-Gross

Mezossegi, the traditional Hungarian floral print, is also a popular design on folk dresses. Hungarian folk dance ensembles use these patterns and similar ones identifying regions where their dances are from.

In New Jersey, where a large population is Hungarian, their social calendar is planned out well in advance. In June, the city of New Brunswick will be celebrating its 42nd annual Hungarian Festival, during which over 10,000 Hungarians will gather for Hungarian performances, folk art exhibits, and a huge buffet of traditional Hungarian food.
Four days before the festival, Aniko and other scout leaders will cook literally tons of stuffed cabbage, goulash, chicken paprikas, and plum dumplings as well as the deserts like Poppy-seed Rolls, decorated cookies and the infamous mezeskalacs.  The income they raise all go towards the Hungarian scouts, which have members as young as five and as old as 82.
Over the past five years Aniko has made mezeskalacs into a cottage business, selling cookies to the area’s Hungarian community and teaching the art of cookie decorating to church groups, school children, and the youth members of the Hungarian Scout Association.   “Once a scout,” Aniko says with a smile, “always a scout.”

You can contact Aniko here: honeycookies16@gmail.com to know more about her cookies and how to arrange an order and shipping.

References include:Max Falkowitz February 16, 2017

 

 

 

 

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