The stories behind the cakes

On a recon of Zala county a couple of years back, when I was exploring thoughts of life in a Hungarian village, the instigators of this grand plan took me to visit Florridora’s Pantry, an English Tea Room run by Mancunian Ken Jones and Brighton-born Neil Stevens over in Zalaszántó. Fast forward a couple of years and the boys have moved to my village, Balatonmagyaród. The grand opening is scheduled for early March but I got a sneak preview of the new gaff last week. And it didn’t disappoint.

The lads had prepared a sampler tray of old stalwarts. It being a Friday in Lent though, all I could do was sit and listen to the stories while himself tasted them to make sure they were all up to scratch.

Going clockwise from 9pm, first up was Rocky Road. This is a favourite of mine (it was my ice-cream of choice during my  B&J wars with the inimitable Sam Fowler while living in Longview, Washington). The recipe is about 150 years old and originates from the gold mines of Australia. It would take weeks for supplies to reach the camp and most arrived in pieces. But the broken bits were bunged together and aptly name Rocky Road, as a nod to the road hard travelled.

Next, were two versions of the famous Hungarian Kossuth cake. Some say that the Florridora menu is one of the few menus (if not the only one) on which this features in Hungary today. After the 1848 Hungarian uprising, Kossuth Lajos was invited to to America. He made the trip in 1851, primarily to tell the folks over there about what was going on in Hungary and to raise some money for another attempt at a revolt. And while the locals didn’t quite stump up (he raised a paltry $25, equivalent to about $740 in today’s money), he got a name for himself as a champion of freedom. An enterprising fan, a baker in Baltimore, decided to honour him in cake, filling a sponge cupcake with sweet whipped cream and topping it off with a strawberry or a chocolate sauce. Bring it back, I say. Bring it back.

At about 1pm in my photo, there’s the Brighton sandwich, a nod to Stevens’s home town. The origins of shortbread are a focal point of discussion for some – Mary Queen of Scots is mentioned, as is Elizabeth I. And, something I didn’t know – shortbread comes in tails, rounds, and fingers. This sandwich is filled with an apricot-and-almond jam.

It’s followed by a Bread-and-Butter-Pudding cake, a granny cake, so-called because grannies were quite clever when it came to using up stale bread. Jones’s great-grandmother was in service in Gainsborough Hall  and this particular recipe has survived the generations. It has the texture of a tea-loaf with a chocolate and orange flavour.

The Grasmere Gingerbread dates back to 1854, when Sarah Nelson started making it in her Lake-District home.  Nelson sold it to the villagers from a table-top on a tree stump in her garden. A local resident, a chap by the name of William Wordsworth, him with a thing for daffodils, endorsed the cake and word quickly spread. Centuries later, it’s still going strong. Nelson’s story is a fascinating one and a visit to the Lake District is now on my bucket list. [When I asked him to rate the cakes, himself voted this his favourite.]

Centre-plate is the Manchester Tart. This coconut-topped biscuit cake filled with raspberry jam originates from a time when coconut cakes were only found in large port cities like Manchester and London. The delicacy didn’t survive inland road trips. The recipe dates to Mrs Beaton and the 1850s. The pasty case is medieval, and would have originally been filled with meats rather than jams. The tart was Jones’s dad’s signature dish when he was in the Navy in WWII. Some go all out and add sliced bananas, but the lads opted for a filling of cherry-and-clove jam.

The traditional cream tea fare of scones with jam, butter, and cream, wasn’t on the menu that day. Had it been, I might have stretched my Lenten fast and had it was one of my collations.

Florridora’s Pantry will open at weekends and on Public Holidays from March, with extended opening in the summer tourist season. I imagine the village will be getting a lot busier. Cyclists doing the Kis-Balaton circle from Zalakaros will now have somewhere to wet their whistles. So book ahead. Just to be sure.

Petőfi utca 237
8753 Balatonmagyaród, Zala, Hungary

And if you fancy some Kossuth cake on 15 March, here’s the recipe:


100g butter
200g sugar
2 eggs
225g pastry flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
100ml milk
½ tsp vanilla

Cream butter and sugar well. Add beaten eggs. Fold in flour, baking powder, and salt (sifted together), alternately with the milk. Add the vanilla. Bake at 180° in muffin pans for 16-18 minutes. When done, cool, cut almost in half, fill with sweetened whipped cream and ice top of cakes.

Chocolate Icing

50g chocolate squares
50g butter
225g powdered sugar
2 egg yolks

Melt chocolate and butter, add sugar and a little hot water until just soft enough to spread. Beat in egg yolks. Add a pinch of salt and a little vanilla. Makes a soft icing to spread on top of the cakes.

Strawberry Icing

10 ripe strawberries
½ tsp lemon juice
225g powdered sugar

Mash berries with a fork, add lemon juice. Gradually add sugar until stiff enough to spread, yet soft enough to run over top of cream-filled cakes. Ready to serve.



Putting the kettle on

Back in the early 1900s, a Swiss baker and confectioner by the name of Frederick Belmont emigrated to England. He opened his first tea rooms in Harrogate, Yorkshire, in 1919. He called it Betty’s. No one knows who Betty was but today, the name Betty’s Tea Rooms is synonymous with craft baking and the quintessential English Afternoon Tea. It’s famous all over the world, with a mail order business that has customers as far away as Tokyo.

Afternoon tea was the furthest thing on my mind on a sunny August Balaton Sunday, and when my friends suggested we go visit their local tea rooms, I was a tad sceptical. The last thing I’d expect to find in the bucolic Hungarian village of Zalaszántó, or indeed anywhere in the Hungarian countryside, is an English tea room. While the topography might have a few Yorkshire nuances, I simply couldn’t imagine sipping Earl Grey from a china cup while eating homemade scones topped with strawberry jam and fresh cream. But an hour later, that’s exactly what I was doing.

12469444_788232327971164_7704246895881058254_oBack in 2007, Mancunian Ken Jones and Brighton-born Neil Stevens crossed the Austrian border to teach English in the Hungarian town of Mosonmagyaróvár. Stevens had worked as a speech therapist and Jones as a printer. But they reinvented themselves and went in search of an alternative life.

In 2011, they ventured deeper into the country and ended up in Zalaszántó, determined to live a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle, growing their own vegetables, raising their various animals, and living off the land. This mastered, they looked for a new challenge.

Neil’s grandmother, Dora, was a housekeeper. When she passed away, he inherited her collection of recipes. Ken’s grandmother, Florrie, used to work at Betty’s Tearooms in Harrogate. He, too, inherited her recipes. Both like to bake, make their own jams, and mix their own teas. Both like to chat, to meet new people, to live a stress free life. So, they thought, why not open an English Tea Room and call it Florridora’s Pantry.

They poured their first cuppa in December 2015. A write-up in the popular Hungarian magazine Meglepetés got the word out and now they open 11am-5pm five days a week (closed Mondays and Tuesdays) in summer and every weekend, year-round, with a largely Hungarian clientele.

13329477_872897272838002_6886031588714323125_oTheir little tea museum is educational. The old-fashioned English games set up in the garden, like hoops and hopscotch, give the kids something to do. And the 16-seat tea room with its backdrop of  Gatsby-era music is delightful. They’re reluctant to expand, although the demand is there; the small numbers make for a convivial atmosphere and gives them time to enjoy chatting with their guests. They really have this alternative lifestyle thing nailed.

The tea menu is extensive and includes such gems as hőlgyek teája (ladies tea), a cup of which will sooth those hot flushes; emésztést segítő keveréke (digestive blend) which will sort your indigestion; and csípõs fájdalomcsillapító (spicy pain relief) which will cure those aches and pains.  The cake selection changes regularly (I can highly recommend the Rocky Road). Everything is made fresh on the day from their own produce and it’s all very reasonably priced.

This year, the lads are moving into the Christmas market with aplomb. If you’re quick, you can order their homemade Christmas cakes (from one-portion cakes to 22 cm family numbers) and Christmas puddings. They’re slow-cooked over a wood stove and so need weeks of preparation. I’m sure if you ask nicely, they might even mail it to you. But then you’d miss out on the experience. Better to go pick it up yourself and sample the delights of this unlikely, but lovely, feature of the Hungarian countryside.

First published in the Budapest Times 26 August 2016