"It was the best of diets. It was the worst diets. It was the age of honey cakes. It was the age of expanding waistlines."I've traveled around the world, and I thought I'd really gotten a deep and intimate understanding of cakes. I've had more than a few. A different cake in every port.
They all have a special place in my heart, if not somewhere else.
Sure, there are many cakes I haven't tried, but it was hard to imagine something new and totally different AND that I would fall in love with.
That such a cake would not be chocolate was hard to imagine. And that there would be two new confections to tear at my affections, well, this was beyond conception.
Then, a few years ago, Medovník and Marlenka came into my life.
First, mainly for those who don't live here, I'll tell you a little about Medovník.
It is a honey cake. It's a creamy brown beauty. It has a light dusting of fine honey cake crumbs and chopped walnut over its creamy icing. The creams between its many layers are unlike any I have known.
I believe that it contains a highly addictive substance that is unlikely to gain EU approval: Pure love.
It might as well be pure opium. There have been times when I have taken a bite and my eyes just roll back in my head. I'm serious. I can't identify exactly what it is, but there is just something about that sweet cream.
The cream between the layers usually looks more white, but I left this one on my desk for a while. It soaked into the cake and turned dark. These delicate cakes must be handled with care.
You also have to make sure you get the original Medovník. Accept no imitations. The problem is, I've seen similar honey cakes in various cafes around Prague. They might be called "honey cake" (medový dort). I've even seem them generically called medovnik, but none are as good as the orginal. You have to know how it looks to be sure.
It is very important to get a fresh one to have the full experience. Hundreds are delivered each daily from a bakery in Prague, but they do go stale fairly quickly. The cake loses its ethereal softness. This is not good.
I've looked at their website, and I believe the cake is also available in Slovakia, Poland, Austria, and Germany.
Then, there is Marlenka. It is also a honey cake, but the icing and filling between they layers are different. Also, while the Medovník is round, the Marlenka is cut into squares from a larger square.
The first time I saw one was during a visit to Mikulov. I was highly skeptical that I would like it. "A Medovník knock-off," I sneered. But I was wrong. V ordered it with her coffee and all the "Mmmmmmm, mmmmmm, mmmmmms," got my attention.
The thing about Marlenka is that its icing and layers are made from something very close in flavor to caramel. I absolutely love caramel. The recipe says it contains condensed milk. Maybe that's the secret.
The cake is a different texture, a little more moist, but still delicious. When I tried it, they actually heated it up, which I haven't had since, but it was just amazing with a coffee.
There is also a "cocoa" version of the Marlenka with white cream in the middle that I think is very good. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it reminds me of some packaged chocolate snack cake from my youth. That's a good thing in my book, But it still doesn't beat the caramel-like version.
Both these cakes, Medovník and Marlenka, have made their name and fame in the Czech Republic, but their origins and recipes come from points further east. For a more layered understanding of thes sweet cakes, you can read this excellent article from 2006 by Mimi Fronczak Rogers in The Prague Post.
So, which is better? I cannot answer. I have Medovník days and Marlenka days. It is a cake-lover's triangle that doesn't bother me in the least.
I wouldn't say these are far, far better cakes than I have ever eaten before. But they are far, far better than many of the other cakes I have ever known.
*Something I came across recently