Friday, August 3, 2007

Medovník & Marlenka

"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."

-Charles Bridge*
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


Jay said...

Hey Brewsta--

Do you know where I could buy a whole Medovnik cake? I've sometimes wanted to get one for a party or whatnot and I never figured out where to go.

Also... Hotel Imperial is re-opened, finally. Their cafe looks stunning now-- I just had breakfast there this morning. Great service too. I thought you would like to know.

Brewsta said...

Hey Jay,

There may be some shops in Prague that'll sell a whole one but could be expensive. I looked on the website And they list these shops as places that sell them - and says it isn't necessary to order in advance:

Cena dortů Medovník

Prodejní místa :

1. Výrobna Medovníků:
Strašnická 18, P-10,
Po - Pa, 8:00 - 15:00.

2. Cukrárna „Srdíčko“
Černokostelecká 23,
Praha 10,
Po - So, 8:00 - 18:00.

3. Cukrárna „Sluníčko“
Morseova 543, P-10,
Po - So, 10:00 - 18:00.

V těchto provozovnách není nutné objednávat.

Pivní Filosof said...

Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!! Ooooooohhhhhhh!!!! Mmmmmmhhhhhh!!! Medovníííííííík! Just thinking of it gives me a hard on (wait, I shouldn't have said that).
Kinhell!!! It's one of the best cakes in the whole bloody world... Whoever came with the idea of sell it and share it deserves a bloody monument.
I'm more atheist than the pope, but each time I have a piece of that orgasm on a plate, i serously doubt my beliefs...
Marlenka isn't bad, but Medovník beats it (not by much, though)

Anonymous said...

hey, this is very popular Russian cake too!It's very easy to make your self.If anyone interested I can give a recipe!

Brewsta said...

Yes, it's true. I was alluding to that when I said that the recipes come from "points further east."

Also, the Marlenka recipe is apparently Armenia. But they found big success in the Czech Republic.

I didn't go so deeply into the details since it was already covered in The Prague Post article I linked to in the post.

But maybe it deserved more prominent mention.

Captain Oddsocks said...

A solid vote for Medovnik here.

Perhaps it's just been specific cases, but the Marlenka I've had has always seemed drier and not nearly as flavourful as the Medovnik.

Conveniently for us here, Cafe Piccolo just around the corner not only has the best coffee in town, but also the freshest Medovnik. Only the chocolate pie at Cafe 87 can beat it...

Mmmm, maybe they'll still be open if I run out now?

Brewsta said...

I will confess that I do eat more Medovnik than Marlenka -- a crime of opportunity.

Unknown said...

Hey Anonymous, I'd be very interested in a recipe! I tried Medovnik when I was in Prague a couple of years ago, and have been searching for an authentic recipe ever since - and as I live in Canada, I can't have one delivered!

email me (Please!!): shotgun dot duchess at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in a recipe too. I tried a similar cake in russia first, where despite the multiple cues and the yelling angry clerks, I just had to have a piece every so often. Now i'm lucky to leave in Bratislava, but soon enough i'll be going to medovnik-marlenka-less Montreal!!! The idea of not having a piece of these amazing cakes at will (except for the waist-line factor of course) is daunting. you can e-mail me: gissella at hotmail dot com

Brewsta said...

I don't know if this is the original recipe for Medovnik, but it looks promising:

Hruška said...

I lived in Prague only for 4 months while I studied abroad there. Unlike most of my compatriots studying abroad I was there because my grandparents are both Czech. But during that time I fell in love with Medovnik. My now husband, back then friend, actually ran around Prague on my birthday getting enough pieces of Medovnik to make a whole cake for me, because he placed an order for a whole cake and arrived late and they had started selling pieces of it off. By far the best birthday cake I have ever had, the close second would be carrot cake from Jerry's Deli (a Los Angeles Jewish Deli).

Erin said...

I realise you posted this a while ago, but I just had to comment. I flipped over marlenka while in Prague a few years ago and I've been looking for a recipe ever since. The best piece I had was from Cafe Kafiko on a surprisingly little trodden street in the old town. They also had a wonderful selection of teas to choose from.

Great website!

Anonymous said...

I once got a taste of homemade Medovnik and immediately fell in love. Unfortunately, the "honey cakes" they sell here in United States can't compare.

Anonymous said...

Hi, does anyone have a marlenka recipe they could post for me in English please? I have a lot of Slovak friends and would love to make it for them! :)


Lenka :)

Brewsta said...

Anything for you, Lenka:


Unknown said...

A hungerian friend of mine suggested I should try marlenka... it was love at first bite! Found in a café in central London