David Sebestyen has been cranking out kürtőskalács — a sweet coil-shaped Hungarian pastry that originated in Romania’s central Transylvania region — since 2018, dutifully doling them out from under tents at local festivals and seasonal markets, or delivering them on weekends to online customers. But as of late last month, Sebestyen now runs a standalone storefront: Ol’ Sweet Pastry on Rachel Street.
“I remember eating the pastry as a kid at events in Transylvania, where it’s really like a street dessert. You’d have like 10, 20 people making them outside,” Sebestyen tells Eater. Otherwise, it’s a popular treat among tourists, as well as locals, who he says frequently purchase the pastry as a snack to nibble on while running errands — unravelling the sweet truncated cylinder, bit by bit, as they go along.
Widely known as “chimney cake,” the pastry is made by spiralling strips of a sweet, lemony, bread-like dough around a wooden stick, on which the baker will leave it to rise before dusting with sugar and then baking — historically spit-roasted over charcoal. While baking, the sugar surrounding the dough caramelizes, creating a crunchy, sticky shell onto which various toppings, like granulated sugar, crushed walnuts, or coconut flakes, easily adhere. When removed from the wooden stick, the tubular pastry “smokes like a chimney” (hence its name), leaving its insides soft, fluffy, and ready to be had plain or sweetened further with a filling.
In warmer months, Ol’ Sweet Pastry’s filling options include ingredients like Nutella, strawberries, and ice cream — a conical variation on the chimney cake shape ensures these don’t slip out. In the winter, it’ll offer hot options resembling the soft fruit fillings in pies, topped with whipped cream. “I think we are probably the only ones doing that,” Sebestyen notes.
Though Sebestyen had wanted to start a business for some time, it wasn’t until a trip with his girlfriend back to Transylvania, where he grew up until the age of 7, that the idea for this one came about. Then, he got to thinking how this beloved dessert from his youth was virtually unheard of among Montrealers. Other than Gyuri’s Kürtős Kalács, a small outfit based in Vaudreuil that sells chimney cakes at markets and festivals, Sebestyen says Quebec was, woefully, without a dedicated chimney cake purveyor.
Though the sole owner of Ol’ Sweet Pastry, Sebestyen says its main offering is, in all respects, a family achievement — a recipe that took Sebestyen, his mother, and grandmother an unanticipated six months to perfect. “When I first imported the machines to make them, I thought, great, I can start doing festivals right away this summer, but it didn’t end up being like that at all,” he says, laughing.
The festival circuit eventually did provide Sebestyen with a litmus test that convinced him a standalone chimney cake shop could probably succeed. But then the pandemic hit, and Sebestyen was forced to focus his efforts online, marketing on Facebook and Instagram, and cooking out of a commercial kitchen on the North Shore in Sainte-Thérèse to then conduct deliveries around Greater Montreal.
Without a physical presence, Sebestyen says it grew challenging to attract the average Montrealer, to get them as “captivated by the pastry” as he knew they could be. At that time, Sebestyen says members of Montreal’s Romanian and Hungarian communities made up approximately 90 percent of his customer base.
Now having graduated into Ol’ Sweet’s new Plateau digs, Sebestyen is looking forward to introducing the dessert to neighbours and a larger slice of the city’s population. “I want to make chimney cake known to the most amount of people as possible — to all the people from here,” he says.
Ol’ Sweet Pastry is open Wednesday to Sunday at 767 Rachel East.