Aniko Gulyas of Sarasota’s Kurtos Inc. grew up in Hungary in a magical place near one of the largest lakes in Europe, where castles are commonplace. Aniko remembers standing in line at the fair as a child, with the sweet smell of kurtos cakes perfuming the air as she waited patiently for a taste of the Hungarian rolled pastry, cylinders baked on a rotating spit.
Kurtos pastry is made from a yeast-based dough that is rolled around a wooden pin and seasoned with raw turbinado sugar and then rolled some more in a specifically designed oven until the interior is soft and the sugared exterior is caramelized and crispy. The need for this special oven meant that kurtos were probably not a treat baked for you by your grandmother or mother but rather a special indulgence only available at large events.
When Aniko talks about the popularity of kurtos cake she speaks how the pastry is evocative of a Hungarian childhood and how it elicits feelings of nostalgia and happiness in those who find themselves far from home. No one in Florida was making kurtos for public consumption before Aniko decided to try her hand at it and she knows of only two other suppliers in the rest of the United States. Aniko learned of a Hungarian woman in Safety Harbor who made kurtos for her family as a hobby and she arranged lessons through the woman’s son. Armed with her newfound knowledge and a desire to change her life Aniko decided to open her own business.
Aniko used to be in banking but once her twins, Julia and Bence, were born she knew that she wanted a career that allowed her more time to spend with her growing family. Aniko’s husband, Tibor, is also Hungarian. When I ask if they met before they left Hungary, Aniko laughs and tells me the story of how she left Hungary to move to America only to meet her Hungarian husband in a bar in Sarasota. Tibor, then, had a special understanding of the magic of kurtos cakes and he was happy to support his wife’s endeavors. In fact, Tibor and their son, Bence, asked that Mom also make savory versions of the kurtos pastries.
The remarkably tasty savory kurtos are made with a different dough and topped and filled with delightful ingredients including cheese, bacon, jalapeño, and olives. Kurtos pastries can be found at variety of restaurants in Sarasota including Geier’s Sausage Kitchen, Taste of Europe, Elixir Tea House, and Sunnyside Café. Incidentally, Aniko informs me that Elixir Tea House and Sunnyside Café are also owned by Hungarian folks. Apparently there are many Hungarian people living in Sarasota; the Hungarian Festival held at the Sarasota Fairgrounds in October was the largest in the country. Aniko was at that festival, baking kurtos cakes for a long line of families, waiting patiently in the warm sunshine for a taste of their childhood—it would appear that she’s come full circle.