Sweet Kiss Cake Shop has been this busy every year since 1989, the year Ilona Varga and Istvan Varga took over. Bejgli, dobos and strudel are some of their specialties. They’re Hungarian immigrants who, before arriving in Australia, worked almost everyday of their lives as pastry chefs; they started their apprenticeships at age 14.
Their son, Adam Varga, also a pastry chef, owns the patisserie now (he’s also to thank for the modern cakes and incredible khorasan – a type of wheat – sourdough). But as he says, “We still work together. I make the modern cakes and they make the traditional Hungarian products.”
Bejgli (a firm, brioche-like roll stuffed with walnut paste and poppyseeds) is a common treat during Hungarian Easter. The rest of the year most of the orders (there's a large but dwindling Hungarian population in east Sydney) are for dobos (an intricately layered chocolate mousseline cream and savoy sponge cake topped with toffee – the quintessential Hungarian cake); esterházy (a pretty walnut sponge and brandy mousse cake named after an 18th century prince); and, most of all, strudel (a dense puff-pastry roll stuffed with cheese and apple or cherries).
Being one part cheese, one part pastry and one part fruit, it's a natural crowd-pleaser, but Sweet Kiss's version isn’t just any old strudel. Like most expertly made pastries, or anything, really, there’s an unquantifiable, indiscernible pleasure to it. “Strudel gets me every time. Particularly the end of the strudel. Close to burnt but not, and a good amount of filling,” says Adam.
For all the Hungarian customers coming it’s about nostalgia; enjoying what they ate decades ago as kids. “[The strudels] are still, to a tee, made the same way they were 40 years ago,” Adam says. The Vargas make everything by hand within the shop and use, where relevant, Hungarian ingredients. “We import all our cherries from Hungary. It's similar to German black cherries. They’re very sour, you don't get that in Australia. Here they're more sweet.”
Adam hopes to carry on his family and his culture’s traditions. “You know, there's not many people in Sydney who do it. There's us and Wellington [Cakes, in Bondi]. It's essential that knowledge stays. You have to remember where you’re from.”