Jonathan McCambridge, PA
A 20-year mystery surrounding a famous Dublin cake has been solved thanks to a meeting between two granddaughters.
The Mary Cake was a staple of Bewley’s Cafe on Grafton Street since its introduction in 1956 by a Hungarian refugee – but the recipe was lost during extensive renovations two decades ago.
The cakes are mini towers consisting of chocolate filling on top of a sponge base, all encased in chocolate and topped with a disc of marzipan.
Since the recipe was lost, numerous attempts have been made to recreate its taste from memory, but none succeeded until food detective Hazel Carmichael, granddaughter of Bewley’s owner Victor Bewley, traced Carolina Malagon on the internet.
Carolina’s grandfather Henry Spelter was a confectioner who fled Budapest on foot following the Hungarian uprising in 1956.
He was among a number of refugees offered training and employment by Bewley’s when they arrived in Ireland.
Hazel, who lives in Rickmansworth, north-west of London, and New York-based Carolina, met for the first time in Dublin this weekend to relaunch the Mary Cake.
The original cakes will now be sold in aid of the Irish Red Cross, with €1 from every purchase going to support the charity.
Hazel had discovered that the Mary Cake was an after-work collaboration between Mr Spelter and her great-uncle Alfred, based on a Hungarian Marika Cake recipe but adapted to suit the Irish palate.
Anxious to find this recipe, Hazel went in search of Mr Spelter and found that he had emigrated to the US, but had died just a week previously at the age of 95.
Hazel left an online message of condolence, while continuing to experiment with recipes to recreate the cake.
A month later she was contacted by Carolina, who was also fascinated by the cake, which Mr Spelter had continued to make in the US using local ingredients.
The two have become friends, Carolina searching Henry’s notes and Hazel working on further trials, without finally cracking a mystery around the use of cream in the cake.
However, during a trial workshop day, Hazel discovered a Bewley’s bakery cost ledger from the 1970s which listed the ingredients in large quantities.
From that, she followed the clues that her uncle Alfred had replaced the original Hungarian cream with butter, and added good quality chocolate, and the Mary Cake was reborn.
“I feel like I have been treading in the footsteps of my great uncle as I have researched, tested and redeveloped the Mary Cake recipe,” said Hazel.
“I have repeated what Alfred and Henry did 65 years ago – taken a Hungarian Marika recipe and adapted it for the Irish palate of the day.
“This is a story about refugees fleeing war and coming to Ireland, bringing with them their skills and heritage, and what can happen when these skills are recognised and given a chance to flourish.
“The story of the Mary Cake can teach us a lot about welcome, respect and opportunity for all.
“We are both thrilled that Bewley’s have pledged to support current refugees by donating proceeds from Mary Cake sales to the Red Cross, to help with their work supporting Ukrainian refugees in Ireland.”