When I first moved to Berkeley, after a year of wonderful, noncommittal wandering, Crixa Cakes was my way of coping with staying still. A place where I could show up in the mornings and drop half my weekly budget on cake for breakfast. It was always served to me in a way that convinced me, and convinces me still, that this is a normal thing to do. Back then, my money and cake had a loose, inverted relationship: the less I had to spend, the more opulent the cake. I suppose it was a poorly thought out strategy for combating reality. Most the time, it worked.
I'm drawn to Crixa partly for the way the bakery and its goods are so wrapped up in romantic storytelling. Even the name, Crixa, means "crossroads" in Lapin -- the language of Richard Adams' anthropomorphized rabbits in the book Watership Down, a literary nod to Crixa's location at the crossroads of Adeline and Shattuck Street (on the grounds of what used to be an old horse stable). When it comes to the cakes, the best story is, incidentally, the most scandalous. The story is a real one about a duchess and a gypsy, a story that brought about one of Hungary's most famous cakes and one of Crixa's best daily specials: The Rigó Jancsi.
It goes like this: Rigo Jansci and Clara Ward were both married when they met. She was the daughter of an American millionaire and the wife of Prince Josef de Caraman-Chimay, and frequented the restaurant where Jansci played. The gypsy and the duchess fell in love, divorced their spouses, and became Hungary's most controversial, interesting couple in 1905. Soon after, Jancsi conceived a cake in honor of his love, a collaboration with a confectioner at the hotel that harbored them. Rigó and Clara moved into a castle in Egypt but at some point she got bored and moved onto a few more affairs before settling down with an Italian stationmaster.
Happily, the rest of the world seems to have stayed more loyal to Jancsi and his cake, and it's still a mainstay in Hungarian bakeries today. The design of the thing is simple -- heavy, rum-flavored whipped chocolate cream between two layers of chocolate sponge cake, under one thin sheet of hard chocolate -- but the recipe is surprisingly precarious, prone to collapse if the temperature of the cream and the chocolate are not spot on. The cake is rich, and rummy. Rooted in the heart of a rummaging, busking, gypsy musician, it feels like a weighty, luxurious thing. The kind of gift best bestowed upon oneself on those mornings when living inside a story sounds a hell of a lot better than going to work.