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Fabled Mary Cake is brought back to life in Bewley’s Cafe: ‘It is a story of what refugees bring to us’

Recipe for Dublin favourite is tracked down by relatives of its creator and the man who gave him shelter


Carolina Malagon, Hazel Carmichael and Cól Campbell of Bewley’s at the re-launch of the iconic Mary Cake. Picture: Conor McCabe.

Carolina Malagon, Hazel Carmichael and Cól Campbell of Bewley’s at the re-launch of the iconic Mary Cake. Picture: Conor McCabe.

Carolina Malagon, Hazel Carmichael and Cól Campbell of Bewley’s at the re-launch of the iconic Mary Cake. Picture: Conor McCabe.

It’s a tale of mystery, subterfuge, displaced refugees and the “golden threads” of chance. And at the centre of this tale of international intrigue is a small, conical, chocolate-covered cake — known to generations of Dubliners as Mary Cake.

Yesterday, Hazel Carmichael, granddaughter of Victor Bewley, proprietor of the cafe that bears the family name, and Carolina Malagon, the granddaughter of the cake’s Hungarian creator, met for the first time.

Hazel came from the UK and Carolina from the US to celebrate the resurrection of a cake that was in vogue back when Noel Purcell was singing The Dublin Saunter: “For Dublin can be heaven/With coffee at 11.”

Together they created the “lost” recipe for the Bewley’s favourite — even though they didn’t know of each other’s existence until a year ago, when chance got Hazel thinking about the fabled cake.

“I feel this is giving something back. It was created by a refugee who came to this country and shared it with the Bewley family, and was loved for decades by Dubliners. It is a story of what refugees bring to us,” said Hazel yesterday.

The story started when Hazel was unexpectedly asked to speak at the online launch of her sister Fiona’s book, Victor Bewley’s Memoirs, on March 29 last year.

She talked about her days working there and about the luxurious Mary Cake, which got her wondering about the long-gone recipe.

She contacted Cól Campbell, the current proprietor of Bewley’s, and his mother Veronica to see if they still had the recipe for this mysterious chocolate bomb, topped by marzipan. They didn’t, but they shared Hazel’s passion to recreate it.

It soon emerged that after the Russians crushed the abortive Hungarian Revolution in 1956, Victor Bewley gave shelter to a number of refugees, among them a master confectioner named Henri Spelter — whose only complaint about Ireland was that people referred to him as “a baker”, which he felt did not fully do justice to his accomplishments.

Hazel’s cousin, Bill Bewley, supplied Spelter’s name and the fact that Mary Cake was named after Maria, the Queen of Hungary — and not, as the Bewley’s made out, after Mary, the wife of Bewley’s chief baker of the day, Alfred Bewley.

A Hungarian friend then told Hazel that Henry Spelter probably came from a dynasty of pastry chefs in Budapest who bore that name.

On April 20 last year Hazel googled the name and discovered that eight days earlier Henry Spelter had died in New York at the age of 92.

“Classically trained as a master pastry chef in Hungary, Henry kept alive recipes passed down to him from his father, Henry Spelter III, who owned the Spelter confectionery on Elizabeth Boulevard in Budapest,” read the obituary.

“He fled Hungary on foot with his family during the 1956 Revolution as a refugee and came to live in Dublin, Ireland, where he continued to work at his trade, at Bewley’s Cafe, the premier cafe and bakery in the city.”

Hazel found Henry Spelter’s death notice and left a condolence, referring to the Bewley’s connection. Intrigued, his granddaughter Carolina began her own quest to find Hazel, because she did not have her contact details.

Carolina eventually found a mention of a cake she had created called the Toadstool Brownie, which was featured in her local newspaper in Watford, outside London.

It transpired that Carolina was writing a memoir of her grandfather in which Henry describes arriving at Bewley’s in Dublin.

“Henry was assigned as a ‘table hand’ working side by side with others at a long table, but it was difficult because he spoke no English. Mr Alfred [Bewley] suggested that in the afternoons Henry could produces samples of the craft that he had learned in Hungary,” she said.

“There was one younger baker, Barney [Brendan Johnston, who produced Mary Cakes for Hazel’s wedding], who sympathised with Henry and tried to ease the difficulties of adjusting to a new life in a new country.”

To Hazel’s delight her new friend also had recipes for the Hungarian Marika Cake, a version of which had been developed for the Dublin palate.

In June and July last year, Hazel, who runs her own baking studio, worked on various versions using Carolina’s American 1970s version of the recipe containing real chocolate — “and finally recreated a finished Mary”, as she says herself.

The Mary Cake is now on sale in Bewley’s topped by the Ukrainian flag instead of marzipan, with €1 from every cake going to the Red Cross relief effort.

“Henry Spelter gave something back to those who took him in — and now with the recreation of the Mary Cake it has come the full circle,” said Hazel.

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