It probably goes without saying that food was pretty much the driving force behind most of our Europe adventures. When I think back on the trip, a kind of illustrated map of Europe pops into my head – Amsterdam is marked, of course, by a stroopwafel, and Munich by a schmalznudel. Paris is drawn up as a beautiful charcuterie platter, and Venice an assortment of local cicchetti. And up in the alps of Slovenia, the tiny town of Bled has got to be the not-so-humble (more on that later) Bled Cream Cake.
Bled is one of the most beautiful, picturesque places I have ever travelled. I know it sounds tired and clichéd, but it really does look like a postcard that’s been enchanted to life. Slovenia as a whole was just magical, but Bled in particular has a legitimate fairytale thing going on. The alpine town sits on Lake Bled, a glacial lake that’s surrounded by forest and overlooked by a cliff-top castle. In the middle of the lake is Bled Island, which is just big enough for a couple of small buildings and a church. We hired a little rowboat (I kicked back whilst Mat happily did all of the rowing) to make our way over and explore. There are 99 steps that lead up to the church; apparently it’s very good luck for a groom to carry his (totally silent) bride up the steps on their wedding day, and then ring the church bell. Visitors can also pay €6 to ring the bell for a little good luck themselves. We instead chose to sit down for ice-cream.
It was in fact this ice-cream on Bled Island that would be our first foray into the world of Bled Cream Cake. Prior to our little rowboat sojourn, we’d noticed the dessert just about everywhere in Bled. Appearing somewhat similar to a traditional Aussie vanilla slice, the Bled Cream Cake – or kremšnita, as it is known locally – is a layer of cream and a layer of vanilla custard sandwiched between puff pastry, and dusted with icing sugar. We’d seen individual packages of it flying out the door at the local bakery, and giant, wobbling slabs being slid into place on display at our favourite cafe. It seemed outrageously popular with visitors and locals alike. The cake has even achieved the European Union’s Protection of Designation of Origin certification, meaning only that made in Bled using recognised techniques can be labelled ‘Bled Cream Cake’. And so, upon choosing my ice-cream flavour atop Bled Island, I could hardly go past Bled Cream Cake.
It would be the next afternoon that Mat and I set out to conquer the real deal. Whilst we’d intended to simply pick up a couple of slices at our adopted café, the dessert gods had other plans. A chance meeting with Jani – the owner of our accommodation, Jazz Hostel & Apartments, and also the happiest and most enthusiastic man I’ve ever met – on our way meant we were instead steered in the direction of Hotel Park, a large hotel on the shore of Lake Bled. Jani urged that it was here where we’d find the best Cream Cake in Bled; his wife is a sweet-tooth and she swears by it. We didn’t need to be told twice. You just don’t ignore insider knowledge like that.
It turns out that the Bled Cream Cake at Hotel Park is hardly a local secret. The hotel restaurant is famously recognised as the birthplace of the Bled Cream Cake, conjured to perfection by pâtissier Ištvan Kovačevič in 1953. It’s claimed that over 10 million Bled Cream Cakes have been baked at Hotel Park since. It’s just kind of a big deal, it seems. We sat down on a lovely, large terrace, ordered our cream cakes and watched a huge storm roll in over the lake. It was very cool. Up until the moment when the storm reached us, naturally. Then it was mostly wet and windy.
And the Bled Cream Cake? It was delicious, of course. I love vanilla slice, and most any custard dessert – so this is an easy win for me. The pastry was beautifully crisp and golden, and the centre light and creamy. It’s not something I’ll be pining for, but that’s simply because Australia does a damn fine vanilla slice anyway. But if I ever find myself back in Bled (and I sincerely hope I do!), I will most certainly be making another trip back to Hotel Park. Bled Cream Cake heartily earns its spot as the face of Bled on my hypothetical gastronomical map of Europe, because it’s just kind of adorable how the whole town has embraced and totally owned this little cake. And who wouldn’t want a piece of that?