One of my fondest childhood memories is being in the kitchen with my Hungarian grandmother. I loved watching her chopping vegetables, kneading dough, and leaning over bubbling pots in a kitchen that was always filled with wonderful aromas. I’d always help her after school–shelling peas or beans, scrubbing and peeling vegetables, and when I got older, helping to prepare dinner. My favorite was Friday dinner–we would always have some kind of savory soup followed by a noodle or sweet dish. I was always a sweet tooth and looked forward to egg noodles with eggs or jam, palacsinta (Hungarian crepes eaten with jam, cocoa, nuts or sweet cheese fillings), and, in the late summer, silvas gomboc (plum dumplings) topped with cinnamon sugar breadcrumbs.
Silvás Gomboc (Plum Dumplings)
1 kg potatoes
3 egg yolks
A pinch of salt
1 cup flour
2 pints of prune plums, pitted
1 box of sugar cubes
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling on plums
1 stick of butter/equivalent amount vegetable oil
2-3 cups breadcrumbs
4-5 Tbsp granulated sugar
A few dashes of cinnamon
Cook the potatoes in salted water until done.
Put a large stockpot of salted water to boil.
Mash the potatoes and add the egg yolks, butter, salt, and flour (This can be done in a standing mixer with the dough attachment)
Add more flour as needed to make a moist, firm dough.
Roll the dough out on a floured board and place pitted plums onto the dough.
Sprinkle the plums with cinnamon and place a sugar cube in the center of each plum.
Cut the dough in squares around the plums and form dumplings (dip fingers in water to “fasten” the dough together if necessary).
Place dumplings gently into boiling water.
Cook until the dumplings rise to the surface and remove with a slotted spoon; set aside.
Melt the butter in a frying pan.
Add the breadcrumbs and brown them over medium heat.
Once the breadcrumbs are browned, add the sugar and cinnamon.
Layer the dumplings and breadcrumb mixture in a heatproof casserole dish.
Cover and warm in the oven until ready to serve.
Serve with additional sugar sprinkled on top.
Sweet dishes, cakes, and cookies are a major component of Hungarian cuisine and Hungarian cooks are great at taking advantage of fresh, seasonal ingredients for their creations. Summer is a wonderful time to eat in Hungary–the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables is amazing–gooseberries, melons, sour cherries, squash, beans, peas, tomatoes, and an abundance of fresh herbs to flavor and garnish dishes. Most Hungarians with a back yard plant fruit trees and vegetable gardens. My grandparents continued that tradition after they immigrated to Canada–we had a huge garden where we grew beans, peas, cabbage, different varieties of squash, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, as well as essential herbs such as parsley and dill. We also had a cherry tree, pear tree, and a sour cherry tree. Sour cherries have recently become more widely available in North America–you can find fresh ones at local farmer’s markets in the summer and canned/jarred varieties are available in specialty grocery stores (Trader Joe’s carries a good brand). Two of my favorite recipes feature sour cherries. The first is a wonderful chilled soup that refreshes even on the hottest summer day. The second is a simple, versatile dessert for those craving something fresh and fruity after dinner or with afternoon coffee.
Meggyleves (Sour Cherry Soup)
1 medium/large-sized jar of sour cherries (also known as Morello cherries), strained.
1 ½ liters water
150 g (or more to taste)
1 tsp ground cinnamon plus one cinnamon stick
2-3 pieces of lemon rind (make sure the white part is trimmed off, otherwise the rind will be bitter)
1 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp flour (special blending flour for sauces/gravies works best)
Put the water, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon rind in a pot.
Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until the liquid is well flavored.
Discard the cinnamon stick and add the cherries. Cook over gentle heat for about 5 minutes.
Mix the sour cream and flour until well blended. Add a ladle full of the soup liquid and mix well.
Pour the mixture into the soup and simmer gently until slightly thickened (about 5 minutes). Adjust sweetness by adding more sugar to taste.
Let the mixture cool to room temperature and chill for 4 hours or overnight.
Serve as a first course or as a dessert.
The strained sour cherry juice can be mixed with chilled mineral water is a refreshing drink.
This soup can also be made with gooseberries or apples. I have also had a tasty version of this soup made with a mixture of pears and plums and thickened with yogurt instead of sour cream.
This simple cake is a classic and can be put together in less than 30 minutes.
Sour Cherry Cake
1 medium/large sized jar of sour cherries
150 g butter, softened
150 grams icing sugar
4 eggs, separated
A pinch of salt and a pinch of cream of tartar
180 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
Additional icing sugar for dusting on top
Preheat oven to 350F.
Line a rectangular cake pan with waxed paper.
Cream together the butter and icing sugar until fluffy, add egg yolks.
Slowly add the flour and baking powder, mix well.
In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.
Slowly mix the beaten egg whites into the batter until well incorporated.
Pour into prepared cake pan and spread evenly.
Sprinkle the cherries on top of the batter.
Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and a tester comes out clean.
When the cake is cool, trim edges and cut into squares. Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream if desired.
Another classic recipe is rétes (strudel). Although many Hungarians make strudel dough by hand–a long and messy process–filo pastry from the freezer section does the trick.
Almás Rétes (Apple Strudel)
1 kg grated apples (granny smith work best)
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 cups plain bread crumbs
Ground cinnamon to taste
1 package of defrosted phylo pastry
1 stick of melted butter
Preheat oven to 350F.
Unroll filo pastry and put 4 layers on a clean kitchen cloth.
Spread the apple filling in a long strip (about 3 inches wide) at one end of the pastry.
Top with sugar, cinnamon, and a layer of breadcrumbs.
Fold the sides of the pastry inwards and roll the dough to make a long roll.
Brush to top of the roll with melted butter.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the rétes is golden brown.
Trim edges and slice into pieces at an angle.
Dust with icing sugar
Other rétes fillings include:
Sour cherry filling (drained, jarred cherries work best)
Substitute cherries for the apple in the above recipe.
Sweet Cheese filling
You can use a mixture of cream cheese and ricotta (250 g), mixed with 2 egg yolks, ½ cup of sour cream, a teaspoon of grated lemon rind, 200 g sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and ½ cup raisins. Fold in 2 beaten egg whites and spread the filling in a long strip (about 3 inches wide) at one end of the pastry.
Another favorite sweet main dish my grandmother made was the Hungarian version of rice pudding, usually served with a white wine sauce. This was a Friday favorite.
Rizskoch (Rice Soufflé)
Butter/oil spray for baking dish
A handful of breadcrumbs
350 g short grain rice
1 liter milk
A pinch of salt
100 g butter
120 g icing sugar
3 eggs, separated
Preheat oven to 350F.
Prepare an over proof dish by greasing with butter.
Place rice and milk into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Cook over gentle heat, stirring often, until the rice is half cooked.
Set the rice aside to cool slightly.
Mix the butter, sugar, and egg yolks and mix into the half-cooked rice.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Fold into the rice mixture and mix well.
Spread the mixture into the prepared dish and bake for about 30 minutes (or until the top is golden brown).
Borsodó (White Wine Sauce)
1 cup/250 mL white wine
80 g icing sugar
3 egg yolks
Juice of half a lemon, plus 1 tsp grated lemon rind
In a double boiler, whisk egg whites, sugar, wine, lemon juice and rind together.
Continue whisking until the mixture is heated and thickened, but do not let it boil.
Serve hot or chilled over the rice soufflé.
Palacsinta (Hungarian crepes) are an indispensable dessert in Hungary, and another Friday dinner classic. These thin pancakes can be served with simple fillings (jam, cocoa, or cinnamon sugar) or more elaborate fillings such as sweet cheese or ground nuts mixed with a bit of rum and sugar. Fresh fruit or apples sautéed in butter and sugar until soft and caramelized are also a nice filling.
1 cup flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ¼ cup milk
Pinch of salt
1Tbsp melted butter
Vegetable oil or butter for frying.
Place the flour and salt into a bowl.
Make a well in the center and add the eggs.
Begin whisking and slowly add the milk, breaking up any lumps (you can also use a hand mixer to do this).
Stir in the melted butter.
Heat a few tablespoons in a skillet/frying pan.
Pour a ladle-full of the batter into the pan, tilting the pan to coat the entire surface.
Fry until the underside is golden brown and use a spatula to flip the crepe to cook the other side.
Re-oil the pan and repeat.
Stack the crepes on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Serve with desired filling.