For my Uncle’s 70th birthday, we signed up to go to Zingerman’s Bakehouse Taste of Hungary. It was a two hour tasting that provided a lot of information about Hungary in general as well as a wealth of information about its cuisine. In addition to information, we got to eat a ton of food!
When we arrived, we got a few appetizers along with a couple of small samples of Hungarian liquor. The appetizers included slices of smoked ham and Hungarian bacon, along with a pretzel roll spread with liptói, pronounced and known in the States as Liptauer (also called körözött). Liptauer is a soft cheese with similar consistency to cream cheese that is made with farm cheese, garlic, Hungarian paprika, capers, caraway seeds, and anchovy. You can buy it at Zingerman’s Creamery. The liptauer was one of my favorite things we tried. The smoked ham and Hungarian bacon were both delicious as well. The bacon looked like it was raw because it isn’t fried like American bacon.
We tried three different Hungarian liquors. The first was Pálinka. a VERY strong fruit brandy. The second was another kind of fruit brandy, apple I believe, but it wasn’t as strong. And the third, and our favorite, was Unicum which is a blend of herbal bitters, drunk as a digestif and apéritif. Unicum is regarded as one of the national drinks of Hungary. Sorry, no pictures of the appetizer course.
Next we tried what most Americans think of when they think of Hungarian food, gulyás or goulash (pictured above). I’m not a big goulash fan, but I thought this was very good. I especially liked the swirl of sour cream on top. It was served with a pogacsa, the all purpose roll of Hungary. The pogacsa was brought to Hungary by the Ottomans and is made with 1 part butter, 1 part cheese, and 1 part flour. Traditionally they include goose or pork cracklings. There were two flavors, plain and one covered with poppy, sesame and caraway seeds on top. Both were very good and you can buy them at Zingerman’s Bakehouse.
Next we tried two different types of savory strudel. I had only ever had sweet strudel, but on the way over, my Uncle was telling us how our great grandma used to make cabbage strudel and then we got to try some! The cabbage strudel was also made with goose fat which made it very rich. The second flavor was potato and bacon, which was another favorite of mine from the night. It had a great smokey flavor and the pastry was flaky and very crispy.
After the strudel, we had my most favorite item of the night, cholent with smoked meat. Cholent is traditionally a Jewish dish, but it’s very popular in Hungary outside of the Jewish community. It’s made with red beans, barley, goose fat, onions, hot paprika, and smoked ham (obviously a Hungarian influence). It was so delicious, definitely my favorite of the tasting. It was smokey, thick, spicy and fabulous. I totally want their recipe.
Even after all of that, we still had to cover desserts! They set-up a dessert buffet in the lobby so we could try everything. And there was a lot! Sweet strudel, Dobos Torta, Dios Torta, Rigó Jancsi, almond kifli, and flodni…so much to try!
First up were the almond kifli and they were my favorite dessert from the tasting. I’m more of a cookie than cake person. While the almond kifli were similar to a cookie my Uncle makes at Christmastime, they are completely different from the kifli that he (and my grandma) make. My family’s kifli are filled either with ground walnuts or apricot jam and have a flaky texture, while these almond kifli were definitely more cookie than pastry-like, with a crumbly, sandy texture. Different, but good!
Next up was flodni. The name flodni (a Yiddish word) refers to a layered and filled pastry. It has three layers: honey poppy seed, raisin walnut, and cinnamon apple filling. This was probably Dave’s and Uncle Steve’s least favorite, but I liked it because I love poppy seeds. They showed us a photo of what it looks like traditionally in Hungary. There the layers are much thicker, like an inch or so.
The Rigó Jancsi was Dave’s favorite, surprise, it’s chocolate! I really liked it too. The cake was named after Rigó Jancsi , a famous Hungarian violinist. It’s composed of two two layers of chocolate sponge cake filled with chocolate rum whipped cream and iced with apricot glaze and dark chocolate ganache. I didn’t really taste the apricot, but the chocolate rum whipped cream tasted like chocolate mousse.
Another traditional Hungarian torte, the Dobos Torta was named after the baker that created it, József C. Dobos. According to Uncle Steve, it’s usually seven layers, but theirs was five layers of vanilla sponge cake and dark chocolate butter cream, all topped with crispy caramel. We’ve made one before using Martha Stewart’s recipe and ours had nine layers! This cake was very good too, it had a bit of espresso flavor to it. The caramel was tasty, but very hard to break up with a fork.
The Dios Torta is similar to the walnut cake my Uncle and grandma used to make, except Zingerman’s version includes orange zest. It’s a layered walnut cake with walnut buttercream. Dios means walnut in Hungarian. It’s their take on the Hungarian Esterházy cake which must include a marbled vanilla and chocolate poured fondant decoration on top to be called Esterházy.
With dessert, we got to try a sweet wine called Tokay. While we enjoyed the wine and dessert, they did a demo on how they stretch the strudel dough from a grapefruit sized ball of dough to a thin layer covering an 8 foot long table! Overall, it was a great evening and we all really enjoyed ourselves.