Good news for the sweet toothed visitors of Budapest: Hungary has world-famous baking traditions and many patisseries. From fancy layered cakes like the Esterházy torta to a special Hungarian trifle called Somlói Galuska, here are the 12 most delicious Hungarian desserts you must try while you’re in Budapest.
Somlói Galuska (Hungarian trifle)
Somlói Galuska is a trifle made of sponge cake, layered with chocolate cream, walnut kernel, rum and topped with whipped cream. Its name comes from the name of the hill, Somlyó, where the pâtissier who created the pastry lived. This delicacy was first introduced at the 1958 World Exhibition in Brussels where it won a price and since then became one of the most famous Hungarian desserts.
Palacsinta (Hungarian crepes)
The famous Hungarian palacsinta is usually translated as pancake, however it’s much thinner than the American version and resembles more the French crêpes. This Hungarian dessert is typically filled with sweet cottage cheese, jam, sweetened cocoa, vanilla or chocolate pudding. Probably the most famous Hungarian palacsinta is the Gundel palacsinta, named after its inventor, Károly Gundel, who is the former owner of the prestigious Gundel Restaurant in Budapest. The Gundel pancake is filled with ground walnuts, raisins soaked in rum and topped with dark chocolate sauce.
Szilvásgombóc (Plum dumplings)
Szilvásgombóc is not so much a dessert, more like a sweet main dish. Dumplings made of potato are filled with plums and dipped in cinnamon sugar. The dumplings are boiled, then rolled in fried breadcrumbs and finally sprinkled over with powdered sugar. This Hungarian dish is so popular among children that there’s even a song about it, which was written for the well-known Hungarian musical “A padlás” (The attic) in 1988. There is another variant to the boiled dumplings in the Hungarian cuisine, called Túrógombóc. In this version, the dumplings are made of sweetened cottage cheese, then coated in fried breadcrumbs, and finished with sour cream and powdered sugar.
Mákosguba (Poppy seed bread with vanilla sauce)
Mákosguba is another popular Hungarian sweet dish. It’s mostly consumed in winter time, often around Christmas. A practical way to use up a day-old, dry roll or bread in Hungarian households is to make it into this poppy seed-filled, strange looking delicacy. There are countless dessert recipes in the Hungarian cuisine featuring poppy seed and Mákosguba is one of the well-known ones. It’s not only baked because it’s delicious, but also because poppy seeds are supposed to bring good luck in the new year.
Császármorzsa (Emperor’s crumbs or Kaiserschmarrn)
Császármorzsa or Kaiserschmarrn is a shredded pancake-like dessert that takes its name from the Austrian emperor, Kaiser Franz Joseph I. It’s not hard to guess that this dessert was a popular dish of the Habsburg monarchy, which over the years spread into not just the Austrian, but the Bavarian, Slovenian and Hungarian households as well. Its name means “Császármorzsa” emperor’s crumbs, but in Hungary it’s often just called “smarni”. It’s usually eaten as a sweet main course after a soup. The basic ingredients of its dough are flour, eggs, milk, sugar and salt. The dough is fried while torn into small pieces (crumbs) with a wooden spoon or fork. Raisins can be added while frying. When ready, it’s topped with apricot jam.
Rákóczi túrós (Rákóczi cottage cheese cake)
There is a common misconception that this Hungarian dessert takes its name from the Hungarian freedom fighter Ferenc Rákóczi II. In reality this cottage cheese cake is named after royal pâtissier János Rákóczi who worked in Europe’s best restaurants and created this dessert for the 1958 World Expo in Brussels. It’s a shortbread-like pastry covered with a cottage cheese flavored with lemon zest, vanilla and raisins, then topped with a soft sweetened merengue. When ready, its cooled and cut into slices, then drizzled with apricot jam.
Kürtős kalács (Chimney cake)
The chimney cake is not only a Hungarian, but a Transylvanian and Sekler dessert as well. Long strips of sweetened dough are wrapped around chimney-shaped rods and roasted over charcoal. Some say the origin of the dessert dates back to the time of the Hungarian conquest. It is believed that when the attacking Hungarian tribes collected some flour and eggs, they made a dough, rolled it on their horns and baked it over fire. Others however believe that the chimney cake was named after the pipe of the stove it was prepared on, because the pipe is called “kürtőcső” in Transylvania. But whatever the origin, Kürtős Kalács today is a popular street snack usually sold at festivals and Christmas markets.
Bejgli (Poppy seed and walnut rolls)
Bejgli is a rolled-up crust with lots of filling. Traditionally it’s filled with walnut and sweetened poppy seeds soaked in rum, but due to the creativity of Hungarian kitchen fairies, many other variations exist – you can fill it with chestnut puree or plums as well. There is no Hungarian household at Christmas time without bejgli. Since this is such a traditional food in Hungary, there are many different recipes which are passed on from generation to generation.
Zserbó (Hungarian Gerbeaud cake)
One of the most-well known Hungarian desserts is a homemade layered pastry with walnut, apricot jam filling, covered with a shining chocolate glaze. It’s often prepared in Hungarian households for festive occasions, such as Christmas and Easter, but you can taste it in patisseries any time of the year. The dessert is named after its inventor, Emil Gerbeaud, the famous French confectioner who lived and worked in Hungary, and originally owned the Gerbeaud Café on Vörösmarty Square. Due to the popularity of this recipe, the spelling of the word „Gerbeaud” became more Hungarian over time – that’s why it’s spelled „Zserbó” today.
Flódni (Flodni cake)
The most popular cake of the Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine has made its way into the Hungarian gastronomy as well. Traditionally, it was prepared for Hanukkah, but it has long gone beyond the traditional Hanukkah menu and is prepared in many Hungarian-Jewish households all year long. It’s a very thick, sweet dessert consisting of five different layers of dough, and filled with apple, sweetened poppy seeds, plum jam and walnuts. Beware that Flódni is very addictive! It’s so delicious that you simply can’t stop eating it.
Esterházy torta (Esterházy cake)
Esterházy torta is one of the most well-known layered cakes of the Hungarian cuisine. It was invented by Hungarian confectioners in the late 19th century and named after one of the Esterházy dukes. Soon it became one of the most famous cakes in the countries of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The cake consists of four or five walnut sponge layers, buttercream, and the top is iced with an emblematic chocolaty fondant composition. Originally, the layers were made of almond. Today the sponge layers are made of walnuts.
Dobostorta (Dobos Cake)
Dobostorta is a Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. Dobos means “drum-like” in Hungarian, but the cake is not named after its solid, drum-like caramel topping. The layered pastry got its name from its inventor, Hungarian chef and confectioner József C. Dobos who created the cake at the end of the 19th century. This well-known Hungarian dessert usually consists of five individually baked sponge layers filled with chocolate buttercream, and topped with a layer of shiny, solid caramel glaze. According to the confectioner’s memoir, the secret of the cake lies in the perfect mixture of cocoa, chocolate and butter.