Just like in most Eastern European countries, poppy seeds are very popular ingredients in Hungary and appear in a great number of main courses and desserts. Mákos guba (mah-kosh goo-ba) or poppy seed bread pudding is one of the most well-known Hungarian recipes made from poppy seeds. This delicious dessert is also known in East Germany (Mohnpielen), Slovakia (bobajky), Poland (makówki) and is quite easy to prepare.
A Christmas Tradition
Mákos guba was traditionally a Christmas time Hungarian recipe. In fact, it was the most popular Hungarian Christmas dish besides fish soup and poppy seed strudel. This had practical reasons. During the winter, fruits and vegetable were scarce, but poppy seeds could be stored in the pantry all year long. Also, there’s an old belief among Hungarians that poppy seeds, just like lentils, bring good luck to the house, so when consumed around New Year’s Eve, people believed it would bring them prosperity in the coming year. Moreover, this delicacy is not only delicious, but also meat free, so it was quite common to be eaten during fasting, before Christmas, or on Good Friday. Nowadays, mákos guba is so popular that it’s no longer eaten only at festive occasions, but all year long.
More Than 300 Years of History
The first printed Hungarian cook book published in 1695 already contained the mákos guba recipe. According to this, originally both bread and pretzel were used to prepare this delicacy, but the dough was softened with water, not with milk, which had economic reasons. Nowadays, mákos guba is most commonly made with milk, using 1-2 days old, slightly dry, crescent-shaped pastry called “kifli”. It’s again no coincidence. Namely, after the second World War bread was not available to most people. But if you can’t buy kifli, just use rolls or regular white bread instead.
For this recipe, you’ll also need poppy seeds which are no common ingredients outside Eastern Europe. If you can’t find poppy seeds at your local grocery store, try online shops. Also, poppy seeds are usually ground in a special grinder or mortar to release their flavor. You can either buy ground poppy seeds, or get regular ones and grind them in a coffee grinder.
Mákos Guba Recipe
Ingredients for four:
6 pieces of dry kifli (or rolls or bread)
100g of ground poppy seeds
5dl of milk
50g of butter
50g of powdered sugar
3 tablespoons of sugar (or honey)
1 bar of vanilla (or 1 package of vanilla sugar)
zest of 1 lemon
How to Make Mákos Guba
Cut the dry “kiflis” into slices and put them in a bowl. Warm up the milk in a pot, stir in the sugar, and when dissolved, add the vanilla and the butter. While stirring constantly, bring the sweet vanilla-milk mixture to boil or until the vanilla cream starts to thicken. Then remove it from the heat and pour it over the kifli slices. For an even better result, you can do this a few hours before baking, so the kifli slices have enough time to soak. In another bowl, mix the ground poppy seeds, powdered sugar and lemon zest together. Then sprinkle sweet poppy seeds over the soaked kifli slices, then gently mix it all together. Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F. Butter a baking pan, fill it with the vanilla cream-poppy seeds mixture, then bake it for about 15-20 minutes. Serve it warm. To make the mákos guba extra special, some people add fruits (e.g. apples or sour cherry), cinnamon and raisins to the recipe.
Where to Try It
If you don’t want to make mákos guba at home, there are some places in Budapest where you can try this delicious dish, below are only a few.
Mákos Guba Bistro (1016 Budapest, Krisztina krt. 65-67)
Menza Étterem (1061 Budapest, Liszt Ferenc tér 2)
Csarnok Vendéglő (1054 Budapest, Hold utca 11.)
Vörös Postakocsi Étterem (1092 Budapest, Ráday utca 15)
Mákos Guba gyorsétkezde (fast food place) (1042 Budapest, Gábor László utca 1-3.)
Jó étvágyat! (Enjoy your meal!)