My Favourite Hungarian Cake – Zserbo Torte: A Step by Step Guide
I take my hat off to the amazing Hungarian grandmothers out there, including my own late Mum. These wonderful women are sharp as a tack. They migrated to Australia, set up homes, worked, ruled their roosts and cooked ‘slow food’, food that would nurture the souls of their family and friends.
Double Bay in the 1950s and 60s came alive with the sound of Hungarian accents. They filled cafes like 21 and Cosmopolitan, bringing a European sensibility, sitting around, eating, and shmoozing. Along with the new Italian community, Hungarians taught Australians how to drink coffee, and more importantly (in my opinion) how to bake a great cake.
Coffee and cake are an essential part of Hungarian culture. According to my Mum, most problems could be solved over a cup of coffee and a slice of Hungarian torte. She baked a cake every Friday for the weekend ahead, and always had a tin of home-made biscuits in the pantry for drop ins. The stove top espresso machine was never far from the cooktop, and she had the rather dubious habit of freshening up her beans by giving them a quick roast in a dry fry pan. Thank goodness we now have a wonderful supply of freshly roasted beans, so much better than Mum’s trick!
My favourite Hungarian cake is Zserbo Torte, found on page 111 of our cookbook. This recipe is especially dear to my heart as it is from the most delightful lady, Eva, who happened to be my mother’s next door neighbour growing up in Carei, Rumania. (Hungarians living in Romania….that’s another story.) Sadly Eva has just passed away, but we at MMCC are so thankful she shared some of her incredible baking with us, and now her children have some of her delicious cakes documented for prosterity.
I used to love listening to Mum and Eva ramble in their own special language, 90% Hungarian, 10% English. I couldn’t understand a word they said as they excitedly caught up on old times and reminisced about the old country. There was always a cup of coffee, a slice or two, or three, of cake, and rapid cross fire conversation trying to fit as much as possible into Mum’s visit to Sydney.
Zserbo cake is very impressive to look at, and simply delicious to eat. Walnuts and apricot jam are layered between yeast pastry, then topped with a chocolate ganache, hiding any little mistakes you might have made. (See how clever those women were!) This recipe makes a large cake. You could slice it into rectangles and serve with whipped cream for dessert, or slice into small squares to feed a crowd for afternoon tea.
Here’s a quick guide:
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