Merelyn’s Favourite Hungarian Cake – Zserbo Torte

A step by step guide to Merelyn's favourite cake, the Zserbo Torte, created by the Gerbaux Cafe in Budapest, and learnt from her mother's best friend, Eva.

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:

Cubes of butter at room temperature are mixed into the flour
Add yeast mix, egg yolks and sour cream to flour mix and bring together into a pastry



The pastry is ready – easy!


Roll the pastry to fit the base of the tin and lay flat on the bottom


Trim the edges to fit the base


This is what the trimmed pastry looks like – exciting!


Spread half the apricot jam over the pastry. The walnut mixture goes straight on top


Mix ground walnuts, oil, wine and sugar to make the walnut filling


After another layer of pastry, apricot jam, walnut mix and more pastry, the Zserbo is baked, then covered with a chocolate ganache. Ta da!





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  1. Carey Glass

    I love the way you combine the cultural and personal description of Sydney in the 50s and 60s. So important to describe these histories and the oft forgotten women’s places within them. A nostalgic reminiscence that warmed me up on a cold grey day in the UK.

  2. Sneige

    Hi, I came across your log looking for zserbo cake recipe in English. Yours look amazong – I love cakes with generous fillings!
    While waiting to get to the recipe I enjoyed reading the story behind – so moving and inspirationsal! A great write-up! Thank you for sharing it!

    1. Merelyn

      Thanks for getting in touch with us! Zserbo is such an old world recipe, but reasonably easy to make and one of my all time favourites. Enjoy!

      1. Michelle

        Hello Merelyn!

        I would love to have your recipe! My sister and I have been using the recipe that our grandmother handed down, but I think that something was lost in the translation, because the ratios in the dough don’t seem right. The dough doesn’t quite come together if we follow the recipe to the tee.

        Can’t wait to see what all goes into yours!

  3. susan

    How can I get hold of your perfect recipe please?

    1. Lisa Goldberg

      Hi Susan,
      The recipe is in our book ‘Monday morning cooking club- the food the stories the sisterhood’ which is available online or in book stores depending on where you are located.

  4. Rochelle

    I love this recipe! My grandmother (Hungarian) baked cakes nearly everyday and this was a favorite! I love the story of the women in Double Bay – my grandmother loved and worked there as a nanny before she married, and I could just imagine her at those coffee shops!
    This will be back on our family table at Christmas this year!

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