Hungary may be best-known for some of its savory contributions to the culinary scene, from chicken paprikash to goulash, but its sweets are nothing to scoff at either. Budapest has an excellent assortment of cukrászda, or pastry shops, where you can try some of the city’s most popular cakes, most of which layer several flavors and textures for a true gustatory experience.
Dobos Cake – Gerbeaud
Gerbeaud is an absolutely beautiful locale to sample pastries and coffee. This traditional European coffee house features elaborate chandeliers, rococo-style ceilings, and some of the most elaborate cakes you’ll ever see. It’s the perfect place to try Hungary’s traditional Dobos Torte, a sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. The cake is the rather ingenious invention of József Dobos, who was attempting to create a cake that wouldn’t dry out over the course of a day or two. He came up with the technique of layering five thin sheets of cake with five layers of creamy and moist chocolate frosting, topping the cake with a caramel sheet, and coating the exterior sides with ground nuts.
Flodni – Fröhlich
You’ll find flodni throughout Budapest; it’s a traditional cake made by local Jewish bakers. While the most famous flodni may be made by Raj Rachel – you’ll see signs advertising her flodni throughout the city – I actually preferred the one made at kosher bakery Fröhlich in the Jewish Quarter. Flodni is traditionally made up of layers of apples, walnut paste, poppy seed paste, and plum jam, each layer sandwiched between a thin sheet of flaky pastry. The version I tried at Fröhlich forewent the plum layer, but the apple was more than enough to lend fruitiness to the pastry. What I loved were the walnut layer, which was creamy and slightly reminiscent of halvah, and the poppy seed layer, which was very smooth and had a deep, rich flavor. The thicker layers of fillings as compared to other versions of this cake didn’t hurt either!
Esterhazy Cake – Raj Rachel
Alongside her version of flodni, Rachel also makes quite a nice Esterházy torte. The cream cake was originally created in the 20th century in Budapest and has since travelled throughout the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, to appear in cake shops as far as Vienna. The cake was originally made of almond sponge cake, though today most bakers in Hungary use walnuts instead, sandwiched with layers of yellow buttercream frosting. While many versions are topped with fondant, at Rachel’s bakery, a far more palatable whipped cream topping is used, adding an airiness to this very sweet cake.
Afonyas Maktorta – Gerbeaud
This surprising slice combines blueberries and poppy seeds for a deeply-colored purple cake that’s as delightful to look at as it is to taste. The layers of thick blueberry jam bring a nice tang to this cake, which is topped with powdered sugar and an individual poppy seed and blueberry macaron. While this cake may be less traditional than some of the others on this list, the use of poppy seeds in sweet dishes is a local tradition, and the pairing of the richly-flavored seeds with the sweet-and-sour blueberries is perfect.
Apple Cake – Kara Café
This was one of the most surprising plays on an apple pie-like dessert I’ve ever had. The grated, skin-on apple filling was more marinated than cooked, making for a very toothsome, textured interior, whereas the crust, often flaky and crisp in American versions of an apple pie or tart, was soft and tender. The resulting pie had all of the contrast of an apple pie, but with unique textures throughout and not nearly as heavy a feeling. It’s the perfect mid-afternoon snack alongside a cup of Turkish tea, which is how I enjoyed it.
Of course, these are far from the only pastries to try in Budapest. Did we miss any of your favorites?