The Christmas (and Christmas Eve) meals and culinary traditions in Hungary can mean different things to different families. Some families feast on roasted duck, and others always eat stuffed cabbage. Often there is halászlé (fisherman’s soup) on December 24th, or mákos guba for dessert. But there is one Christmas culinary custom that is undeniable: everyone will eat bejgli, and most people will eat LOTS of bejgli!
As Christmas nears, the glistening rolls will start appearing piled up on the counters at cukrászdas, and enticingly displayed in the windows. Christmas markets will offer slices (though this year, the Christmas markets are cancelled). It will be baked in homes, and grandmothers will send you home with it. You may be gifted several bejglis, and you may end up thinking you have more bejgli than you know what to do with! Every year you will discuss with relatives which bejgli flavor rules: poppyseed or walnut (spoiler: most people think it’s poppyseed).
The bejgli is one of the most anticipated pastries in the Hungarian repertoire, and the season for it is in full swing during the weeks before Christmas. Those who are inundated with bejgli during the holiday season are the lucky ones! But if you don’t live in Hungary, or don’t have a Hungarian grandma who showers you with sweets, you can try your hand at making your own.
Bejgli is one of those sweets that looks really intimidating to prepare. But, we’d like to re-assure you that it is totally do-able at home (if you allow a few hours, since there is waiting time between the steps). We recently did a demo in the kitchen of The Tasting Table in which we prepared poppyseed bejgli. So, if you feel like you need a helping hand, gather your ingredients, bring your laptop into the kitchen, and cook along with our video! (We also recommend opening a bottle of “cooking” wine at the same time).
If you are serving bejgli for Christmas, we’d suggest pairing it with a sweet wine from Tokaj. Maybe not one of the sweeter ones like an Aszú, rather a late-harvest or a Szamorodni.
Tasting Table sommeliers Sebastian and Tamás prepare bejgli, while tasting wine.
This recipe was inspired by a recipe from Gerbeaud Cukrászda.
MÁKOS BEJGLI (POPPYSEED BEJGLI)
2.5 hours3 rolls
- FOR THE DOUGH
- 17 grams Fresh yeast (8 grams, if using dry yeast)
- 125 milliliters Milk, warmed
- 37 grams Icing sugar
- 150 grams Butter (at room temperature)
- 1 egg, separated
- 5 grams Salt
- Pálinka (or rum, or any spirit), optional
- 375 grams Flour
- FOR THE FILLING
- 100 milliliters Milk
- 120 grams Icing sugar
- 1 Orange, zested
- 1 Lemon, zested
- 70 grams Raisins, optional (Tip: soak them in sweet wine, just enough to cover them, for a few hours beforehand, if you can!)
- 250 grams Poppy seeds, ground
- FOR THE ASSEMBLY
- 2 eggs, separated
- PREPARE THE DOUGH: Start by making a sponge, to activate the yeast. Dissolve the the yeast and one tablespoon of the sugar in the warmed milk. Stir to combine, cover the with a kitchen cloth, and sit for 10 minutes.
- Cream the butter with the rest of the sugar for about five minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the salt, egg yolk, and a few drops of pálinka or any spirit (optional). Mix into the butter mixture until it is pale in color.
- Add the flour and the yeast mixture, and knead the dough until it is smooth. Separate it into three equal parts, and let them rest for 15 or 20 minutes.
- PREPARE THE FILLING: Heat the milk and the sugar until it boils. Add the orange zest, lemon zest, and raisins (if you soaked them in wine, also add that). Add the poppy seeds, and cook for one minute, stirring with a wooden spoon. The mixture should be soft (similar to that of a polenta), but thick enough so that it doesn’t drip off the spoon when you hold it up. If the filling is too moist, add some additional poppyseeds.
- Cool the filling mixture (this can be done quicker by pouring it into a thin layer into a sheet pan). Separate the filling mixture into three equal parts.
- ASSEMBLE THE ROLLS: Line a baking pan with a piece of parchment paper.
- On a floured surface, gently roll the dough into rectangles of approximately 25 x 15 cm (3 mm thick). If you did not make a perfect rectangle, then trim it with a knife to form a rectangle. (Save the extra pieces for forming leaves to decorate the rolls with, if you’d like.)
- In two separate bowls, lightly beat the egg whites and yolks. Brush the egg whites along one of the long edges of the dough (about 2 cm), which will hold the roll together.
- Spread one-third of the cooled poppyseed filling onto the dough. If your filling is too thick, use your hands to place pieces of the poppyseeds evenly onto the dough instead, and press it down. Don’t spread the filling along the top edge of the dough, where the egg whites are.
- Roll the dough up, and set in the pan. If you are making decorative leaves, add them now. Repeat with the other two pieces. Brush the surface of the rolls with the egg yolk, and let it dry for 40 minutes. This step is important for achieving the classic cracked golden surface. After the egg wash has dried completely, brush the rolls with with the egg whites, and let them dry for another 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your over to 200 C.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan at least once halfway through, until the rolls are golden brown (on the darker side), with a cracked surface.