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Hungarian Sweets and Pastries

Kürtőskalács – Chimney Cake

Chimney Cake at Christmas Market Budapest
Chimney Cake at Christmas Market Budapest

Chimney cake is the sweet rock and roll pastry for Hungarians. Pretzel for the salty, Chimney cake for the sweet. A walking snack, and a sight to behold as it is made in front of your eyes (and nose!).

While we consider Chimney Cake a sweet delight during winter time in Hungary, it is not a special Christmas pastry (unlike Beigli), and can be bought all year round, especially at Budapest festivals, like the Festival of Folk Arts in Buda Castle in August.

You can walk around the Christmas market with your warm and delicious Chimney cake: milk bread grilled over open fire. You can pick a flavour too: cinnamon, almond, walnut, coconut, etc. There are lots of yummy versions of Kurtoskalacs. If you plan your Budapest holiday for the festive season, don’t miss out the Guided Christmas Market Tours, where you can also taste the real Chimney Cake!

It is sold at a more expensive price at the market (as all foods and drinks), but considering that there is no entrance fee to the Christmas market, it is not so pricey after all (about 4 Euros per roll, which could be 1-2 Euros otherwise…). So we shut our eyes, and roll with the Christmas: we love to nibble a freshly baked Chimney cake on the Christmas market, and have our mulled wine too!

The dough is basically a sort of milk loaf baked and rolled in cinnamon, cocoa powder, etc. Once the dough has raised and is ready to bake, it is thinly stretched by a rolling pin, cut in slightly to make a snake like strip of the dilapidated dough, then quickly rolled on a thicker wooden rolling pin, which has a metal handle and a metal hook. The dough on the pin is then baked in an open fire over the glistening coals. Once the cake is baked, and has a nice brown coating, it is slipped off the thick wooden rolls. The cake looks like a little barbecued pipe, or the chimney stack of old times. Hence the name Chimney Cake (Kürtős kalács in Hungarian).

The cake roll gets its final flavors when it is rolled in the sugary mixtures of cinnamon, cocoa, ginger, etc. The rolls are sold in packages too. It won’t be as delicious if eaten later, and delivered in a plastic wrapping, but it could be one of your Hungarian culinary gifts – some food for thought.


Dobos torte photo by Simon Q
Dobos torte photo by Simon Q

Dobos Torte is one of the tastiest well-known cakes in Hungary. The cake was created by József C. Dobos confectioner who aimed to create a cake that would last longer than other pastries, as in the end of the 1800s the cooling techniques were limited. Dobos Torte was first introduced at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885; King Franz Joseph I and Queen Elisabeth were among the first to taste it.
The cake soon became popular around Europe, it is taste, unique appearance, and it has durability through shipping.

The 6 sponge cake-like layers are softer than other sponge cakes, as melted butter has been added to the mixture before baking it.
József C. Dobos used fine buttercream for the fillings – as it was not common that time, so it made the cake more special. The chocolate buttercream and the batter of the cake were both invented by him. Notably, the buttercream incorporated cocoa butter for extra smoothness. The top of the cake is covered with a caramel to prevent it from drying out, and the sides of the cake are covered with grounded walnuts.
During his lifetime, the cake was often imitated but never reproduced. Near the end of his career, he donated the receipt to the Pastry and Honey-Makers’ Guild in 1906.

Gerbeaud Slice (Hungarian Zserbó)

Gerbeaud slice photo by Mérida Hideaway
Gerbeaud slice photo by Mérida Hideaway

The slice originated from the legendary Gerbeaud Cafe in the heart of Budapest, Hungary, one of the most traditional and famous cafe-confectioners in Europe. Emile Gerbeaud Swiss confectioner arrived to Budapest and took over the Kugler Confectionary in the middle of 1880’s.

Gerbeaud expanded his staff and employed the very latest in machinery to create and maintain the quality of his confections. Even the boxes they were wrapped in were considered works of art. The cake is made up of thin, tender layers of sweet yeast dough alternating with ground walnuts and rich apricot jam, covered with dark chocolate.
It is a common Christmas and celebration sweet in Hungary.


This delicious dessert is made up of two thin layers of puff pastry and one generous layer of vanilla pastry cream. The cream is made of eggs, milk, flour and vanilla. The base and top layers are crispy and the top is often covered with icing sugar. This heavenly cake can be found in every confectionery.

The traditional Krémes recipe is dating back to the end of the 16th century. The initial recipe did not resemble the known Kremes recipe. Since the 1930s the recipe did not change much. Dr. Oetker published similar recipes in 1935, where the cream was made with vanilla pudding instead of flour: Creampie or Cream Slice. Pudding became very popular, however the original Kremes recipe is made with flour.

Rigó Jancsi

The cake is a two-layer chocolate sponge cake filled with a thick chocolate and cream filling and a thin apricot jam layer. The cake is covered with a dark chocolate glaze.

Rigó Jancsi is named after the famous Gypsy violinist Rigó Jancsi (1858-1927) who seduced and married Clara Ward, the daughter of the American millionaire E.B. Ward. Jancsi was playing his violin in a restaurant in Paris where the Prince and Princess Chimay was dining. It was love at the first sight and after a series of secret meetings, Ward and Rigó eloped in December 1896.

The cake is a celebration cake wearing Rigó Jancsi’s name and in honor of the romantic love story. Some sources are claiming that Rigo Jancsi has created the cake with a pastry chef to surprise Clara, others claim that he bought this cake to Clara and the confectioner named it after him.

Esterházy Cake

Esterhazy Cake
Esterhazy Cake

Esterházy cake is a beloved cake and one of the best-known classical Hungarian cake in the Hungarian gastronomy.  The cake is named after Prince Paul III Anton Esterházy de Galántha (1786–1866), a member of the Esterházy dynasty and diplomat of the Austrian Empire. It was invented by Budapest confectioners in the late 19th century and soon became one of the most famous cakes in the lands of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

Esterházy cake consists of buttercream spiced with cognac or vanilla, sandwiched between four and five layers of almond meringue (macaroon) dough.  The cake is iced with a fondant glaze and decorated with a characteristic chocolate striped pattern.
There are, however, many different recipe variations, but the cake is always has to be made without flour. In Hungary, the original almonds have been entirely replaced by walnuts.

Rákóczi Túrós – „Curd Cheese Square Rákóczi style”

Baked cheesecake-like slice, it has been created and named after by Rákóczi János in 1958 and not after the famous nobleman Rákóczi Ferenc.

It can be found in almost every pastry shop in Hungary, but the homemade versions are much better. The base is a thin paté sucré crust, followed by a layer of sweet curd cheese filling and apricot jam. It is covered with soft meringue pieces.

Somlói Galuska – Hungarian Trifle Somlo style or Sponge cake Somlo style

Somlói Galuska photo by DurhamDundee
Somlói Galuska photo by DurhamDundee

Indisputably Somlói Galuska is one of the most famous Hungarian desserts. It was first made for the World Exhibition of 1958 in Brussels by József Béla Szőcs. It won the professional price and became very popular all over Hungary. The confectioner gave the name to the cake, which comes from the name of the hill, Somlyó, where he lived and worked.

According to the surveys, Somlói Galuska is the favorite cake of Hungary.

The original recipe mentions 3 kinds of sponge cakes: one plain, one with cocoa and one with grounded walnuts. The cake contains 3 sauces as well, vanilla, chocolate, and a rum-orange zest flavored one. The sponge cakes are layered with raisins and the fillings. The cake is served in bowls and topped with whipped cream.

Gesztenyepüré – Chestnut Purée

Gesztenyepure Chestnut Puree photo by MsAnthea
Gesztenyepure Chestnut Puree photo by MsAnthea

Hungary has plenty of sweet chestnuts and they are a popular and versatile ingredient of Hungarian cuisine. Sweet chestnuts are seasonal fruits and eaten mainly in the winter.

The cooked chestnut puree is ideal for cakes and pastries but it makes a great sweet treat with whipped cream. It is usually flavored with rum and sugar, pressed through a potato-press and served in bowls with whipped cream and sour cherries.

Mákos Guba – Poppy Seed Bread Pudding

Mákos Guba - photo by DurhamDundee
Mákos Guba – photo by DurhamDundee

Mákos Guba (pronounced mah kosh goo-bah) is a popular dessert in Hungary. Originally it was a Christmas dessert in the Central European region (Poland: Makówki, German: Mohnpielen), and in the last decades, it became an everyday food item that you can find in many restaurants.

Hungarians’ love of consuming poppy seeds in quantities that would be considered bordering on the illegal in some other countries… but the delicious taste of poppy seeds is nicely offset by the lightness and sweetness of the vanilla milk and honey.

The traditional recipe is made with home baked raised dough, but nowadays it is made of day-old semi-sweet rolls called “kifli”. Kifli is a crescent-shaped Hungarian pastry. You can find it in almost every bakery or grocery store. The kiflis are sliced, baked for 8-10 minutes, and soaked in the vanilla sauce, mixed with grounded and sweetened poppy seeds.

Arany Galuska – Hungarian Golden Dumpling

Aranygaluska is a rich yeast-raised Hungarian dessert with walnuts and vanilla sauce. The yeast-raised dumplings are dipped in melted butter then covered with grounded walnuts and baked in the oven. Once it is ready it can be served with vanilla custard.

Nancy Reagan popularized this dish in the United States when she served it at the White House for Christmas.

Vargabéles – Hungarian sweet noodle cake with curd cheese

The origin is of Vargabeles is not fully confirmed, but most probably it was created in the Darvas Family Restaurant in Kolozsvar (Cluj, Romania) by Mrs Darvas. The Darvas Restaurant was well-known the 1940s, when Kolozsvar still belonged to Hungary. They have transported Vargabeles to Budapest every day with an airplane to offer it the best confectioneries. After the war, the restaurant could not survive, and the family emigrated to America. The family never published the original recipe.

This cake has a special feature: cooked thin egg noodles. Once the noodles are cooked they are mixed with curd cheese, sour cream, eggs, butter, and raisins. The mixture is filled into filo pastries and baked in the oven. Served with sprinkled icing sugar on the top.

Szaloncukor – the Hungarian Christmas Fondant

It is easy to carry, not so expensive to buy, and makes a good Christmas gift if you are visiting Budapest in winter time. You can also try them before just buying them to make sure that you really love what you give as a Christmas gift from Hungary.

Szaloncukor is made of fondant, then covered by a thin chocolate layer (or not, but most of them are), and then wrapped into a nice, Christmassy paper or wrapping sheet with a special shape. The oval shaped fondant candy keeps its ovalness, and the szaloncukor as a whole has a bow tie shape with two frilly ends.

More traditional szaloncukor candies were wrapped in real paper and the frills were made of a very fine flimsy paper of a distinctive color. These days, the Christmas candy comes in shiny wraps.

Nobody knows for sure how the special Christmas candy tradition started in Hungary, but one thing is sure, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that it started to be part of the Christmas celebrations. Hungary was part of the Austria Hungary dual monarchy, when the richer Hungarian noble families had nice parlors (or salons) to erect a Christmas tree (often for each child) and put up Christmas decor on the trees. Amongst them Salon sugar (szaloncukor), which were handcrafted from soft fondant with added flavors. The candy most probably came to Hungary via German sweets traders and makers (fondant was originally made in medieval France). One of the most popular Hungarian novelists, Mor Jokai called them Szalon czukkedli, which also shows that the name of the candy started off as a borrowed word from German.

It was only years later that the top Hungarian sweets manufacturers of the 19th century started to make the szaloncukor candies by the kilos. The easy production and delicious flavors made it and instant success, so many Hungarian families started to buy them from Cafe Gerbeaud and from Stühmer (both still in production). Budapest led the fashion, but the tradition of szaloncukor fondants were quickly picked up by families living outside Budapest. These days it is very widespread, from small villages to the Hungarian capital.

While fondant was typical during the Socialist era, after that, since 1989 the fillings have been made from all sorts of exquisite chocolate bonbon fillings. So we may as well call them Hungarian Christmas truffles, festive bonbons, silky smooth winter sweets.

Beigli – Poppy Seed or Walnut Roll

Christmas Beigli - photo by Yuichi Sakuraba
Christmas Beigli – photo by Yuichi Sakuraba

Beigli (or sometimes spelled bejgli) is a real Hungarian Christmas treat, you can find it in almost every supermarket and bakery around Christmas.

Traditionally, it is filled with Poppy seeds (Makos Beigli) and with grounded Walnuts (Dios Beigli), but you can find recipes with Chestnut puree and Sour Cherries, Apple and Butternut Squash etc).

Several legends circulate about the beigli’s origin, but it’s sure that it appeared in Hungary in the second half of the 19th century and since then there is no Christmas without this pastry. Pastry rolls are popular in central and eastern Europe; they probably originated as a means of transforming some extra bread dough into a special treat for the family.

Rétes – Strudel

Retes and Kremes- Strudel and Custard Slice photo by meaduva
Retes and Kremes- Strudel and Custard Slice photo by meaduva

is a type of layered pastry with a filling that is usually sweet. It became popular in the 18th century through the Habsburg Empire. Hungarian Rétes is similar to the Vienna Strudel, except it is thinner and much lighter and flavourful without being overly sugary.

There is a definite family resemblance between Strudel Dough and the Greek Phyllo. The Hungarians could first adopted the thin dough from the Turkish pastry Baklava in the 1500s.

Hungarian style strudel consists of about 6 layers of phyllo dough and can be filled with sweet or savory fillings such as quark, apple, cabbage, poppy seeds, butternut squash etc. Retes is a traditional cake made for weddings and other family occasions. As Retes is a very popular all over the country, there are Retes festivals to celebrate it and try new flavors for example Oreo flavored.

In 2016 the town Mesztegnyő has made the longest Retes ever, it vas 104 meter long and it has been served on the Retes Festival in Mesztegnyő.

Flodni – Traditional Hungarian/ Jewish Cake

Flodni - photo by WordRidden
Flodni – photo by WordRidden

Apple, Walnut and Poppy seed slice with apricot and plum jam. This cake has 4 layers of different fillings, Plum Jam, Chocolate Walnut, Apple and Poppy Seed with Apricots. All the layers are tasty, but together they create a delicious result.

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