Monday, March 16, 2009

Hungarian Beigli - Celebration Cake

Beigli are the traditional Hungarian walnut or poppy seed roulades seen at Christmas time, Easter and for wedding celebrations. They have a firm tender crust, a crackled exterior and a moist filling. Extra fruit is added to the filling to give it extra moistness.

In his wonderful book - Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague - Rick Rodgers explains how the rising of the dough is carefully modulated with refrigeration to get a nice tight crumb. In the old days it would have been snowing outside and finding a nice warm place would have been harder than it is today.

I learnt to make Beigli from my Hungarian mother-in-law (Nagymama - or grandma in English) who is now 84. Nagymama didn’t have the luxury of a KitchenAid or mixer and painstakingly made 32 rolls each year.

I have taken it upon myself to bake them for the family, even though I am from an Anglo-Saxo Australian background of four generations. It has become part of my children’s heritage that they love very much. Of all my extended Hungarian family of over 50 members, only my son and one nephew have also learned to make Beigli. I am very proud of Andy and Tom for this as it is no light undertaking (even more experienced bakers suffer anxiety in front of their ovens each year - will the pastry crack, will it crumble when cut?). For this reason, if I make them for the other family members, I won’t let them have them before Christmas as they get eaten before the big day. Andy has been known to eat two whole rolls in a day before Christmas Day.

The walnut is most popular, but poppy seed lovers swear by there choice. My photo doesn't do teh beigli justice. Beigli are usually set out in alternating poppy seed and walnut layers. You need both to display nicely on the platter.

The measurements for this recipe are a little odd as Nagymama gave them to me originally as decagrams which I have adapted.

This recipe makes 4 rolls

Ingredients for the dough:

560gm plain flour

210g butter

60g icing sugar

10g fresh yeast

200ml milk (room temperature)

pinch salt

beaten egg yolk to glaze.

Mix the milk and yeast in a small bowl and leave to froth for 10 minutes. Blend butter, flour, salt and sugar then add the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough is smooth and leaves the side of bowl clean. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and let it rest for half an hour.

Roll out each piece into a 12 x 14 inch (30 x 35cm) rectangle.

Spread each piece with filling leaving a 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) border all around and roll up tightly lengthwise, pinching seems closed. Transfer, seam side down, to a baking dish with 5cm (2 inches) between rolls. Brush with the beaten egg yolk. Leave overnight in the refrigerator. Brush with egg yolk again. Let stand for egg to set then poke holes with a skewer. This is to let the steam escape while the beigli are cooking and help prevent splitting

Bake in a moderate oven 180C 30 – 45 mins or until brown. Don’t open the oven until after 20 minutes.

Make walnut beigli first as the poppy seed will make the walnut look dirty if used first.

Walnut mixture (enough for 2 rolls)

250g walnuts

1/2 cup plain sweet biscuit crumbs (or cake crumbs or bread crumbs)

250g pure icing sugar

50g raisins

1 Tbs apricot jam

100 ml milk

Put the milk in a pan with the sugar and bring to the boil. Add other ingredients. Let cool.

Poppyseed mixture (enough for 2 rolls)

250g poppyseed

1/2 cup plain sweet biscuit crumbs (or cake crumbs or bread crumbs)

250g sugar

1 Tbs apricot jam

50g raisins

100 ml milk

Put milk in a pan with sugar and bring to the boil. Add poppy seeds and raisins. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Then stir in other ingredients. Let cool.

The beigli can be stored once cooled. Don’t cut the logs until you are ready to serve them. To serve, arrange the slices on a plate slightly overlapping like roof tiles, alternating poppy seed and walnut. The rolls can be kept for up to a week wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in an airtight tin.


  1. How wonderful to have old recipes passed down from generation to generation.
    Sounds very complicated but I'm sure its delicious.

  2. Thank you for the recipe. I have been hunting for an "authentic" recipe as my Hungarian Grandmother passed away without leaving one!