The Sweet Side of Budapest
The most famous Hungarian cake is Dobos, created in 1885 by József Dobos. This gateaux is deceptively simple, lashings of cocoa-butter cream – a new invention at the time – between layers of sponge cake. What gives it a distinctive character is the hard layer of caramelised sugar on top, which everyone saves to the end to be savoured last. Rigó Jancsi is a cube of chocolate mousse between soft sponge cake layers, named after a famous Hungarian violinist who had a scandalous affair with a French princess, which proved to be a genius marketing tactic. Rákóczi túrós was named after the pâtissier who invented it, János Rákóczi and not the revolutionary leader Ferenc Rákóczi. The cake itself is short pastry topped with cottage cheese cream and apricot jam latticed with egg white cream. Somlói galuska is the Hungarian's favourite dessert, a delicious mess of sponge cake, whipped cream and chocolate sauce that can often be found on the menu of traditional restaurants as well. Gundel pancakes are an another beloved traditional dessert that can be found in many restaurants, but for the authentic article a visit to the legendary Gundel Restaurant is in order. The French-style crêpes are served flambéed, filled with ground walnuts, raisins and rum, generously topped with chocolate sauce and caster sugar.
Where can you taste these delightful treats? Gerbeaud on Vörösmarty Square is the undisputed queen of Budapest cafés. There has been a patisserie in the spectacular building since 1861, but it really became an institution in 1883 when Émile Gerbeaud took over and achieved world-fame with his bonbons and mignons. While the gilded décor is belle époque, innovation never stops in the kitchen; Gerbaud offers traditional desserts reimagined for the 21st century. Szamos Gourmet House on the opposite side of Vörösmarty Square is a recent venue, but the name is already revered. Szamos became known for its marzipan creations, but at the Gourmet House they cater to all appetites, and it's one of the best spots in town for a sumptuous breakfast. Tiny Ruszwurm is an obligatory stop on any visit to Buda Castle. The patisserie has been open and the Biedermeier interior virtually unchanged since 1827. Demand now far outstrips the capacity of this cosy café, but the expertly prepared cakes, bonbons and ice creams are well-worth queuing for.
As well as these national treasures, Budapest is dotted with small mom-and-pop patisseries, and in recent years there has been an explosion of new wave sugar merchants that cater to every taste and modern diets. At Sugar! everything is about design, releasing a new themed ‘collection' of creams and cakes every season. Fashionable desserts like macaroons, cupcakes and mousses can be just as easily found now as the more traditional gateaux. Zazzi is famed for its macaroons, and Chez Dodo is a little taste of Paris in Budapest. Even the health-conscious don't need to swear off the little pleasures in life: places like Naspolya Nassolda, Brioche or Bobajka offer sugar and gluten free desserts.
In summer, our craving for sweets is satisfied by ice cream. Almost all patisseries sell Italian-style homemade gelato and more and more artisanal ice cream parlours cater to our cravings. Fragola and Levendula ice cream parlours offer ice creams made from the highest quality ingredients and often in unusual flavours in several locations around town.