Hungary is quite a modest country in many ways, but beautifully modest. Their gifts are usually all handmade, the foods they enjoy at Christmas are rarely ever bought rather than made at home, and their Christmas celebration really does center around the joy felt because of the birth of Christ. They, like Poland, put weeks worth of distance between gifts from Szent Miklós and gifts that were given by Christ. The gifts a child may get from Szent Miklós are things like candy and toys. Then, 18 days later, on Christmas Eve after the parents have set up the tree and gifts they ring a bell to let the children know they may come into the living room and see what the Christ child has given them for Christmas. These gifts are usually centered more around their needs. A girl may get a new church dress or clothes for school, or may even find a weeks worth of new socks. A young boy may find a new pair of shoes, new suit coat, or a new hat. Whatever the parents know their children are truly in need of. I love that concept. I believe it has to be much more fulfilling to give gifts that are answering an actual need rather than a want. A child's wants...they change with the wind.
One of the only desserts on the table at Christmastime in Hungary is a loverly little loaf of sweet bread called beigli. Filled with either a walnut filling or a poppy seed filling, it is rolled up tightly, baked, and then when totally cooled the roll is cut and reveals a beautiful spiral pattern of dough and filling. It is simple, but quite attractive as a centerpiece to the Christmas table. It is the one dish that the Anya sets on the table that makes everyone say "Boldog Karácsonyt!!"
**The U.S. measurements appear first followed by the European weights in parenthesis, unless only U.S. measurements were given. I weighed the amounts out first, then measured them with U.S. measuring cups and spoons. You can thank me later.
6 1/2 c. + 3 T. + 1/2 tsp. flour (1kg)
3 T. sour cream
14 1/2 T. butter (1 3/4 sticks) (200g)
2/3 c. lard (150g) (no substitutes)
1 T. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. + 1 T. sugar (80g)
1/2 c. milk (1 dl)
1 T. + 2 tsp. yeast (20g)
6 T. milk
3 c. + 1/3 c. + 1/8 c. walnuts, minced (400g)
1 c. + 1/8 c. + 1/2 T. caster sugar (250g)
scant 1/2 c. milk (1 dl)
2 tsp. cinnamon
zest of 1 orange
1 T. vanilla paste or vanilla sugar (10g)
1/3 c. raisins (50g) soaked in 50 mL of rum
Poppy Seed Filling
1 2/3 c. + 1/2 T. + 1 tsp. crushed poppy seeds (250g)
2/3 c. + 1/2 T. + 1/2 tsp. caster sugar (150g)
1 T. vanilla paste or vanilla sugar (10g)
2 tsp. cinnamon
scant 1/2 c. milk (100 mL)
zest of 1 lemon
1 T. lemon juice or 1 tsp. lemon oil
1 egg white
1/3 c. raisins(50g) soaked in 50 mL of rum
2 room temperature eggs, separated
For the dough, warm the 1/2 c. milk and sour cream a bit, to about lukewarm in temperature. Add the yeast and 1 T. of sugar to the milk and sour cream and incorporate it well. Add diced butter and lard to your flour and sprinkle the 1/4 c. + 1 T. sugar and salt in. Use a pastry blender/cutter to cut the butter and lard into the flour mixture. When it is mostly combined add in the egg and blend a little bit before adding the sour cream mixture. Knead the dough. Make 2 balls and wrap them up in plastic wrap and set them aside to rest for at least 4 hours(if you have the time, overnight would be even better but do the overnight rest in the fridge.).
To make the walnut filling bring the milk and sugar to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and pour vanilla paste/vanilla sugar into the pan. Stir in walnuts, cinnamon, drained raisins, and zest of an orange.
To make the poppy seed filling bring the milk and sugar to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in vanilla paste/vanilla sugar/ Stir in the ground poppy seeds, drained raisins, cinnamon, lemon zest, and lemon juice/lemon oil. Once these are all well combined, stir in the egg white.
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C)
In a small bowl whisk the 2 egg whites and in another small bowl whisk the 2 egg yolks and set them aside for brushing the rolls later.
Roll each portion of dough into an even rectangle shape as best as you can.
Spread the filling to the edges in all directions leaving a 1/4 inch not filled on each edge.
Then fold over 3 edges about a 1/2 inch.
Then rolling the long side that you didn't fold, roll towards the other long side, tightly roll the beigli and transfer it to parchment lined baking sheets.
Repeat this with the second ball of beigli dough and the other filling.
Prick the tops of each beigli roll with a fork about 5-8 times on each roll to allow steam to escape. Brush the egg YOLKS on top of the beigli rolls and allow it to dry completely. After the yolks have dried, brush the tops of the beigli with the egg WHITES. Let the whites dry completely. Allowing the rolls to dry completely twice gives each roll time to rise a little bit as well. I actually let my rolls rise for a total of 30 minutes before baking them.
Bake the rolls in 400 degree heat for 20 minutes then lower the temperature to 375 F (190 C) and bake for another 20 minutes, and whatever you do DO NOT open the oven door during the first 20 minutes of bake time!
When they are finished baking wait for them to be completely cool before cutting into the rolls.
I won't lie, my favorite of this platter is the walnut roll. The orange zest and cinnamon really make this roll something special. I can certainly see why it is a Christmas specialty. I had to make these three times before I was able to manipulate 3 different recipes into ONE that worked. It definitely is a labor of love when an anya makes these beauties. My Mister and I have never really been fans of poppy seeds. We tried the roll and the flavor was wonderful but the texture of poppy seeds is something we both have always had a rough time with. Even though I pulsed the seeds in a processor for a full minute before putting them in the filling mix, it felt like grains of sand in our mouths. But!...to each their own! I hope you love this recipe as much as all of Hungary does and that you give it a try. It IS worth the end result!