Walnut or Poppyseed Hungarian 'Beigli'
So, admittedly I am on a Hungarian kick right now! Two weeks ago I shared my savory Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls that are very commonly served around the holiday season. This week I want to add a sweet to YOUR holiday menu, featuring the very traditional Hungarian Beigli. These are sweet yeast bread rolls filled with either ground walnuts ('diós') or ground poppy seeds ('mákos'). This is one of MY favorite treats at Christmastime and presents beautifully on a holiday platter. Per Hungarian tradition, the rolls, one with each filling, are served together, side-by-side. I particularly LOVE the poppyseed-filled ones.
Although very common in Israel, throughout Europe, and particularly Hungary, POPPYSEED is NOT a filling well known to Americans. Poppy seeds are tiny bluish-black seeds of the opium poppy plant. That being said, the seeds have NO NARCOTIC PROPERTIES, because the fluid contained in the bud that becomes opium is present only before the seeds are fully formed. These seeds date back to the Minoan civilization in Ancient Crete of about 2000 BC. These seeds, with a subtle nutty and bitter flavor, are considered to have healthy properties. They are felt to be a "wonder plant"; healthy to bone strength, lowering of blood pressure, decreasing the incidence of thrombosis and emboli, normalizing blood cholesterol levels, among several other positive attributes. Perhaps its only negative is that the tiny seeds can get stuck in your teeth and ruin your pearly white smile for your holiday photos. So best to keep a mirror on hand! 😉
In this post, I will do some baking with my mom, who has made this recipe EVERY YEAR for Christmas, for as long as I can remember. For that matter, I cannot remember ever being at a single Hungarian Christmas gathering where beigli wasn't on the sweets platter. It's simply not a Hungarian Christmas if you don't serve Beigli! That being said, these poppyseed or walnut rolls are, again, not unique to Hungary. They, like the stuffed cabbage rolls I recently blogged about, are actually common throughout Eastern Europe. What is known is that beigli first appeared in Hungary during the latter half of the 19th century. Its name comes from the German-Yiddish word 'beugen', which means 'to bend' in English. The yeast dough is typically rolled thin into a rectangular shape, then spread with a sweet filling and subsequently 'bent' or rolled in a 'jelly-roll' fashion. After it is baked, it is sliced transversely and a festive swirled pattern becomes evident.
Upon more thoroughly researching beigli, I have found that the recipes, of course, vary from household to household. However, beigli can be DELICATE! The greatest challenge seems to be the construction of a dough that will be moist and not crack upon baking. Several factors seem to play into this, including but not limited to, the proper amount of resting and cooling of the dough as well as the filling-to-dough ratio. The recipe I am sharing below is one that my mother uses every year. Being a Hungarian recipe, she references the amounts in metric measures of dekagrams and milliliters and actually weighs the ingredients out on her old-fashioned scale. I converted the amounts as close as possible to American measures, as noted below.
Beigli Dough recipe (makes 3 rolls)
50 dkg flour (~4 cups)
6 dkg confectioner's sugar (~1/3 cup)
pinch of salt
20 dkg cold unsalted butter (1 stick + 6 tbsp)
3 egg yolks + 1 whole egg
3 dkg yeast (2 x 0.6 oz squares of active yeast)
100 ml of warmed milk (~1/2 cup)
In a measuring cup warm the milk and add the yeast squares to the milk, crumbling them in the process. Let the milk and yeast rest and bloom for about 5 minutes while you measure the first 5 ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Then add the milk and yeast to the dry mixture. Mix with your hand and then knead together well. Divide the dough ball into three equal-sized smaller balls, working each ball until the dough feels soft, smooth, and pliable. Cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit out on the counter for a few hours and then transfer them to the refrigerator for several more hours, or overnight.
Walnut Filling recipe
1½ cups of Simple Syrup (consisting of sugar and water in a 1:1 ratio)
6 cups of ground walnuts
1 tbsp vanilla extract (optional)
Drizzle of Grand Marnier or Rum (optional)
Make a Simple Syrup by dissolving sugar in an equal amount of water on the stove. (I used 1 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup of water.) Measure out 6 cups of ground walnuts into a mixing bowl. Add 1½ cups of the simple syrup. Mix together well with a spoon. (I also added a splash of Grand Marnier, because it's yummy.)
Poppyseed Filling recipe
3 cans of Solo Poppyseed pastry filling
Juice and rind of one lemon
Mix the poppyseed paste from the 3 cans with the grated lemon zest and juice of a lemon. The Solo Poppyseed paste is already sweetened, so no additional sugar needs to be added.
Assembly of Beigli rolls
3 egg yolks, beaten
Remove dough balls from the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature. Roll out the dough ball on a floured surface to about 3 mm thickness. Add 1/3 of either the walnut mixture or the poppyseed mixture and spread evenly across the surface. Leave the bottom edge of the dough free of filling so that the roll will seal. Gently fold the dough in on the two sides and then roll top to bottom. Transfer to a greased 9x13" baking pan. Baste only the two SIDES of the roll with vegetable oil. Repeat with the remaining two rolls. Once the baking dish is filled with 3 rolls, then baste the TOP surfaces with beaten egg yolks. Poke the sides of the rolls with a fork to allow venting of the steam during baking. Place into a pre-heated oven at 350 F for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a bit. Then separate the rolls onto a cooling rack. Cut into 1/2" slices on the diagonal prior to serving.
Baking with my mom and writing this blog has been so enjoyable. I can always depend on her to assemble a delicious Christmas platter, as shown below. The names of some of the other pastries on this platter are Vanilla Kifli (white crescent cookies), chocolate-covered Austrian Ischler cookies (Isler), Strawberry jam-filled Austrian Linzer cookies, Apricot jam-filled rolled Kifli cookies, Walnut-filled rolled Kifli cookies, and German Iced Gingerbread Cookies (Pfeffernüsse). The history of Hungary is so intimately tied to the histories of Austria and Germany that their cuisines significantly overlap. Christmas is the perfect time to indulge in these amazingly delicious pastries. I encourage you to give this Beigli recipe a try.