Hungarian Gerbeaud Cake, Zserbó szelet (literally “Gerbeaud slice”), is probably the most famous Hungarian dessert. It brings to mind the Café Gerbaud in the heart of Budapest, named after the Swiss chocolatier who lived and worked in Hungary and who invented this cake. Gerbeaud Cake is a delectable layered yeast cake with an apricot walnut filling, covered in thin chocolate glaze. Traditionally made at Christmas or Easter time, slices of this cake are nonetheless sold in every Hungarian café and patisserie all year long.
Believe me when I say that during the holiday season there is not a better place you would want to be, other than a European country. They have glam, grandeur, dazzling lights, music, a magical atmosphere, enchanting Christmas markets, and delicious food. Since this year everything is different, we just have to dream...
Come Eat The World!
With the pandemic still preventing us from traveling the world, come with us as we take you virtually to Hungary, with our group 'Eat the World'. Grab one of the marble tables in the Gerbeaud Café in Budapest, admire the refined elegance of the place, sit back, and relax with a cup of coffee or tea and a slice of cake.
To make the Gerbeaud cake, a traditional Christmas layered cake with an apricot walnut filling covered in a thin chocolate glaze, I followed a recipe I found on a website specialized in Hungarian food tours and cooking classes. Just like many traditional desserts, it has many variations. After researching far and wide, noticing differences and likenesses among recipes, I've finally settled on this one. So happy I did. You'll be, too.
The story tells that Emil Gerbeaud, a Swiss confectioner who had worked in German, French, and English pastry shops, was invited to Hungary in 1884 by Henrik Kugler, the owner of the same café in the heart of Pest, to work with him. Since Kugler didn’t have any heirs, he eventually sold the establishment to Emil Gerbeaud, who later expanded it and developed into one of Europe’s finest cafés, adding new cakes to the menu and even founding a small chocolate factory where the famous pralines and other sweets were made. The Gerbeaud cake was only one of the many renowned desserts he offered at his confectionery on Vörösmarty square.
The yeast dough
Although being a sweet yeast dough, do not expect it to be light and fluffy, on the contrary, the result is four layers of crispy pastry. Of course, you can make the dough by hand, but it is much easier and faster with a stand mixer. TIP: just remember to work it until smooth and not sticky anymore (if done in a stand mixer, when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl).
- In a smaller pan heat milk until lukewarm and dissolve the sugar and the yeast. At the same time, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the flour, the pinch of salt, and the cubed butter. Mix on low until a crumbly texture is achieved.
- Change to the dough hook, then add the whole egg, 2 egg yolks, the yeast mixture, and the lemon zest. Knead on low/medium until the dough is soft and smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, at least 5 minutes. After, divide the dough into 4 balls (I used a scale to make them equal in weight). Cover, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- First, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line your baking tin with parchment paper. I used a 9×15 inch (23x38cm) pan.
- Then, on a floured surface, roll out one part of the dough to the size of the baking tin, then gently lay it in. Leave the other 3 balls of dough covered.
- Grind the walnuts in a food processor, then mix with the powdered sugar.
- Spread one-third of the apricot jam on the first layer of dough. Then, sprinkle with a third of the walnut-sugar mixture.
- After, roll out the second piece of dough and place it on top of the walnut mixture. Put the jam on it and sprinkle with the walnut mixture.
- Again, roll out the third piece of dough and place it on top of the last walnut mixture. Spread the jam, then sprinkle with the last of the walnut mixture.
- Lastly, roll out the fourth layer and place it on top. [At this point, most of the recipes said to bake the assembled cake right away, while very few said to leave it to rest before baking. I baked it right after assembling it].
- Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake the cake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is light brown.
- Let it cool slightly in the pan, then invert it on a baking sheet and let cool completely before adding the glaze.
For the chocolate glaze:
- On a bain-marie melt the 100 grams of butter, then add 4 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 4 tablespoons of sugar, and 4 tablespoons of water. Stir until the sugar melts and the mixture thickens and gets glossy. Turn off the heat and let cool slightly.
- Then, cover your cake with the chocolate glaze. It will spread and fall to the sides without having to use any tool.
TIP: You could have the cake on a rack over a baking sheet when you pour the chocolate glaze so the excess chocolate will sit on the sheet. After it is completely set, gently transfer the cake to a flat surface to cut it.
Squares or diamonds?
At this point, after the chocolate glaze has set, trim the outer edges of the cake in order to have a cleaner cut. Lastly, you can call it a day, or you can begin the slicing process. Here's come the decision making: you can slice it in squares, well, actually, rectangles, or you could bring out your inner artist and cut the cake in a diamond shape pattern. It's Christmas time after all. As for me, I called my husband, who, a ruler in hand, scored, and then cut the diamond slices.
How to make the diamonds
- Firstly, measure on the short sides of the cake 1 ¼ inches which will give you 5 long pieces. Remember, just score the top for now.
- Then, starting from the bottom left corner make a diagonal line (roughly 45 degrees). From that line, measure perpendicular 1 ¼ inches and that will give you your second angled line.
- Repeat this process until you get to the top right corner, which gives you 8 diagonal lines.
- Using a sharp knife, first cut the 4 vertical lines followed by cutting the diagonal lines.
A layer cake
Surely, it is not like your average layer cake, where the cake is cut after baking or is baked in batches and then stacked, filled, and assembled. Here, the layers are assembled before baking with the filling. Layers of pastry slathered with a delicious apricot preserve, usually homemade, topped with a sugar-walnut mixture, and lastly topped with a delicate chocolate glaze. As a matter of fact, the secret of the deliciousness of the Gerbeaud cake lies in the perfect triad of chocolate, apricot, and walnut. This cake is complex and rich but not overly sweet, moist and crisp at the same time. Our friend Graham's homemade apricot jam adds a luscious tangy flavorful moistness while the walnuts give us some lovely texture and crunch. The chocolate gives a nice decadence, not over the top, which balances out everything beautifully.
How to make a star-shaped presentation
Starting from the center, piece together 7 of the diamond pieces. Then, keep working your way out aligning the diamond shapes with an additional 14 pieces. This completes the star. A couple of the pieces may not be fully shaped diamonds and you may have some with finger marks (try not to touch the top, as we did!), however, this does not take away from the beauty and deliciousness of the cake.
In the end, if you have made it here, you deserve a huge pat on the back. Well done!
Check out all the wonderful Hungarian dishes prepared by fellow Eat the World members and share with #eattheworld. Click here to find out how to join and have fun exploring a country a month in the kitchen with us!
Sneha’s Recipe: Hungarian Beef Goulash
Magical Ingredients: Langos - Hungarian Potato Fry Bread
Sugarlovespices (us!): Hungarian Gerbeaud Cake
Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Lamb Soup With Sour Cream (Palócleves)
Making Miracles: Beef Goulash
A Day in the Life on the Farm: Hungarian Short Ribs
Pandemonium Noshery: Rakott Krumpli - Hungarian Potato Casserole
Kitchen Frau: Túrós Csusza (Pasta with Cottage Cheese)
CulturEatz: Borleves | A Hungarian Christmas Wine Soup
Amy’s Cooking Adventures: Hungarian Braised Short Ribs
Chocolate and apricot is also the wonderful combination of another stunning European cake, the Sacher Torte, which again, gives the name to a famous café, the Café Sacher, in Vienna, Austria. Some of you, like me, were probably lucky enough to have tasted the original there. What a treat!
Chocolate and apricot jam is indeed a combination I love. See this delicious Pull-apart Brioche Bread with Apricot Jam and Chocolate.
Also, if you liked this cake, we have another sweet taste of Hungary, Brioches with Cottage Cheese and Raisins.