Starting in the middle of December, Christmas begins to descend on Hungary, as Christmas Markets open, and the country’s famous holiday candy, szaloncukor (‘parlor candy’) fills shelves in shops nationwide.
Hanging szaloncukor from the Christmas tree is a very important Hungarian tradition; today, we take a look at where this tradition came from, and how it became an integral part of the country’s Christmas each and every year.
The history of szaloncukor goes all the way back to the beginning of the 1700s, to the French city of Lyon. A master pastry chef in the city, Papillot, created the first chocolate-dipped sweets in his workshop. According to legend, one of Papillot’s assistants fell in love with a girl who lived in the house above the confectionary. Using ingredients stolen from the shop, this assistant created tiny gifts for his beloved. Over time, he began to write love letters and poems onto the papers that he packaged the candies in, and later started packaging these candies, the ancestors of szaloncukor, into colorful paper as well. After a while, Papillot noticed what was going on, and fired his assistant for stealing from his shop. Nevertheless, he himself started selling candies wrapped in colorful paper. Unlike his love-struck former assistant, however, Papillot did not include love-letters in his candies, but rather humorous quotes, riddles, and puns. He also reputedly decided to make the candies even flashier by wrapping them in tinfoil, thereby inventing the packaging that is largely used to this day
German pastry chefs brought szaloncukor into Hungary in the beginning of the 19th century, and it quite quickly became popular throughout the country. In the time of writer Mór Jókai, the candies were still known as ‘szalonczukkedli’, from the German term “salonzuckerl”, or ‘salon candy.’ The candy quickly spread throughout Hungary, and every year the biggest confectionaries would make them for the holidays based on their own, secret recipes. For example, at the end of the 19th century, the cookbook of the famous Kugler family of confectioners had nearly 20 different recipes for szaloncukor.
Over the years, production of the candy has become automated. Today, every major chocolate brand offers its own szaloncukor at the holidays for sale in shops and grocery stores, but confectionaries continue to make handcrafted candies of their own. Smaller confectionaries often still dip their szaloncukor by hand, and pack them in traditional tinfoil or tissue paper.
From the middle of November until Christmas, Hungarian shoppers buy thousands of tons of szaloncukor each year. According to estimates, more than 9 billion forints ( 29 million euros) worth of candy are purchased each year. One of the most popular types of candy is szaloncukor. For years, the most popular filling has been jelly, followed by coconut and marzipan. In addition, every year unique flavors of szaloncukor are produced as well, such as one flavored to taste like a Zserbó pastry. The candy’s popularity can further be seen in the fact that, in the 1980s, famed Hungarian singer Zsuzsa Koncz even wrote a song about it, titled Szaloncukor.