In Hungary, people usually start the Christmas celebrations and feasts with their families on December 24th, Christmas Eve. In most households in the country, one can find at least one traditional Christmas food on the table with old, peasant, superstitious roots: back in the day, foods prepared with poppy, peas, beans, and apples meant prosperity, abundance, and wisdom.
Most Hungarians begin the Christmas feast between 4 and 7 pm, though there are some who wait until after Midnight Mass. Earlier, this day was still a fasting day for Christmas, so people usually ate dishes prepared without meat and dairy products. However, nowadays, most Hungarians put a variety of meat dishes, stuffed cabbage, meat jelly (kocsonya), beigli, and possibly zserbó or an apple pie on the table. Fish soup is one of the most popular Christmas soups in Hungary, but a lot of people eat fried fish on Christmas Eve as well – as the fish is traditionally considered a Christian symbol as well as a fasting dish.
The second course is usually plentiful, mainly turkey, stuffed with chestnuts or prunes, and stuffed cabbage. Long ago, pork dishes were also popular, since a pig slaughter was often timed for the Christmas period and it is still usually found on the dinner table during the holidays. Meat jelly from fish or pigs is also frequently served.
Probably the most popular Hungarian Christmas dessert is the beigli/bejgli, also known as walnut or poppy seed roll. In Hungary, this treat is made with a yeast dough. The most popular fillings for the roll are poppy seeds and walnuts, but nowadays there are a lot of different and sometimes surprising flavors (marzipan-prune, chestnut, or even pumpkin) are also available both in confectioneries and in recipes. However, poppy seeds and walnuts are the original fillings, which, according to tradition, should bring good luck and protection against unpleasant things.
photo: Szamos Confectionery
The beigli came to Hungary from Silesian cuisine in the 19th century, but some sources also claim that it originally comes from Armenia. This was the time when Hungarians started to take over German Christmas traditions, so it is now traditionally eaten at Christmas and Easter in Hungary. The name beigli is derived from the Yiddish word “Beigl” and the German expression for “bending,” probably due to the German influence during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, surprisingly, the name “bejgli” or “beigli” did not appear in Hungarian until 1932.
The famous Hungarian bakery “Szamos” shared their recipe on their Facebook page, which you can find below:
Ingredients for four rolls
530 g flour
105 g pork grease
105 g butter
55 g icing sugar
3 egg yolk
12 g yeast
5 g salt
95 g milk
Poppy seed filling
550 g ground poppy seeds
240 g icing sugar
100 g honey
30 g raisins
10 g lemon zest
110 g milk
10 g vanilla sugar
First you have to prepare the filling of the beigli. Place the milk on the stove with the orange peels, spices and also add the sugar and the honey. When it starts to boil, stir in the poppy seeds. When the filling has cooled, weigh it in 340 g portions and store it covered in a refrigerator. For the dough, the ingredients in the recipe are kneaded together and then divided into 200 gram pieces and rounded. After letting the dough rest a bit, it is stretched thin and the pre-measured filling is evenly distributed on it. The dough is rolled up with the filling, put on the baking sheet and coated with egg. After a bit of rest, coat it again with egg. Prick with a fork before placing the beigli in the oven to allow the vapors to escape during baking. After another rest, bake at 180°C for about 40-50 minutes.
The other traditional candy, szaloncukor, wrapped in colorful, decorative wrappings, are hung on the Christmas tree as an ornament rather than put on the table. Szaloncukor was brought to Hungary by German pastry chefs in the beginning of the 19th century, and it quickly became popular throughout the country.
Szaloncukor: The History of the Delicious Candy Hanging from Every Hungarian Christmas Tree
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 confectioneries would make them for the holidays based on their own, secret recipes.
featured photo: Angelika Mata Instagram (@angelika.mata) – Check out her beautiful, festive pictures!