30 August 2011

Budapest's Historic Cafés - Gerbeaud Cukrászda

OK, time to let my secret out.  I snuck off to Budapest and Prague for a few days...

I know, I know, I didn't say anything about it.  But I have to tell you, it was so inspiring.  I can't wait to show you what I saw.

I had no idea what to expect from Budapest.  None.  What I found was a lively, cosmopolitan city steeped in café culture.  I think if you smashed Paris and Prague together you'd have Budapest.  

I fell in love!!

Everything was in bloom!  I couldn't believe how many fountains and art pieces were around every corner.  I'm a sucker for detail and Budapest has it in everything from building facades to gate latches.  Amazing.

For me, visiting Budapest means I've now experienced the whole Austro-Hungarian pastry triad of Vienna, Prague and Budapest.  I never thought that would happen!  While I don't think Budapest can compete with the reputation of Vienna in terms of history or innovation, Hungary has certainly added much deliciousness to the region.

I visited several cafe's during my trip and I want to show them all to you.  Some things were really delicious while other things weren't so great.  Twice the service was so stereotypically 'French' that I had to leave without tasting anything!

I'm going to start with the most well-known café  Gerbeaud Cukrászda (confectionery).  It's right in the heart of Budapest (on the Pest side) near the main shopping street, Vaci utca.

Gerbeaud has been a mainstay of pastry in Budapest since 1858.  During the communist years Gerbeaud suffered the same fate as many cafés in Budapest, Vienna and Prague which were either closed or nationalized.

In 1984, new owners with an eye toward tradition and restoring the quality always associated with the name Gerbeaud purchased the naming rights from the family (for a cool $2-million!) and Gerbeaud was revived again.  Even the dining room has been restored to it's turn-of-the-century brilliance

Gerbeaud features a sprawling patio in addition to its more lavish and traditional late 19th century interior complete with floor-to-ceiling windows, warm wood paneling, marble-topped tables, flowing chandeliers and bronze accents.

Even with the heavy red drapery and gold gilded angels floating from the ceiling, I could still settle in comfortably with a book and a latte for the afternoon.  It's not a stuffy room, but definitely speaks to a bygone era.

And then there's the reason I'm here.  The pastry...

It's spectacular, right??

I think I should be applauded for my discipline in the face of all this sugary beauty!

I was really excited about coffee and cake at Gerbeaud.  It was going to be my only coffee indulgence on the trip (don't ask--it was torture!) and I had read so much about the café that I couldn't wait to see it for myself.

I couldn't believe my luck when I saw 'decaffeinated' as an option on the drink menu--yeah, it was in English, I can't say anything in Hungarian.  Later when I confessed my Hungarian language deficiency to a friend in the Czech Republic (who speaks several languages) he said, "Oh, don't worry, no one can speak Hungarian!"

For the record, this coffee was spectacular.  I added no sugar (rare for me) to this tall glass of milky delight.  It was so smooth and not bitter that it didn't need any help at all.  Even the cookie was crunchy and buttery and good.

Hungary is known as the birthplace of many decadent desserts like Dobos Torta and the Lúdlábtorta and Gerbeaud is known as the main holder of that tradition. 

Eszterházy is the cake I most associate with Hungary, so that's what I decided to order.  It was tough after looking in that case, but I wanted to start old school.

It's six layers of dacquoise -- a thin, crispy meringue made with nuts -- with a kirsch (cherry brandy) buttercream finished with a glazed top feathered with chocolate.

The buttercream softens the meringue so it's moist like a layer cake, but really nutty.

Some recipes use a combination of almonds and hazelnut in the dacquoise, but Gerbeaud goes with walnuts and it really helps balance the overall sweetness of the cake.

But what does Eszterházy mean?  Well, it doesn't tell you anything about its flavors or what's in the cake.  It was named to honor Pal Eszterházy, a foreign minister under Emperor Franz Josef (ruled 1848-1916) and a member of one of Hungary's most wealthy noble families.  This was the thing to do in early 20th century pastry I guess.

The cake was really nice.  Moist, nutty, creamy with a hint of something other than vanilla (the fruity brandy I think).  My fork slid smoothly through all those lovely layers.  It went well with my latte and didn't feel heavy or too sweet.

Gerbeaud was a great start to my tasting travels.

1 comment:

  1. this was such a treat! beautiful. the photos are wonderful. then...the glorious piece of cake; "oh my" was what I uttered. I so envy you, truly.