01 March 2012

Gerbeaud Slices

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I've got a big catering job this weekend.  It's a baby shower with lots of little bites and nibbles from Black Forest Ham & Dublin Cheddar Thumbprints to Crunchy Caramel Cream Balls.  I've done as much prep as I can.  It's only Thursday.  Now what?

I hate waiting around and I've got the itch to make something so what about one of Hungary's most famous cafe desserts--Gerbeaud Slices.

Named after the famed Budapest cafe, Gerbeaud Cukrászda, that created it, this layered cookie/cake has been a favorite for over 125 years.

It's a yeasted sweet dough with layers of walnuts and apricot finished with a thin smear of chocolate.  If there's one thing Hungarians know how to do it's come up with infinite ideas for walnuts, apricot and chocolate.

I got to taste the real deal last year.  It was so nice and well-balanced.  No ingredient overpowered the other.  But could I recreate it?

What Happened:
I relied on Rick Rodgers' Kaffeehaus to guide me.  I was happy that the ingredient list was full of pantry basics.

The dough was quick and simple.  Rodgers describes the pre-baked texture as a sticky sugar cookie dough and that seems about right to me.  Chilling it is supposed to make it easier to roll out, but it's still a little fragile.  Working through the recipe the first time takes a little longer just because you have to get to know the dough.  You want thin, even layers in order to see beautiful stripes when you slice it.

Getting used to the dough is the only challenge in this dish.  Roll it out thin cause the yeast will add a little puff.  Shoot for 1/16-inch if you can.

I would also recommend weighing the dough in order to divide it evenly.  Makes it infinitely easier to get the pretty results.

Things I Would Change:
The recipe I've linked includes some tinkering on my part.  I want to get as close to the cafe original and I think these little tweaks help.
  • More walnuts in the filling.  The Kaffeehaus recipe calls for 1 cup of walnuts.  I would up that to 1 1/2 cups to bring out the nuttiness in the bar.
  • Sugar.  I took it down in the dough, filling and glaze.  This is what I do!
  • Glaze method.  I've found it's more foolproof when making a boiled chocolate glaze to dissolve the sugar in the water before adding the chocolate.  That way there's less chance that the sugar won't dissolve and bring a yucky mouth-feel (i.e. sugar crystals) to the glaze.
The Results:
I was so happy with the way these slices turned out. For a moment I felt like maybe, just maybe, I could bake at one of my favorite European cafes.

My layers were a little thicker than theirs, but not bad for a first attempt.  I only wish I'd pulled out the photo beforehand so I could have tried for the 4 layers.  Next time I'll know to go a little thinner and not worry about having leftover dough.  I'll just freeze the extra.

Although it would be akin to blasphemy to change such an iconic dessert in any real way, I do think a version with hazelnuts and almonds would be amazing too.  Even the jam could be switched up successfully - but you didn't hear that from me!

FYI the key to getting really clean slices is thoroughly refrigerating the cake after it's glazed then running a sharp knife under HOT water and wiping dry with a paper towel before each cut. Then let the slices come to room temperature before digging in.

I do wonder if these slices will freeze well.  I'm testing it out and I'll let you know how it goes.

When I open my cafe, Gerbeaud slices will definitely be on the menu.  I'll probably serve it at my next party too.