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.

Gerbeaud Slices
makes approximately 16 slices
adapted from Rick Rodgers Kaffeehaus

3 ¾ t               active dry yeast
½ c                 milk, warmed to 105 – 115 degrees
3                     egg yolks
1 t                   vanilla
3 ½ c              flour
¾ c                 sugar
¼ t                  salt
14 T                butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, chilled

1 ½ c             walnuts
1/3 c              sugar
1 c                 apricot preserves, warmed
pinch             salt

3 ½ oz            combo of milk & semi sweet chocolate, chopped
¼ c                 sugar
¼ c                 water

Sprinkle yeast over the warmed milk in a small cup or bowl.  After 3 minutes, mix the yeast into the milk, add yolks, vanilla and stir.

Measure the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fixed with the paddle attachment.  Add the butter and mix on low until the flour resembles cornmeal.  Add the yeast mixture and combine to form a stiff but sticky dough.  Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or two to finish bringing the dough together.  Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, pulse the walnuts, sugar and salt in a food processor until finely chopped.  Set aside.

Butter and flour a 13x9-inch sheet pan (or baking dish).  Divide the dough into 3 (or 4) equal portions.  Roll out one portion of the dough into a 13x9-inch rectangle and transfer it to the pan, pressing it into the corners to fit.  Spread with half the preserves (if doing 3 layers, portion appropriately if attempting 4) and sprinkle with half of the walnut mixture.

Roll out another layer of dough, fit into the pan and spread with the remaining preserves and walnuts.  Top with the third layer of rolled dough. cover with plastic and let stand in a warm place for 1 hour (the dough rise will be hard to see).

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Pierce the top layer of dough well with a fork.  Bake until the top is golden brown, 35 – 40 minutes.  If the top browns too deeply, cover loosely with aluminum foil.

Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan.  Holding a cooling rack over the pan, invert and unmold the cake and cool completely, leaving it upside down.

Dissolve the sugar in the water in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Once dissolved (stirring as necessary), add the chocolate and stir until  the chocolate is melted and forms a uniform sauce.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often, and let it boil until the temperature on a instant read thermometer reaches 220 degrees (1-2 minutes).

Remove the glaze from the heat and stir in the butter until melted.  Continue to cool and stir the glaze until it starts to thicken and almost pools on itself when dripped from a spoon (about 10 minutes).  Be sure to stir during this time so the sugar doesn’t harden on the surface making the glaze chunky.  When it's ready it will be warm and still pourable.

Place the cake still on the cooling rack over a sheet pan and pour the warm glaze over the top.  Using an offset spatula, move quickly to spread the glaze evenly over the cake.  Don’t worry about smoothing the sides should some glaze drip.  The sides will be trimmed.  Refrigerate the cake to set the glaze.

Cut the cake into slices using a sharp knife dipped in hot water.  Trim all 4 edges then cut the cake in half, then crosswise into 1 ¼-inch slices.  Serve at room temperature.


  1. I'll take yours please!

  2. Julie Worobetz02 March, 2012

    oh my god, i am making this very soon.

    1. Yay!! I'm really happy with these and I'm sure you'll love them too. Let me know how it goes.

  3. Looking so delicious i wish i could eat them.....

  4. Anonymous18 June, 2012

    they were delicous! thanks for the treat...