Are you getting swept up in the holiday rush like I do? It’s easy to get carried away with the endless to-do list at this time of the year: gift ideas to come up with, figuring out the holiday menu, surviving the overcrowded shopping malls, not forgetting the school Christmas play, the office get-together and the list goes on-and-on… But let’s stop for a second and let’s be grateful that we have headaches like this. With so many atrocities going on in the world, we are lucky that our main concern is if that purple tie is a gonna be a good gift for Uncle Lou again. You see, I have the Christmas school play checked off of my list this year as it’s been cancelled due to the state of emergency in France. We’d be luckier if we had it on our calendar, wouldn’t we? That would just mean that things are business as usual…
I personally still have loads of preparation to do, and if your days look anything like mine, they’re jam packed. So I’m gonna make this post sweet and short. Sweet, because I am preparing a typical Hungarian cake for you and short, because this exhausted me more than anything I’ve ever cooked or baked so far.
To tell you the truth, I have never adventured this far into the pastry department: this is my first attempt at a layered cake. This isn’t a simple recipe and not a quick one to make but well worth the efforts: the cake is made up of thin layers of yeast dough and generous layers of sugary ground walnuts and rich apricot jam topped with a dark chocolate cover. Definitely not a low calorie adventure! But hey, it’s for the holidays! And I probably won’t be making it until next Christmas again :-)!
My grandmother used to make this cake for every birthday and every holiday and now I really do bow down in admiration in front of her as this cake is not something you throw together in 30 minutes. She layered the cake with her rich, homemade apricot jam which has nothing to do with the store bought, so try and buy the best quality you find out there. You might be tempted to try other jams but it’s really apricot that works best (and that’s what makes a zserbó a zserbó), giving a tanginess to the walnut filling and dark chocolate topping. Don’t be afraid to layer the jam generously: although this is a rich treat, it’s not like one of those somewhat stomach-turning, creamy, layered wedding cakes.
Zserbó is a popular cake in Hungary that we eat at Christmas, at Easter, at weddings or at any other holiday. It originates from a famous pastry maker, Gerbaud, who had his café in the heart of Budapest (the café is still standing, it’s an absolute must on a tourist’s list) and this was his trademark pastry. The spelling ‘zserbó’ is simply the phonetic Hungarian for Gerbaud.
What you’ll need :
For the dough:
- 400g of all-purpose flour
- 200g butter at room temperature
- 50g sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp baking powder
- tsp salt
- 100ml milk
- 20g yeast
For the filling:
- 200g ground walnuts
- 150g castor sugar
- 300g apricot jam (home-made, if available)
For the chocolate ganache:
- 100g good quality dark baking chocolate (70%)
- 50g butter
- a dash of perseverance
What you’ll need to do:
- Start with preparing the dough: in a small pan heat the milk and the yeast on low heat (you might want to add a teaspoon of sugar). Be careful not to bring the milk to boil and let it run over, so stay close, stirring constantly.
- In a large bowl mix together flour, butter, salt and baking powder. Use your hands or a pastry cutter.
- Now add the egg yolk and the milk/yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon, then put the dough on a floured surface and knead until smooth. The dough should be soft and tender. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts, form them into balls, place them in a big bowl, cover and let them rest for 50 minutes.
- While the dough is resting prepare the filling. Grind the walnuts in a nut mill. Coffee bean grinder will not work as the oily pieces will stick together and you’ll end up with a paste when you want the texture of powder. I personally do not own a nut mill but do have a larger parmesan grinder that I used for grinding the nuts. It certainly took time to get it done but I managed to have the right consistency: a coarse powder. Just make sure there’re no large chunks of nuts left in your nut ‘flour’. Mix the ground walnut and the sugar together.
- Heat your oven to 180°C. Now comes the messy bit. Roll out the parts one at a time to about a 23×30 cm rectangle. Place the first sheet on a baking tray covered with parchment paper. Gently spread a generous layer of apricot jam all over the layer of dough, don’t hold back, it’s this juicy fruit jam that’s going to make your cake moist and rich. Now cover the apricot jam with one third of your walnut/sugar mixture. Add another layer of dough. Repeat the apricot jam/walnut layers two more times and finish last with a layer of dough. Prick the dough with a fork. Alternately, if you have about the right size tin, put parchment paper on the bottom of your tin and roll the pastry to fit the base of the tin, laying it flat on the bottom. Trim the edges to fit the base. Proceed with the jam-walnut layers, adding the rolled-out layers of dough in between.
- Bake at 180°C for about 30-35 minutes until the top is golden brown. Let it cool completely before covering with chocolate. To prepare your chocolate ganache, heat the dark chocolate over a bain-marie and when completely melted remove from the heat and stir in the butter until that is melted as well. With a knife gently spread the chocolate mixture on top of your cake. Allow to cool completely, trim the edges off and cut into small pieces as seen on my photos using a sharp knife. Don’t forget to put the knife under hot tap water a few seconds before cutting. Now sit down, relax, you deserve it, and enjoy a slice (or two) of the wonderful zserbó!