Aunt Katy’s Hungarian Yeast Cake

Photo: Alex Gall.

Shabbat in Israel has unspoken rituals. People eat lunch at around noon, and then rest until 4 p.m. No one calls or rings door bells during those four hours. After the siesta, social life begins again with cake and coffee. The streets fill with people on the way to their friends’ homes for an afternoon visit. Most hosts eschew the convenience of cake mixes or store-bought cakes. They take pride in their family recipes and the pastries they bake themselves. One of my most memorable coffee klatsch experiences was with my Aunt Katy. She baked her family’s Hungarian yeast cake, filled with walnuts from the tree in her garden.

Aunt Katy explained that Hungarian yeast cakes are very versatile. They begin with basic yeast dough that is filled with whatever you have available, or whatever your budget permits. In Hungary, the traditional fillings were sweet farmer’s cheese, walnuts and poppy seeds. In addition, her family prepared jams from the plums and cherries that grew in their garden and baked with them throughout the year.

In Israel, Aunt Katy has a majestic walnut tree in her garden. When the nuts ripen and fall to the ground, she collects them, removes the green fruit that encases them, and allows the nuts to dry. Then, she cracks them open, one by one, and the nuts are ready to be eaten or incorporated into a recipe.

I remember sitting under the shade of the walnut tree in Aunt Katy’s garden as she brought out her yeast cake, still warm from the oven. As the desert breeze blew through the garden, the tree protected me from the afternoon sun of the Negev. I took my first bite of the spongy, crunchy cake. Its delicious nuts nourished me and delighted my taste buds. I felt like the tree was holding me in its embrace, like a true earth mother.

Katy’s Hungarian Cake
Yeast Dough

  • 2 cups flour
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons warm milk

Walnut Filling

  • 3 1/2 cups ground walnuts
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup raisins soaked in water

Egg Wash

  • 1 egg, separated

Preparing the filling:

  1. Bring the milk and sugar to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Cook while stirring, until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  4. Set aside to cool.

Preparing the dough:

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and one tablespoon of sugar.
  2. Wait about 10 minutes until the mixture begins to foam.
  3. Add all the other ingredients and knead together.

Assembling and baking the cakes:

  1. Cut the dough into 2 pieces.
  2. Roll out the first piece to form a rectangular shape.
  3. Spread 1/2 of the walnut filling over the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin on all edges.
  4. Fold in the edges to create a frame to contain the filling.
  5. Roll up the dough like a jellyroll.
  6. Pinch the ends shut so the filling does not spill out during the baking process.
  7. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  8. Repeat this process with the rest of the dough and filling.
  9. Whisk the egg yolk, and paint the cakes with a pastry brush.
  10. Allow the cakes to rise in the refrigerator for 5 hours.
  11. Remove the cakes from the refrigerator.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
  13. Whisk the egg white, and apply a layer on each cake.
  14. Poke some holes in the dough with a skewer so the steam may escape while the cakes are baking.
  15. Bake the cakes for approximately 30 minutes, until they are golden-brown.

This recipe makes two cake rolls.

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