Hungarian Christmas treat: beigli

by Réka Morvay on December 12, 2010

Beigli (or sometimes spelled bejgli) is a real Hungarian Christmas treat. This pastry is ubiquitous around Christmastime, you can buy it in practically any shop or bakery. It is basically a rolled up crust with lots of filling. Walnut and poppy seed are traditional, but these days experimental folks are filling it with chestnut puree  or even Nutella.

However, as it is true for all Hungarian pastries, it is SO much better when made at home. You can try your hand, though this is probably not a pastry for the beginning baker. If you have some experience baking things at home, though, and you’re up for a Christmas challenge, you’ll be rewarded!

Since this is such a traditional food in Hungary, there are as many recipes as there are families. The dough, for example, can either be risen dough or crumbly dough. Some recipes call for cooking the filling in milk, others simply direct you to mix it with grated apple for added moisture. The recipe I am including here today is the one I have cobbled together from various grandmothers’ (some of them my own) recipes over the years.

To help you along, I am providing detailed pictures (source: http://desszert.eu/dios_bejgli) to show you the process.

Ingredients for the dough for 4 rolls:

1 kg white flour
200 g butter
150 g lard (no, you shouldn’t substitute)
80 g sugar
3 tablespoons 20% fat sour cream
1 egg
10 g fresh yeast (can be bought in cubes) started in 1 dl warm milk
pinch of salt

Process:

In one bowl, combine flour, butter, lard, sugar, salt, and crumble them together.

In another bowl, mix together milk, yeast and egg. Mix until smooth.

Pour the liquids into the solids, and knead until you get a smooth dough. Do not overknead! Stop as soon as the dough becomes uniform.

Once the dough is smooth, divide it into 4 equal parts, roll them up into balls, cover with cling wrap and let them rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Ingredients for the filling for 4 rolls:

300-350 g ground walnuts
300-350 g of ground poppy seeds (both can be purchased ground fresh at your local market – do NOT buy imitation stuff from the supermarket)
150 g sugar (adjust to your taste)
2 lemons
vanilla extract
honey
rum extract (or hey, real rum!)
ground cinnamon
1 l milk

Mix the ground walnuts (or the poppy seed – whichever you are making) with the other spices in a saucepan, and add enough milk to make a thick paste. Add the zest (scraped off rind) and juice of one lemon.  Don’t make the filling runny, or it will leak out of the dough later. Heat the mixture slowly, stirring continuously and carefully to avoid burning! Set aside to cool. (Alternatively, you can mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and boil the milk separately, then douse the dry stuff with the milk. Just be careful to achieve a thick consistency.) Remember: each of the two types of filling (walnut and poppy seed) will fill TWO rolls, to make a total of four at the end. So divide your walnut filling into two portions and your poppy seed filling into two portions.

So here is the trick to making pretty beigli. Once the dough has been well rested in the fridge, use a rolling pin to create an even rectangle of dough. The width should be the width of the cookie sheet in your oven (so that it fits). Make sure the thickness is even. (And honestly, if anyone has figured out how to roll a ball of dough into a geometrically perfect rectangle, please let me know how you do it…)

Now spread the filling uniformly on the rectangle of dough, making sure to leave a quarter of an inch free around the edges. If your filling is firm enough, and you are precise enough, you can make balls of filling, cover them with cling wrap and use the rolling pin to create rectangles slightly smaller than your dough. Just remember to remove the cling wrap before you put the filling on the dough…

Now fold the edges over the filling and press down, on all four sides.

Here comes the fun part: roll up the dough along the longer side.

Make holes in the top with a fork to let steam escape. This will help to keep the rolls from splitting along the top.

Spread egg yolk on the top of the beigli with a brush. Let it dry. Then spread egg white on top of the beigli. Let it dry. (The yolk adds a nice golden color, the egg white adds shine. And the time you wait for the two coats to dry allows the dough to rise some more.)

Put the rolls on a cookie sheet covered with baking paper. Put them in a pre-heated oven at 200C for 15 minues, then lower the heat to 190C, and bake until golden and the beigli are firm to the touch, which is aproximately an additional 15 minutes. So total baking time should be around 30 minutes, but this of course depends on your oven, on the thickness of your beigli, etc.

Once they are done, wait for them to cool before slicing and serving.

You will astonish your Hungarian friends with your amazing beigli-fu, guaranteed!