Zserbó Szelet (Gerbeaud Slice)
My parents, András and Irén were down-to-earth, hardworking folk. With my three siblings and just one suitcase in tow, they fled their beloved Hungary during the Russian uprising in 1957 in search of a better life.
Initially, the family stayed at the Bonegilla Migrant Hostel in Wodonga. My father ventured to Mildura, picking grapes for a living until he could afford to move his wife and kids to Canberra, where I was born. For a time, my parents, two teenaged brothers, ten-year-old sister and I lived in Acton in a two-roomed stable that my father had converted into a makeshift ‘flat’. In one corner, it had a black kettle stove on which, somehow my mother managed to produce wonderful meals. When I was four or five, we settled into a bricks and mortar home and Dad opened a barbershop in the back room of a newsagency in the inner north.
A trained nurse, Mum chose to stay home and feed the family. She wasn’t interested in fashion, jewellery or makeup. She wore plain Osti shift dresses and just a little lipstick and perfume on special occasions. She was however an artisan baker! Try as I might, I can’t remember a time that she wasn’t baking. White damask tablecloths were draped over the kitchen table and bench, and there was Mum in an apron and polka dot bandana, a dusting of flour on her cheek rolling out thin strudel dough with a metre-long wooden rolling pin. Brioche, Farsangi fánk (carnival doughnuts), Kalács (yeast based cakes filled with poppyseeds or walnuts), Kakaós Csiga (cocoa spirals), Bukta (jam-filled sweet dough) and cakes such as Zserbó Szelet (Gerbeaud slice) were also among the good things on her repertoire. The latter, Zserbó Szelet, was, I think one of her favourites and hence I have chosen to showcase it here. I adapted the recipe from my mother’s handwritten copy, which listed ingredients in decagrams (i.e. one decagram equals ten grams).
Gerbaud slice originated in the iconic and elegant ‘Gerbaud’ coffee house in Budapest’s Vörösmarty Square. Gerbaud café was borne in 1883 from a partnership between confectioner, Henrik Kugler and Swiss pastry chef, Emile Gerbeaud. Together with Dobos Torte, Gerbaud slice is one of the classic offerings on the menu to this day. See http://www.gerbeaud.hu/en
With its layers of sweet yeast pastry, ground walnuts, apricot jam, cocoa and rich, dark chocolate glaze, Gerbeaud slice is very ‘continental’. And while it may be considered a little fiddly to make, it is popular with Hungarian home cooks and often baked in quantity for events such as weddings. I remember enjoying Hurka sausage (similar to black pudding), Zserbó Szelet and lavishly sweet Tokaji Aszu wine at weddings that the family attended. My mum, however, didn’t need a special occasion to make Gerbaud slice. Most likely and simply because, as she notated at the bottom of her handwritten recipe, ‘it’s yummy!’
I note from mum’s notes, once the layers were assembled with the nuts, cocoa and jam, mum used to allow the slice to rise for half an hour before baking it. I have done so on occasions and not on others. The result is still successful.
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 30-40 minutes
Serves: 30 or more, depending on the size of the slices
Equipment needed: 23 x 33cm slice tin
For the pastry:
170 g softened unsalted cultured butter, plus extra to grease pan
500 g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for rolling
4 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest, grated
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup milk
7 g sachet dried yeast
1 egg yolk, lightly whisked
2 tablespoons ‘lite’ sour cream
For the filling:
300 g thick apricot jam
20 g cocoa
200 g caster sugar
200 g ground walnuts
For the chocolate glaze:
350 g dark chocolate buttons or chocolate pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1) Preheat oven to 180°C.
2) Rub the butter into the flour using a pastry blender (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4gObuCCFvE ). The mixture will resemble breadcrumbs. Add the 4 tablespoons of caster sugar, lemon zest and bicarbonate of soda and mix to combine.
3) Heat the milk to lukewarm temperature, either over the stove in a small saucepan on medium heat or gently in the microwave, sprinkle over the dried yeast and the teaspoon of caster sugar. (Hot milk will kill the yeast, so just to lukewarm.) Mix and set aside in a warm spot for ten minutes.
4) Make a well in the centre of the flour, add the milk/yeast mixture, the whisked egg yolk and the sour cream and mix to make a good dough that is not too wet or dry (add a little more sour cream if it seems too dry). Knead briefly. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm spot, free from draughts, for ten minutes.
5) Prepare a 23 x 33cm slice tin by greasing it and lining it with baking paper. Cut the dough into three even-sized pieces. Press out into a rectangular shape and then roll out on a lightly floured board. Line the base of the tin with the first layer of pastry. Spread with a layer of the apricot jam (about half the quantity). Sprinkle with half of the combined cocoa and caster sugar and top with a layer of ground walnuts. (Note: you will have used half the filling mixture at this time).
6) Roll out the second sheet of pastry, layer it over the pastry with filling already in the tin. Spread another layer of apricot jam and finish off by sprinkling over the remaining cocoa and sugar mixture, followed by the remaining ground walnuts. Roll out the third sheet of pastry and place it on top of the layers in the tin.
7) Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until nicely browned. Set aside and allow to cool.
8) To make the glaze, melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler over gently simmering water. Don’t allow any water to come into contact with the mixture or it will seize. Melt until well-combined and then pour evenly over the top of the slice. Use a spatula or palette knife to smooth it over. Set aside to chill. When the glaze has set, use a sharp knife dipped in boiling water to cut the slice into pieces.
Note: the slice is particularly delicious on day two as the flavours develop.