When you marry into a family, you acquire all sorts of things. In my case, in addition to the promise of a long life with the man I loved, I got a new last name, two wonderful "other parents," the sister I'd always wanted, and a set of very old sterling flatware that had traveled from Hungary a few pieces at a time in dozens of suitcases over nearly 20 years. I also married the concept of dessert after breakfast. Needless to say, I consider myself quite lucky.
My in-laws left Hungary in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution. They are fully Californian now, and according to my husband, they don't even speak English with accents (love, in addition to being blind, is apparently somewhat hard of hearing). But even after all these years, my mother-in-law's cooking still favors the Hungarian. Over the years I've tasted paprikas csirke (chicken with paprika), korozott (a spread of soft cheese, paprika and caraway seeds), lecso (a stew of Hungarian peppers and sausage), and szilvas gomboc (potato dumplings stuffed with plums and rolled in breadcrumbs). They're all interesting, with the exception of the korozott, which I'll admit I've never learned to love.
But my mother-in-law's go-to family dish is palacsintak, thin pancakes stuffed with sweet or savory fillings. Every cuisine has its pancakes, and these are Hungary's. They're similar to French crepes, although the batter is simpler and less rich. We've had family dinners where the main course was palacsintak filled with meat and spinach, and dessert featured the same pancakes filled with chocolate and nuts. When my kids visit their grandparents, it's palacsintak they request.
Michael and I traveled to Hungary once about 15 years ago. It was early spring, the end of chestnut season. While chestnuts in the U.S. seem to appear only in Christmas stuffing, in eastern Europe they are celebrated and glorified as dessert. Several times on our trip we ended our meals (or ruined our appetites) with large bowls of gesztenye pure, pureed cooked chestnuts mixed with sugar, vanilla and rum, then pushed through a ricer into fluffy piles atop clouds of whipped cream. No one loves chestnuts like Hungarians.
My in-laws have brought me sweet, rum-laced chestnut puree from their various trips. Somehow, I never think to use it. But when I decided to tackle palacsintak for this Project Food Blog challenge - a dish which, up to this point, I've left to my mother-in-law - I dug around in the pantry for a jar. Chestnuts, a classic Hungarian filling; chocolate sauce, the perfect complement. Time for breakfast.
Gesztenye palacsintak - Hungarian pancakes with chestnut filling and chocolate sauce
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 1 cup plus 5 Tbsp milk, divided
- 1 tsp sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup sparkling water
- 1 cup sweetened chestnut puree
- 1/2 tsp rum
- 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
- 2 tsp butter
Make the pancakes: Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir the sparkling water into the batter - you want to do this right before you start making the pancakes. Spray the hot skillet with cooking spray and quickly ladle in a scant 1/4 cup of batter. Pick up the skillet and tilt it so the batter swirls around to coat the entire bottom of the skillet. Keep swirling until the batter is set and no longer runs.
Put the skillet down and cook until the edges of the pancake start to lift up, about 30 seconds. Carefully, with a spatula (or your fingers if you're brave), pick up the pancake and flip it. The cooked side should be slightly browned, but barely. Cook the other side for about 20 seconds, then slide onto a plate or cutting board. Repeat with the rest of the batter until you have a stack of thin pancakes.
Make the filling: In a small bowl, mix together the chestnut puree, 3 Tbsp milk, and the rum until the mixture is smooth. It should be the consistency of hummus; if it's too thick, add a little more milk.
Make the chocolate sauce: Put the chocolate chips and 2 Tbsp milk in a glass or Pyrex measuring cup. Microwave 30 seconds, let stand 30 seconds, then stir. If the chocolate isn't completely melted, microwave for another 20 seconds. Stir until smooth.
Assemble the palacsintak: Spread about 1 Tbsp chestnut filling in the center of one pancake. Fold in all four sides to make a square package: top, bottom, left, right. Repeat until all pancakes and filling are used. You can make the pancakes up to this point a few hours ahead and keep them in one layer on a baking sheet covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator.
When you're ready to serve, heat the butter in the same nonstick skillet. Place the square pancake packages in the skillet and brown in the butter a minute or two on each side, just until they turn golden brown and crispy around the edges. Put the palacsintak on a plate and drizzle with chocolate sauce. Serve immediately.
Makes 1 dozen pancakes.