Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gesztenye palacsintak (Hungarian pancakes with chestnut filling and chocolate sauce)

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This is my entry for the second round of Project Food Blog, Foodbuzz's contest to find the next food blogging star. Today's challenge: Tackle a classic dish from another country. Watch for details on voting. I'll be asking for your help.

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
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, 1 cup milk, sugar and salt until smooth. Let the batter rest in the refrigerator at least two hours. (I do this part the night before and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.)

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.


Sippity Sup said...

Stellar! You are super woman! What a schedule and Hungarian pancakes to boot. GREG

Erika Kerekes said...

Greg, you silly, I have no super powers. Just like to feed my men. :)

Mardi Michels said...

OMG Erika - I absolutely LOVE this post. Wonderful, heartfelt writing with a super recipe to boot. Here's to you going far in PFB!!!

Dorothy at Shockinglydelicious said...

Wowser, does that ever look great! Love the idea of dessert after breakfast. Anytime is a good time for dessert, methinks.

The Cilantropist said...

I can totally relate to this recipe. My boyfriend is Norwegian and they too have their version of pancakes or crepes that you can eat really for any meal. Loved hearing about your Hungarian version and the story about your in-laws! :) I bet the chestnut puree combined with chocolate was like nutella...

Monet said...

I loved hearing about the inspiration behind this recipe...we marry into all different culinary backgrounds! Thank you for sharing such a delicious Hungarian meal. I would love to have this tomorrow morning. Good luck in round have my vote!

Erika Kerekes said...

@Mardi - thank you!

@Dorothy - there is a lot of dessert in the Kerekes family. A LOT. And they all live to be a hundred. Let that be a lesson to us.

@Cilantropist - not really like Nutella, because the chestnuts are sweeter than hazelnuts, and the puree is loosened with milk and rum. But incredibly delicious in a way most Americans will never experience. Next to radishes, I think chestnuts are the Next Big Thing.

@Monet - thanks for the compliments and your vote. Both are much appreciated.

Zizi said...

I'm Hungarian and it's true: we love gesztenye pure!!! :) Thank you for mentioning some of the traditional Hungarian meals.

Brooke said...

Of course you get my vote, but you should get a double vote for diving into a cuisine I have seen very little written about. Hungarian food has never looked (or tasted) so good! Yum!

Megan said...

This needs to get in my belly. Now.

Carrie (Carrie on Vegan) said...

Hello!!! This looks amazing. Great story, too.

Gina Ruiz said...

Erika these look amazingly delicious. Voted for you. Best of luck in the competition.

Heather said...

Wowwww...look at these! Mmm.

FOODalogue said...

Looks delicious - and I always enjoy your narrative. I'm voting. Good luck!

Elyse said...

Thank you for sharing your story and most of all this recipe. It looks so delicious!

suz said...

Even though it would cause certain death, I kind of want to crawl inside that pancake and eat my way out.

The Cheap Gourmet said...

This is my kind of breakfast! I enjoyed reading your story and your great photography. Sending you the best wishes as you proceed through the PFB Challenges, along with my vote. I can't wait to try this!

Simona Carini said...

I have not had breakfast yet, so I hope I qualify for a plate of your pancakes. I was also intrigued by your list of Hungarian dishes, in particular the potato dumplings stuffed with plums and rolled in breadcrumbs, which are also present in the Austrian cuisine (as I learned recently) and in the northeast part Italy. This sharing of food traditions always fascinates me. And of course, you've got my vote.

Anonymous said...

You had me at pancake, the chestnut filling and chocolate was just a bonus!

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