A few years ago, a very dear friend gave me a Hungarian cookbook that had once belonged to her grandmother. My gram was Hungarian, but never met a recipe she wanted to follow or write down, so this book has been my next best reference whenever I get homesick for the meals she used to make.
That goes some way towards explaining how I found myself paging though it on a recent 25 degree day, sick and cold and thinking of nothing but the comfort of soup with dumplings. However, a yellowing bookmark was still tucked into its pages marking off the recipe for Hungarian Love Letters and, what can I say? The antihistamines had me lulled into a sentimental mood, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the next thing I knew I was baking.
Though the idea of rolling out dough into very thin sheets initially filled me with serious dread, I have to say that this dough was fascinatingly easy to work with. It doesn’t stick (as long as the counter is floured) while rolling or even hint at breaking when picked up. I was not moved to foul language even once during the assembly process. So bake with confidence! If I can do it, I suspect most will have no issue.
I also used my food processor a lot. I’m sure you can make this with a pastry cutter and a box grater just like grandma used to do in the old country but (see above about the foul language) I’m glad I had mechanical assistance.
In the golden light of the late afternoon, when all that flaky goodness was served with hot tea, it felt like a love letter indeed.
Hungarian Love Letters/Szerelmes Level
adapted from Flavors of Hungary : Recipes and Memoirs by Charlotte Biro (1973)
For the pastry
2 2/3 cups AP flour
1 1/4 cups butter, cubed
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup cold milk
For the filling
3.5 oz walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins
2 lbs green apples
1 egg, beaten, for wash
Place flour and butter cubes in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until butter is broken down into coarse bits. Beat egg and yolk into the milk and, with the processor running, add this mixture to the flour and butter. Turn dough out onto the counter and work any remaining dry bits in with your hands until a smooth dough is formed. Divide into three equal pieces, flatten each into inch-thick ovals, and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate for three hours.
In a medium bowl, mix walnuts, sugar, graham cracker crumbs, and cinnamon. Peel, core, and shred apples. Preheat over to 350F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Remove chilled dough one piece at a time and roll out into a thin sheet (mine was 11×14). Place dough on baking sheet and top it with two-thirds of the nut and crumb mixture. Sprinkle raisins evenly over top. Roll out and top with second layer of dough. Squeeze excess juice from shredded apples and distribute over the top of the second dough sheet, then sprinkle remaining nut mixture evenly over the fruit. Roll out the final piece of dough and lay it over top.
Using a bench knife or similar, square up the edges of the dough and discard excess. Generously brush pastry with egg wash. Using a fork, punch lines into the top of the pastry. I divided mine into 12 squares and punched out the lines along those division, to vent the pastry and aide in cutting them through after baking.
Bake for 35 minutes or until evenly browned. Place on a wire rack and cool completely. Serving this with a bit of freshly whipped cream would not be a bad idea.