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A Little Piece of My Heart


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.


Why, yes, that *is* a lot of butter; it will be worth it.

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

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.

Hungarian Love Letters/Szerelmes Level

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.

Three Cubed: B&O Fresh Fruit Shortcake


The Book: Dining on the B&O: Recipes and Sidelights from a Bygone Age

(2009, though the collection gathers recipes from instructions published decades earlier)

And now for a bite of dessert.

Kate conceptualized this Three Cubed cooking project as a way to expand our horizons and blow our minds, and so far it seems to be working! By forcing our spatulas a bit and getting us to try a few of the recipes we usually just skip over, we’re bound to be making things we have already decided won’t work out well or don’t meet our usual tastes, so there is a kind of odd dissonance at play in the kitchen during these experiments.

I had already been having an arms-length affair with my copy of Dining on the B&O. As I read through the special notes on everything from the salad dressings to the service style, I enjoyed imagining the staff in their efforts to pull decent dining out of a small, rocking and rolling kitchen (long before the microwaved chemistry we call travel dining today)–perhaps for Cary Grant, with his Gibson and his beautiful blonde, dining a la train car.

That all said, I never felt motivated to actually cook anything from it.

So this is exactly where the Three Points Baltimore branch decided to kick this project off. The B&O cookbook isn’t long, so I had to back up to page 127, where I was sad to see not only a dessert (we are not a dessert-eating household–birthday cakes and chocolate cookies are often, criminally, left to go stale on our countertops) but also one that required shortcakes. Images of spending hours producing dozens of cakes that no one would ever eat stomped on my enthusiasm somewhat, but I was committed to giving it a go.

Crisco was purchased (lard, it is suggested, produces a better flavor and I was sorely tempted to go all out in the name of nostalgia, but just couldn’t do it in the end). Once the measuring was actually in process, however, I realized that I was only going to end up with four petite biscuits and that portion of the production would take only about 10 minutes to assemble and 15 minutes to bake off. Plus, consisting of just a bit of fat, milk, flour, salt, and baking powder, the biscuits would end up a rather all-purpose addition to my general culinary skills, such as they are. I ate one plain as soon as they were out of the oven and had to resist a strong urge to eat all the rest, flaky and warm and temptingly sans sweet fruit.

Having no peaches or strawberries at hand, but a whole container of freshly cubed champagne mangoes in the fridge, I confess that I cheated on the fruit portion of this assignment. I whipped up some cream, assembled according the careful “chef’s notes” instruction as far as portion size was concerned (“tab” diners vs. a la carte changed the amount/price), snapped a few pics and called the resulting tower tasty. The only thing sweeter would have been to look out the window and see the station lights of some unknown city promising fresh adventure up ahead.