Friday, December 24, 2010

Hungarian Christmas Treats, part I

Every Christmas Eve, we have Hungarian wine soup, and pastry, if one of us got around to baking (and it lasted an hour beyond that). Here's how to make borleves (approximately, "bore levesh").

4 c. red or white wine
2 c. water
1 stick of cinnamon
8 10 cloves
3 egg yolks
3/4 c. sugar
a bit of lemon peel

Cooking time: 35 minutes

Here's the wine I used. The bottle says California 2009 White Zinfandel. It's pink, though. I guess that's one of those things like red clover really being purple, and likewise with cabbage. See, as soon as I got used to white wine being yellow, someone said it was pink, too. Oh well. It took me a while to gingerly screw the cork out, never having done that before-- but I managed.Put the wine and water in a pot with the lemon, cinnamon, and cloves. Then cover it and let it simmer for half an hour. I was later informed that this should be cooked in an enamel pot, since it's acidic. A lot of the alcohol ends up cooking out of it, so it's not quite as potent as it sounds like it might be. Also, I put in ten cloves, because that was more satisfactory to me than eight. Eight sounds funny because it's such a specifically random number. It's as if the recipe said to me, "Four shalt thou not add, neither shalt thou add seven, excepting that thou then proceed to eight," or something. It distracted me greatly.
When the wine is done simmering, take it off the burner. While it cools, separate the eggs and beat the yolks with the electric mixer to make them fluffy. Then add the sugar, a little bit at a time, so that it acquires the consistency of lava, thick and pasty.Stir the sugared yolk mixture into the wine slowly, a tiny bit at a time. Then move it back on the burner and heat it slightly. Do not let it boil, or all the egg will scramble, and it will be a slimy mess. As you can see from the picture below, the little flecks are egg-- I didn't even let it heat to a simmer, and it still did that. That's my luck when it comes to puddings, custards, and pie fillings. I'm sure if I tried to actually make an egg-drop soup, it would come out clear as tap-water.

Fortunately, my trusty mesh strainer rescued me again, and no one ever knew what it had looked like before.Serve the soup hot, in mugs. You can make it earlier in the day and let it mull in a crock pot, as long as it doesn't boil, and the house will smell wonderful; the soup will also absorb more of the cloves and cinnamon.
This bowl was for serving purposes only. It's probably a bad idea to have that much of it. Also, don't drink and drive; you might spill a drop.

Those festive things in front of the bowl are another Hungarian tradition-- candies wrapped in fringed tissue paper and aluminum foil. They're hung all over our Christmas tree. Some family member who shall not be named figured out how to cleverly extract the candy such that no one would ever suspect it was just a hollow exoskeleton hanging decoratively from a branch.

I'll follow up this post with a longer one detailing the process of baking one of my favorite Hungarian pastries.

Boldog Karácsonyi Ünnepeket!


  1. Wait-I thought you just poured a bunch of wine into a pot, added some cinnamon and lemon and boiled it till the smell would kill you if you opened the pot lid to innocently smell what is cooking, and then serve.

  2. Yes! That's exactly what I did! To repel innocent-food-smellers like you, from constantly roaming through the kitchen to see what the tide washed up.