In Hungary, the old tradition of the elegant coffee house, where people congregate over coffee to enjoy a piece of pastry and the latest gossip, is still very much alive, especially at the Café Vörösmarty in Budapest, which everyone has called Gerbeaud since Swiss-born Emile Gerbeaud took it over in 1884.
Although recently reconstructed, the elegant period interior of the café, with its cane chairs, marble-topped tables, and Maria Theresa chandeliers, has been faithfully preserved. And business carries on briskly. On a recent visit to Budapest, in fact, it was hard to find an empty table at Gerbeaud to enjoy one of the more than one hundred tortes, small pastries, yeast cakes, and ice creams prepared by some five to six dozen pastry cooks.
“Oh, there would be a public uproar if we shut down!” exclaimed Maria Ágoston-Reich, the engaging manager. “Many businessmen come here; it’s a much more pleasant atmosphere for negotiations. And it’s a traditional meeting place for dating couples. Ladies who have emigrated write to their Hungarian friends, and they all gather here to read the latest news from America. Then, they write back together as they sip their coffee—it’s a regular Saturday and Sunday program!”
The recipe that follows is a simplified adaptation of the signature pastry served at Gerbeaud. In Budapest, it is made with a yeast dough; I’ve substituted a cream cheese pastry dough that’s easier to work with. (See the Note following the recipe for a richer variation topped with a smooth chocolate glaze.)