Budapest’s best cakes and where to find them

(CNN) — It's possible there's no better place than Budapest to while away an afternoon in a coffee house with a cake — or three.

Blending different cultural influences, histories and traditions, Budapest's cake scene offers a delectable range of pastries, tarts and sweet treats.

Gyorgy Ujlaki, a tour guide for Taste Hungary, says Hungarian cake is "influenced, infused by the local traditions" but also steeped in other European customs.Turkish Ottomans ruling Hungary in the 16th and 17th century brought Eastern flavors to the city. Later, settlers from Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and Romania brought their own cooking cultures along.

"The first cake shop in Hungary was opened in the 1720s, 35 years after the liberation from the Turks," says Ujlaki.

By the 19th century, cake culture was a central part of Budapest life — and Hungarian cuisine was peppered with pastries, from the everyday to the extra-special.

Intrigued? Here are the best Budapest cakes — and where to eat them when you travel here.

Hungarian Strudel

Strudel is often associated with Austria, but of course Austria and Hungary were once united under the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Retes, Hungarian for strudel, comes from the Hungarian word "réteges" — meaning layered.

Three kinds of strudel — apricot, poppy seed and Quark, a type of cottage cheese — are served up.

"This is traditional, original — as a grandmother would make her grandchildren — the last 200 years, same recipe, same taste, same quality," assures Ujlaki.

In Hungary, most desserts and sweet treats are eaten cold. And you can forget about Americanized warm strudel with whipped cream or custard, this strudel speaks for itself, unaccompanied.

The apricot version has a sweet light taste, complemented by delicate dough.

The poppy seed strudel has a satisfying texture and speaks to the strudel's heritage — poppy seed is a popular ingredient in Hungary.

Perhaps most appealing is the Quark — it packs a creamy punch and has a satisfyingly savory flavor.

"Strudel was never a high cuisine, it's more like a popular cuisine for the general people," explains Ujlaki. "This was affordable but still original and traditional."

Where to eat it:

Retesbolt Anno 1926, Lehel u. 38, Budapest 1135; +36 1 320 8593

Rigó Jancsi

Rigó Jancsi is named after a love-struck violinist.

Courtesy Hauer

What happens when you combine soft chocolate sponge, sweet apricot jam, velvety chocolate mousse and a hint of romance?

You get the recipe for Rigó Jancsi, a delectable cake named for Romani violinist Rigó Jancsi — who infamously ran away with the then-married Belgian Princesse de Caraman-Chimay.

It's best eaten in a suitably glamorous setting, while daydreaming about your own adventures.

Try the cake at Hauer Cukrászda, a grand Budapest cafe where Hungarians have flocked for pastries for over a century. As well as traditional treats, Hauer's skilled chefs experiment with creative confections and other delights.

The interior is grand and sprawling.

"Originally it was just one room, on the main street, and as they became popular they expanded, they bought another place, another place, another place, and that's why it's irregular, kind of," says Ujlaki.

Just don't think about the end of Rigó Jancsi's story — it's less optimistic.

"The princess subsequently left Jancsi for an Italian waiter in Naples and he eventually died poor and forgotten," Marcell Beretzky, marketing officer for Hauer tells CNN Travel.

Where to eat it:

Hauer Cukrászda, rákóczi út 47-49, Budapest 1088; +36 1 612 1313


Budapest cake tour (4)

Krémes (right) is a cake made up of layers of pastry and vanilla custard.

Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN

This heavenly dessert is deceptively simple: think perfectly flaked pastry crust oozing vanilla custard.

"A little bit like Napoleon cake, layered cake," is how Ujlaki describes it — "but instead of having many layers and many fillings, it's just the one layer and one filling, another layer and the pastry."

Different cafes in Budapest have slightly different takes on Krémes.

You can also find similar desserts across Europe.

Best accompanied with coffee and a spot of people watching in one of Budapest's traditional cafes — Hauer perhaps, or Auguszt, one of the city's oldest patisseries.

Where to eat it:

Hauer Cukrászda, rákóczi út 47-49, Budapest 1088; +36 1 612 1313


Taste Hungary Jewish Cuisine & Culture Wak - flódni

Flódni is often eaten during the Jewish festival of Purim.

Courtesy Taste Hungary

Budapest has a strong Jewish community and many classic Jewish delicacies have become commonplace in the wider Budapest culinary scene.

Flódni is a traditional Hungarian Jewish cake that's a must-eat for sweet-toothed visitors to Budapest.

At Café Noe, Rachel Raj — one of Budapest's most famous cake chefs for a reason — whips up a perfectly constructed version of Flódni, a five layered pastry consisting of rich fillings: poppy seed, apple, walnut and plum jam.

Raj even holds a Guinness World Record for the largest Flodni cake ever made, serving 1,600 pieces at Budapest's Sziget festival in 2012.

Uljaki explains that each Flódni layer has a symbolic meaning.

"Poppy seed means prosperity, apple means […] wholeness, and the walnuts is more like health. And the extra is plum jam — don't ask me what it represents, it just tastes good!"

Flódni is often eaten during the Jewish festival of Purim.

Cafe Noe is snug and intimate, the perfect place to escape from Budapest's wintery weather for a scrumptious treat.

Where to eat it:

Cafe Noe, Wesselenyi u. 13, Budapest 1077; +36 1 787 3842

Kürtös kalács

Taste Hungary Sweet and Coffeehouse Walk - tasting kürtőskalács (chimney cake)

Kürtös kalács is a warming treat on a cold day.

Courtesy Taste Hungary

The streets of Budapest are filled with food stands warming rolls of pastry on wood fires. The whirls of dough gradually golden before being sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Its an enticing sight for cake fanatics — who won't be disappointed when taking a bite — Kürtős Kalács is wonderfully crusty on the outside and delicately fluffy on the interior.

Originally a festival cake made at weddings and other special events, this treat, anglicized as Chimney Cake, is found on street corners across Central Europe (in the Czech Republic it's known as Trdelník).

Eating warm Kürtös kalács on a chilly day is a particular treat.

Try it at Karavan Street Market in the Jewish district. The market neighbors the must-visit Szimpla Kirt ruin bar and the Kürtös kalács makes for the perfect pre or post-bar snack.

Where to eat it:

Karavan, Kazinczy u. 18, Budapest 1075


Budapest cake tour (1)

The opulent Esterházy torte is on the menu at Cafe Gerbeaud.

Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN

Named for a famous noble family, Esterházy torte is predictably fancy — but also very tasty.

Created in Budapest in the late 19th century, this layered delight consists of walnut infused buttercream and chocolate, adorned with a fondant glaze.

"Filled with whipped cream and fondant, it can be different tastes and colors, you can have it lemony, chocolatey…" says Uljaki.

This is another cake to be sampled in one of Budapest's famous cafes. Worth a look in is Central Cafe, where cake fans can imagine hobnobbing with the city's literary greats in the early 20th century. Or there's the exquisitely opulent New York Cafe, which captures mid-century glamor.Esterházy is also available at the grand Cafe Gerbaud, with its stunning chandeliers and marble-and-wood interior, on Budapest's Vörösmarty square.

During the Soviet period, Gerbaud and the other Budapest coffeehouses were nationalized, renamed and the quality suffered. Since then, many been revitalized and transformed back to their fin de siècle grandeur.

Where to eat it:

Cafe Gerbeaud, Vörösmarty tér 7-8, Budapest 1051; +36 1 429 9000


Budapest cake tour (7)

Dobos torte is topped by a caramel glaze.

Courtesy Francesca Street/CNN

Dobos torte is another classic Hungarian layered cake — sheets of chocolate buttercream and fluffy sponge are topped with a caramel glaze.

This cake was the brainchild of Hungarian chef József C. Dobos — and took his name accordingly. Dobos wanted to create a pastry with a longer shelf life — hence the caramel topping, which helps stop the cake drying up prematurely.

After premiering at the National General Exhibition of Budapest in 1885, the cake took off and remains a chic treat across Europe.

It's the ideal balance between delicate and decadent. Just try to resist another slice.

Where to eat it:

Gerbeaud, Vorosmarty ter 7-8, Budapest 1051; +36 1 429 9000

And to finish…Tokaji aszú wine

Tokaji aszú wine

Tokaji aszú wine is the perfect accompaniment to cake.

Courtesy Taste Hungary

Cake and coffee are natural bedfellows, but for the true Budapest cake experience, a bite of crumbling pastry or delicate tart should be accompanied by Tokaji aszú — a sweet wine made from rotting grapes (much nicer than it sounds).

The alcohol gets its name from the Tokaj wine region, which spans part of Hungary and Slovakia.

Sweet as honey and light as a feather, a glass of Tokaj wine is the perfect accompaniment to any Budapest cake odyssey.

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