Exploring New Flavors

Trying new food is one of the best parts of traveling –– at least in my opinion.

The bites of Budapest are no exception. In the first few days of our Baylor in Budapest study abroad program, we’ve sampled Hungarian classics such as goulash, strudel, langos and even the infamous Túró Rudi –– a chilled chocolate bar filled with sweet cottage cheese.

To truly embrace the tastes offered by this new country, I decided to try my hand at concocting another signature Hungarian recipe, palacsinta. These rolled, stuffed pancakes slightly resemble crepes and are sold on nearly every corner in Pest, the flatter half of the city split by the Danube River.

A quick Pinterest search helped me find a recipe for these pancakes on a website called Budapest Cooking Class. This website offers other recipes, as well as virtual classes from native Hungarian home cooks, Agnes and Andrew.

The recipe initially called for:

  • For the pancake batter:
    • One egg
    • One teaspoon sugar
    • 150 grams (5.4 ounces) plain flour
    • 300 mL (1.25 cups) whole milk
    • 150 mL sparkling water
    • Pinch of salt
    • Icing sugar for dusting
    • Oil for frying
  • For the filling:
    • 150 grams (2/3 cup) dry cottage cheese
    • One egg yolk
    • One heaping tablespoon sugar
    • One splash vanilla extract
    • Zest of half a lemon

Resourceful Replacements

However, since I’m in a foreign country with limited kitchen supplies and market ingredients, I swapped out a few ingredients and worked with what I had to create the palacsinta.

To begin, the recipe directs to “Break the egg, add a pinch of salt and one teaspoon of sugar and beat until smooth.” Typically, one would use a large mixing bowl to begin the pancake batter, however, I only had a few mismatched saucepans accessible in the short-term apartments our group is staying at.

Next, the website calls for the cook to “Add some milk and some flour and mix well.” The recipe also advises to mix these ingredients gradually to avoid lumps. While the amounts of milk and flour listed were in grams and mL, one quick Google search helped me convert to cups and ounces.

Then, the recipe instructs us to add the sparkling water, offering a substitution if you do not have this European staple readily available. One “half coffee-spoon” of baking soda mixed with still water will offer the same bubbly addition to the pancake batter.

The recipe continues to inform the cook “The ideal pancake batter consistency is when the batter is not too runny, and yet, not too stiff. It is like a thin yogurt drink.” With a few minutes of mixing and a bit of additional flour, this thickness is easily attainable.

After placing the batter in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to chill, the recipe asks the cook to begin the sweet cottage cheese filling for the pancakes. This is where my version of palacsinta starts to differ from the initial recipe. I was unable to find dry cottage cheese after scouring three grocery stores in Budapest, so I bought regular cottage cheese and skipped adding an egg to the filling.

Instead, I mixed the cottage cheese and the sugar directly, as well as the zest from half a lemon. However, I did not have a lemon zester on hand, so I made due with a cheese grater, which worked better than I expected. The filling, while not exactly the uniform consistency the recipe called for, ended up resembling a sweet, lemony cottage cheese.

Finally, the recipe instructs the cook to begin frying the pancakes after warming a pan over medium heat with a few drops of vegetable oil. “When it is hot,” the recipe says, “pour some pancake batter into the frying pan. Tilt the pan so that the batter coats the surface of the pan evenly. This should be a very thin coat … Always stir the mixture before pouring it into the hot pan, or the flour might settle.”

The batter coated the pan exactly as the recipe said it would, and each side of the thin pancake took about a minute to fry. Each side of the pancake should be golden brown before it is ready to be filled and rolled.

While a spatula would be the best tool to flip these crepe-like concoctions, I was not equipped with anything remotely close to that, so I used a large flat knife to loosen the pancakes and then flip them. This, again, worked better than I would have anticipated.

Tasting the Pancakes

After the pancakes were complete, I let them cool for a few minutes before filling them with the cottage cheese mixture or with apricot jam. The easiest way to roll the palacsinta is to put a thin layer of filling all over the cake and then roll them while holding the contents tightly, similar to the way you would roll a burrito.

I served the pancakes with fresh apricots and a quick caramel sauce, which can be made by melting butter and sugar in a pan and stirring until the sugar caramelizes.

The palacsintas were light, fluffy and sweet, and would easily lend themselves to various fillings and flavors. While I may not have been able to find all the right ingredients and tools, jumping into Hungarian culture in a way most tourists don’t was an invaluable experience, and one I highly recommend.