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Palacsinta, Hungary’s popular dessert

If you are in Budapest and you happen to be at the mall just outside the Örs Vezér Tere stop on the Red Metro line, be sure to stop off at the food stand that sells palacsinta. It is reported to be wonderful there.

If, on the other hand, you are in the center of the city, close to the east bank of the Danube River, the palacsinta sold at the Great Market Hall are also said to be superb.

Palacsinta are thin, egg-based pancakes that are rolled and stuffed with fillings that are usually sweet. Jams, nuts, sweet cheese and chocolate are popular fillings, and so too – it being Hungary, after all – is sour cream. Savory versions often include meat cooked with sour cream, paprika and tomatoes.

It sounds like a crepe, right?

Palacsinta are Hungarian crepes. Or to put it another way, crepes are French palacsinta. And just like crepes, palacsinta are a popular street food, sold in food stands around Hungary – and also in neighboring Romania, where they are called palatschinke.

Actually, palacsinta (and also paltschinke) are different from crepes in one key respect: They are a bit thinner.

Making palacsinta thinner than crepes is easy. You make a batter that is similar to a crepe batter, and just before cooking it you add some soda water. I saw one reference saying that in Hungary they use any fizzy drink, including lemon-lime soft drinks, but I just used plain soda water, because yuck.

Does the soda water make a difference? I think it does. The palacsinta were lighter than other crepes I’ve made, and I could definitely notice the bubbles when I sampled some of the batter before cooking it. I’m not convinced that same sensation lasted after they were cooked, however.

Because I wanted to explore the entire palacsinta experience, I decided to try a good half-dozen fillings.

You can put anything you want in palacsinta, from ice cream to strawberries that have marinated for an hour or two in balsamic vinegar (the result is mostly sweet, not tart). One colleague whose grandmother was Hungarian said her family used to just sprinkle granulated sugar on them before rolling them up.

I decided to make a traditional sweet cheese filling. If there is a name for it, I do not know it and haven’t been able to find it. You begin with ricotta cheese, though some people use dry cottage cheese, and mix in an egg yolk, some sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla and some lemon zest.

This concoction, whatever it may be called, is simply astounding. It is better than it sounds. It is better than I thought it would be. It is so good, I decided to try some on an English muffin, too.

Not a good idea. Stick to palacsinta. And if you do make palacsinta, be sure to use this sweet cheese filling in at least some of them.

For my other fillings, I made a chocolate ganache – chocolate melted into cream – which goes well with everything and especially with crepes. I also had some homemade strawberry jam in my fridge, so I used that in some others, and I bought apricot jam and used that too, mixed with walnuts as is often done in Hungary.

Finally, I tried to re-create a filling that I read about, sour cream with rum raisins. I didn’t have time to allow the raisins to get plump in the rum, so I just mixed raisins and a little rum in sour cream and added ground walnuts, a bit of vanilla and more sugar than I thought I was going to need.

It was a little tangy, a little sweet and entirely delicious with palacsinta. But it still wasn’t as good as that sweet cheese filling.

Palacsinta

Yield: 3 to 4 servings (3 pancakes per serving)

3 eggs

1 teaspoon superfine sugar, see note

Pinch of salt

1 cup milk

Generous 1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup carbonated water

Butter, for the pan

Note: To make superfine sugar, blend granulated sugar on high in a blender for several seconds until powdery.

1. Combine the eggs, sugar, salt and milk. Stir in the flour to form a smooth batter. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. Just before cooking, stir in carbonated water. Put a skillet over medium heat and add just enough butter to coat it when it melts. Swirl the butter to coat. When hot, pour 1⁄2 ladle of batter into the skillet. Tilt the pan so the batter coats the surface of the pan evenly. When golden, flip the pancake to cook the other side.

3. Fill with sweetened cheese filling, below, jam (or jam with sweetened cheese filling), chocolate sauce, berries, strawberries marinated 1 to 2 hours in balsamic vinegar, or just sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Per serving: 318 calories; 9 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 198 mg cholesterol; 13 g protein; 45 g carbohydrate; 13 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 892 mg sodium; 136 mg calcium

Adapted from “The World Atlas of Street Food,” by Carol Wilson and Sue Quinn

Sweetened cheese filling

Yield: 3 servings

1 egg yolk, see note

1 tablespoon superfine sugar, see note

A few drops of vanilla extract

2/3 cup ricotta or cottage cheese

Grated zest of ½ lemon

Note: This recipe uses raw egg. The USDA warns that no one should eat raw eggs, unless the eggs have been pasteurized in their shells. Infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk for foodborne illnesses.

– To make superfine sugar, blend granulated sugar in blender on high for a few seconds until powdery.

1. Beat the yolk with the sugar and vanilla until creamy. In a separate bowl, soften the ricotta cheese with a large spoon or fork, then beat in the egg mixture and add the lemon zest.

2. Use to fill palacsinta or other crepes. If desired, mix with jam to fill palacsinta.

Per serving: 134 calories; 9 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 90 mg cholesterol; 7 g protein; 6 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 0 g fiber; 49 mg sodium; 122 mg calcium

Adapted from “The World Atlas of Street Food,” by Carol Wilson and Sue Quinn

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