Bejgli is often referred to in English as “walnut roll” or “poppy seed roll” and it is considered to be a typical Hungarian pastry in the Christmas period. Its traces can be found in folk traditions as well, where both fillings had their different symbolic meaning: walnut provided protection against hexes, while poppy seeds — which were imported from Eurasia through the Ottomans — meant prosperity.
The most popular theory is that bejgli is based on a type of a cake from Silesia, while other sources claim that it originates from Armenia. It reached Hungary in the second half of the 19th century. It was first made only by families for celebrations. Its spreading to confectionaries has been debated. One theory relates bejgli to bakers from Pozsony (Bratislava). According to this version, they decided in 1559 that they will begin to bake curved walnut and poppy seed cakes for selling.
Others claim that an unnamed confectioner from Pozsony came up with the idea who made a kind of a mini-bejgli on St. Nicolas day to present his children.
There is a similar cake in the Jewish cuisine, the so-called flodni, but it is made with both walnut and poppy seeds at the same time. It is probably thanks to the influence of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy that it received a German name. It originates from the Yiddish word Beigl and the German expression for bending (beugen), according to Life.hu. Beigl is a popular Jewish U-shaped cake, the predecessor of the American Bagel. It shows some resemblance to the crescent of Pozsony.
The recipe comes from the urban areas, the countryside adapted it into its cuisine only in the 19th century.
It became a regular meal in some regions, but it is still related to Advent and Christmas.
The traditional baking process of bejgli requires a lot of time, often a whole day. Grinding the walnut and the poppy seeds, forming and stretching the pasta and baking it are complex tasks. Of course, as in the case of many other traditional dishes, many cooks tried to figure out a recipe with less calories. It can be baked from spelt flour and the filling can be flavored with sugar substitutes.
Here is a simple recipe of bejgli, retrieved from Nosalty.hu.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons