Vargabéles

This rich dessert treat harks back to the Transylvania of the 1930s, where it was one of the signature offerings of Darvas restaurant in the city of Cluj (Kolozsvár). The dish became so renowned that Budapest-based Gundel restaurant would order same-day deliveries by air. The strudel-cake encloses fresh túró (cottage cheese) layered with thin noodles and a sweet and light and raisins-laced cream. Restaurants usually serve a generously portioned slice as a second course after soup.

Ingredients

Yield: 8 servings; Total time: 1 hour

  • 600 grams (1 ⅓ pounds) Hungarian túró or crumbly cottage cheese, mashed with a fork to a paste

  • 6 sheets phyllo dough

  • 200 grams (7 ounces) vermicelli pasta (other very thin pasta like angel’s hair also works)

  • 4 eggs, separated

  • 1 egg yolk, beaten, to coat the top layer of phyllo dough

  • 300 grams (1 ¼ cup) sour cream

  • 125 grams (⅔ cup) sugar

  • 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar (or vanilla extract)

  • 3 tablespoons butter, for the pasta

  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted (for the filling)

  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted (to brush the phyllo dough sheets)

  • 2 tablespoons butter, to grease baking dish 

  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (using 1 medium lemon)

  • 100 grams (⅔ cup) raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes, then drained

  • Few tablespoons of powdered sugar to finish

Directions

  • Step 1: Prepare the filling first by cooking the vermicelli in a pot of simmering and salted water until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain, then sauté in pasta in 3 tablespoons butter for a minute, then put aside and let the pasta cool.

  • Step 2: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (360 Fahrenheit).  

  • Step 3: Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a pan. In a mixing bowl, whip together beaten egg yolks and sugar, then add mashed túró, sour cream, vanilla beans (or vanilla sugar), drained raisins, lemon zest, melted butter, and the cooled-and-buttered vermicelli.

  • Step 4: In a large bowl, using a stand or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff. Then fold the egg whites into the túró-mixture, taking care not to break up the bubbles too much.

  • Step 5: Butter a standard-sized (20x30 cm or 9x13-inch) baking dish. 

  • Step 6: Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a pan. Lay three sheets of phyllo dough to the bottom of the baking dish so that phyllo dough also covers the sides of the baking dish and brush the layers with melted butter using a pastry brush. Pour in the túró-mixture, spread across evenly, and then cover the top with another three layers of buttered phyllo dough. Brush the top phyllo layer with one beaten egg yolk.

  • Step 7: Place the baking dish into the oven for 35 minutes. Top layer should be golden brown when finished. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

  • Step 8: Slice the vargabéles into cubes and serve on individual dessert plates with a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top.

Words of advice

Take care not to overcook the pasta, which, being a thin variety, only needs a couple of minutes in the boiling water.

I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day. Do you have any feedback? Please let me know!