Hungarians take their sweets seriously. Very seriously. Just watch what happens when the first szaloncukor hit the shelves in the lead-up to Christmas and the pistachio ones are late! Madness ensues.
Back in 1868, when Frigyes Stühmer, a pastry chef or Master Confectioner (depending on what you read), from Hamburg, opened Hungary’s first and largest chocolate factory in Budapest, he changed the face of chocolate forever. Considered the father of the chocolate industry in the country, his Stühmer brand is still an iconic favourite. On a recent road trip, we passed through the village of Máklar and called to the Stühmer shop and café but it was closed. But it’s made our list of places to go back to and visit.
While there are many variants of szaloncukor, the Stühmer brand ranks up there alongside Szamos. Think flavoured fondant covered in chocolate and wrapped in shiny paper. A descendant of the fourteenth-century French fondantcukor, it was introduced to Germany by the French pastry chef, Pierre-Andre Manion, and then brought to Hungary by German families who decorated their Christmas trees with the shiny sweets. The trees were usually put up in the entrance halls (salons) and soon became known as salonzuckerl, something Hungarian-French chef Hegyesi Joseph morphed into szaloncukor.
Earlier this week, Sándor Sánta (lovin’ the name), chairman of the Hungarian Sweet Makers Association, estimated sales of over Ft 3.5 billion. That’s about $11.7 million, €10.5 million, £9 million. And that’s just in December. Some 700 tonnes, 700 000 kg. A lot of sweets. Average family consumption is 1-1.5 kg. And they don’t weigh much!
An unofficial (I think) Hungarikum because Hungary is the only (?) country in the world to hang these sweets from their Christmas trees, szaloncukor is an innate part of the Christmas tradition.
Hungarikum is a collective term indicating a value worthy of distinction and highlighting within a unified system of qualification, classification, and registry and which represents the high performance of Hungarian people thanks to its typically Hungarian attribute, uniqueness, specialty and quality.
And no doubt many a tree gets to Christmas Day with nothing but empty wrappers hanging from the branches.
Szaloncukor: I’m so grateful that they just don’t do it for me.