Mákos guba is a mystical food: it’s dry and soggy, salty and sweet at the same time. It’s a dessert, but it’s often served as a main dish after hearty soups. But one thing is sure: it’s a remarkable member of the Hungarian culinary from the 19th century, and it’s a traditional dish of Christmas Eve supper.
Poppy seed bread pudding can be prepared in different ways, from the cheap, average recipes till the sophisticated artworks of haute cuisine. Though mákos guba is generally made with bakery crescents, advanced cooks quite often choose sweet bread instead, “fanatics” go beyond that and bake their own brioche like pastry. Whatever you use, it has to be stale enough in order to be able to absorb the liquid without getting oversoaked.
The soaking liquid can be plain hot milk sweetened with sugar or honey, or you can cook a créme anglaise, a pouring vanilla custard consisting of milk, sugar and egg yolks. Poppy seeds have to be finely and freshly ground if possible, because the taste of fresh and pre-packed ground poppy seeds can’t be mentioned in the same breath.
Discarding excess egg whites is a waste; therefore, many people (me too) who cook a custard for soaking also use up the egg whites by topping mákos guba with a meringue. The bread pudding can be baked in the oven, or you can toast the drenched slices of crescents/sweet bread in butter on the gas stove.
- 6 stale crescents
- 3 eggs
- 800 ml (~3 1/3 cups) milk
- 3 tbsp honey
- seeds of a vanilla bean
- 100 g (~3 1/2 oz) ground poppy seeds
- 50 g (~1 3/4 oz) + 1 tbsp powdered sugar
Butter an ovenproof dish and set it aside. Cut the crescents into 3/4 inch thick pieces and place them into a large bowl. Combine ground poppy seeds and 50 g (1 3/4 oz) powdered sugar.
Separate the eggs. In a sauce pan beat egg yolks, vanilla seeds and honey until thick and yellow coloured. Gradually add milk and whisk until well combined. Warm up the custard while stirring constantly, but don’t boil it or the egg scrambles. Pour the vanilla sauce over the crescents and give them a good stir, so every piece can absorb enough liquid.
Preheat the oven to 170°C / 338°F.
Place a layer of drenched crescents in the prepared dish. Sprinkle the top with ground poppy seeds. Continue to layer crescent slices and ground poppy seeds until they are all used up.
In a separate bowl beat the egg whites with 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over the top of the crescents and bake for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown.