March 20, 2018
Taste Egg Icon
Abraham Klein, a Ghost, and the Túrós Béles Champion of Israel
capossela_turosbeles2

A random cup of coffee in Tel Aviv leads to the secret of a Hungarian pastry.

The best thing about being a minor (okay, nano) celebrity in Israel is the free coffee. Here I am, walking down the shabby part of Montefiori Street in downtown Tel Aviv, when an elderly gentleman steps out of a tiny electrical-appliances store and says, “Mr. Hovav, won’t you step in and have a cup of coffee with me?” Hardly an invitation that one can turn down.

Inside the store, called The Battery, he boils water and makes two tiny cups of Turkish coffee, serves me one, and says: “I am so glad you came in. I have a story for you. Got a minute?”

“Ten,” I reply.

“My name is Abraham Klein,” he begins. “I was born here, in Israel, more than 70 years ago. My mom, Gittel, emigrated from Hungary, and she was the túrós béles champion of Israel.”

“Túrós what?”

“Túrós béles. You know, those yeast pastry envelopes filled with sweet cheese, a Hungarian staple. Everybody—everybody—knew that my mom’s were the best. People came especially from Budapest to taste them. And then she passed away and the recipe was gone.”

“Now look at me, Mr. Hovav. I am no ignorant. I run an electrical-appliances store. I know a thing or two about computers. I can Google stuff just like anybody else. But no, there are no good túrós béles recipes. I traveled all over the country to do research. I even flew twice to Hungary. Zilch. Thirty-two years of research, and nothing.”

“And so?” I ask, wondering where all of this is leading.

“Wait! Yesterday my mom came to me in my dream, and I said: ‘Mom, quick, quick, the recipe!’ And she said: ‘Write it down! Write it down!’ And I did! This morning, at 5, I was already in the kitchen. You must taste it.”

Mr. Klein gets up, walks to the tiny back room of The Battery and comes back with a big baking tray filled with shiny golden pastry envelopes dusted with sugar. “Try one,” he says with a proud smile. “My mom’s túrós béles.”

The cake is divine. “It tastes like…it tastes like…” I say with my mouth full of golden flakes and sweet cheese, but I can’t find the right word.

“It tastes like home,” says Mr. Klein.

I sure hope Mrs. Gittel Klein looked down from heaven that day, at the shabby part of Montefiori Street in downtown Tel Aviv. If she did, she would have seen the usual traffic jam, some cats taking a nap in the winter sun, and in The Battery, two grown men, having cake and crying.

Túrós Béles

Túrós Béles

12-14 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds white all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1 pound sour cream
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Filling
  • 1 pound cottage or ricotta cheese
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup raisins soaked in rum for 10 minutes
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 4 ounces chopped walnuts
  • Topping
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Powdered sugar

This recipe for Hungarian yeast pastry envelopes filled with sweet cheese was sourced from a late mother’s visit in a dream.

  1. Start with the dough: Put the sour cream, half a stick of butter, the sugar, and the salt in a pot, mix, and heat slightly.
  2. Put the flour and yeast in a big bowl, make a well in the middle, and pour in the warm sour cream mixture. Knead well, powder with some extra flour, and leave to rise for an hour.
  3. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Divide dough in three. Roll one third to a thin leaf, smear with the remaining butter (make sure it is soft), fold in two, and roll again. Repeat twice and then do the same with the other parts of the dough.
  5. Make the filling: Mix all ingredients (except for the rum the raisins soaked in) well.
  6. Make the túrós béles: Cut the leaves of dough to 2-by-2-inch squares. Put one tsp of filling in the center of each square. Fold the four corners of each square to the center, to form the shape of a little envelope, and pinch tightly so the envelope will not open.
  7. Transfer envelopes to large baking pans lined with baking paper. Brush with the yolks, mixed with a little water.
  8. Bake for about half an hour, until golden.
  9. Take out of oven and dust liberally with powdered sugar.
  10. Serve at room temperature.

Gil Hovav

Gil Hovav is an Israeli author and TV presenter. He was born in Jerusalem in 1962 and lives in Tel Aviv with his partner and their daughter. One of his memoirs, Candies from Heaven, was published in English.

[email_signup id="3"]
[email_signup id="3"]