In Hungary no Christmas tree is complete without szaloncukor, a traditional Christmas candy wrapped in a twist of brightly colored foil tasseled at both ends. It’s very much a seasonal candy, so you know that Christmas is around the corner when stores begin selling szaloncukor by the kilo.
For Hungarians, Christmas without szaloncukor is like Halloween without candies. Kids in Hungary love szaloncukor and most Hungarians have fond memories of Christmas past with family dinners, opening presents and decorating the Christmas tree with szaloncukor. Not only does szaloncukor make a great tree ornament, it’s also a sweet delight. As kids, part of the fun was to eat szaloncukor off the tree and leave the empty wrapper to make it look like it’s still filled with candy.
The origin of szaloncukor is surrounded by uncertainty, but we know that it was originally a soft, hand-crafted fondant made from flavored candied sugar. Some date it back to 14th century France when, according to sources, French chefs mastered the technique. The tradition to decorate Christmas trees with szaloncukor dates back to the Habsburg Monarchy, when wealthy families started to erect Christmas trees decorated with candies in their ‘salons’. Candy is Zucker in German, hence the name Salon Zucker or szaloncukor in Hungarian.
Szaloncukor became popular in Hungary at the beginning of the 19th century, when Hungarians adopted the tradition and famous Hungarian confectioners like Gerbeaud and Stühmer began to create their own recipes. A cookbook dating back to 1891 lists no less than 17 different recipes for making szaloncukor. By the end of the century these once hand-made candies were being mass produced in large quantities.
Today, szaloncukor looks more like a truffle or a chocolate covered bonbon, and it comes in a delicious assortment of flavors and fillings, ranging from chestnut to the popular jelly filled variety. While some szaloncukor is good for decoration only, you will find that brands like Szamos and Stühmer still make quality szaloncukor that’s a real treat.
While it may be an acquired taste, it's definitely worth trying one of the many varieties of szaloncukor. A good place to buy it is the Budapest Christmas Market.