Visiting Budapest with my family in 2017, I encountered a variety of dishes with the word galuska (pronounced galushka), which sounded like a word I remembered from the distant past: gluska, from Yiddish-language author Y. L. Peretz’s short story Bontsye Shvayg (Bontsye the Silent), whose abridged version we read in grade school in Israel. This peaked my curiosity, and after the trip, learning and baking galuska made it onto my to-do list.
In Peretz’s story, the court of the heavenly world determines that Bontsye (pronounced Bontshe) is to go to heaven, rather than hell. Bontsye had suffered mistreatment and injustice in silence since birth and had died without leaving a discernible mark on the world. But the heavenly court was impressed with Bontsye and offered to reward him with anything he wanted, anything at all. After some convincing, Bontsye said he really wanted a hot gluska with fresh butter for breakfast every day. Is this gluska related to galuska? I wondered.
But before I could bake it, I had to find out what Bontsye’s so-called gluska was. The first sign that it would not be an easy feat came from a social media post I found in Hebrew, in which someone wrote that even though she couldn’t find it on the Internet, she knew that there was such a thing because when she typed “bun” into a web translator, it spit out the word “gluska.” She ended her post with, “So what the heck is it?”
I’m still not sure about the exact meaning of gluska, but the word apparently comes from Aramaic and was used by European Jews in secular and religious writings to describe anything from bread to cake to a roll, some possibly made of semolina. Gluska is almost always described as “beautiful,” “hot” or both. I even found the Hebrew adjective marnina (joyful) used.
The Hungarian word galuska means either noodle or dumpling, whether it is fried, boiled or baked. Aranygaluska is a traditional Hungarian coffeecake whose name means golden dumpling. It was brought to the US with Hungarian immigrants, Jews included, in the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth century. It’s made of a sweet yeast dough that is enriched with eggs and butter. Pieces of the dough are rolled in melted butter followed by a mixture of sugar and ground walnuts and then layered to form the cake.
Aranygaluska is similar to and often confused with the American pull-apart or monkey bread that was popularized first by the 1972 Betty Crocker Cookbook and then by First Lady Nancy Reagan, who served it at the White House on Christmas Day. Monkey bread is popular at our house—it is one of my kids’ favorite desserts. In a way, it seems, I’ve been making aranygaluska (albeit with cinnamon rather than walnuts) for years.
So what exactly was Bontsye asking for when he requested gluska? Most likely a bun! Hot, soft as a cloud, but a bun—like Bontsye himself, more modest than a dessert and instead more likely to be found on a breakfast table, the perfect vessel for fresh butter.
The sweet, nutty and buttery aranygaluska takes a heavenly bun to another level altogether—in Bontsye’s position, I probably would have asked for it instead. I doubt anyone would blame me…