For over a hundred years, Hungarian families have been decorating the Christmas tree with a decorative candy called Szaloncukor (szalon meaning parlour, and cukor meaning sugar). For most Hungarians celebrating Christmas also means a hunt for the best Hungarian szaloncukor. But why is it a special candy? It is certainly the most traditional Hungarian Christmas sweets, a gift and a decoration in itself.
Nobody knows for sure how the special Christmas candy tradition started in Hungary, but one thing is sure, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that it started to be part of the Christmas celebrations. Hungary was part of the Austrian – Hungarian dual monarchy, when the richer Hungarian noble families had nice parlors (or saloons) to erect a Christmas tree (often for each child) and put up Christmas decor on the trees. Amongst them Salon sugar (szaloncukor), which were handcrafted from soft fondant with added flavors. The candy most probably came to Hungary via German sweets traders and makers (fondant was originally made in medieval France). One of the most popular Hungarian novelists, Mor Jokai called them ‘Szalon czukkedl’i, which also shows that the name of the candy started off as a borrowed word from German. It was only years later that the top Hungarian sweets manufacturers of the 19th century started to make the szaloncukor candies by kilos. The easy production and delicious flavors made it and instant success, so many Hungarian families started to buy them from Cafe Gerbeaud and from Stühmer (both still in production). Budapest led the fashion, but the tradition of szaloncukor fondants were quickly picked up by families living outside Budapest. These days it is very widespread, from small villages to the Hungarian capital.
Szaloncukor is made of fondant, then covered by a thin chocolate layer (or not, but most of them are), and then wrapped into a nice, Christmassy paper or wrapping sheet with a special shape. The oval shaped fondant candy keeps its ovalness, and the szaloncukor as a whole has a bow tie shape with two frilly ends. More traditional szaloncukor candies were wrapped in real paper and the frills were made of a very fine flimsy paper of a distinctive color. These days, the Christmas candy comes in shiny wraps. Many families hang the szaloncukor fondants on the Christmas tree, and place a basketful of them on the Christmas table. Still, somehow a szaloncukor taken from the tree tastes better. Hungarian children develop a special skill to make the Christmas candy wrap look as if it had been untouched, still full (parents cannot guard the tree well enough, so this usually develops into a traditional family game, -who is ‘stealing’ the sweets from the Christmas tree, who is eating the candy after cleaning teeth in the evening, etc. -.You can also buy little metal hooks to pierce the paper of the szaloncukor so that it is easy to hang on the Christmas tree. Other families take a thread and make a string of szaloncukor as a decor on the Christmas tree.
While fondant was typical during the Socialist era, after that, since 1989 the fillings have been made from all sorts of exquisite chocolate bonbon fillings. So we may as well call them Hungarian Christmas truffles, festive bonbons, silky smooth winter sweets.