From Kugler to kugler, or how did a confectioner became a cake?
In fact, the legend of Gerbeaud started 160 years ago with Henrik Kugler, whose proper name became a common name later, just like most famous cake inventors’ names including József Dobos C., the creator of ‘dobostorta’ (Dobos torte or Dobosh).
Even the famous poet Attila József mentioned the kugler in a poem, but we do not know exactly whether he wrote about the famous petit four or another confection. What we surely know is that Henrik Kugler came from a real confectioner dynasty; his father and grandfather were confectioners too. After his long study tour, he took over his father’s shop in 1858. The sweetshop on the former József nádor Square was already popular: guests from Pest could make their days sweeter with excellent tea biscuits, ice creams, ice-coffees, bonbons and the above-mentioned mignons.
The shop moved to Gizella Square (presently Vörösmarty Square) in 1870. Henrik developed his knowledge further and tried merging the family traditions with the novelties seen in Paris. Allegedly, he brought also the recipe of the mignon from there, and the guests took to the petit fours soon, thus it naturalized as ‘kugler’. Although there were several master confectioners in the family Kugler, the elderly Henrik did not find a successor within his family, but during his trip to Paris, he found the Swiss-born master Émile Gerbeaud.
Gerbeaud – Kugler’s successor
At Pentecost of 1884, Émile Gerbeaud moved to Budapest and Henrik Kugler withdrew in the background immediately. Curiously, the slow and circumstantial confectioners’ guild issued his licence incredibly rapidly, thus he could start working in the shop on Gizella Square. He got to business at once: expanded the place, increased the number of employees and cut prices.
His name was connected to the cognac cherry bonbons, the cat’s tongues, the chocolate dragees, but he also traded several hundred kinds of bonbons and tea biscuits. He sent exports not only in Europe, but also in South-America, and even to the Turkish Sultan’s harem. He became increasingly popular, but in the beginning, he paid ten percent of his profits to Henrik Kugler.
His name was written on the company nameplate officially in 1905, though he ran the business alone from the beginning, the label said from then on ‘Henrik Kugler’s successor Gerbeaud’. The use of both names could be explained by his excellent business spirit or as a decent courtesy. Probably, both of them played their roles, because the names Kugler and Gerbeaud merged for many decades until the deprivatizations. During this time, his diligence and talent were remunerated several times: he won gold medals, became the member of the jury at the Brussels and Paris world fairs and received the Franz-Joseph Order and the French Honorary Order.
Meanwhile, he had five daughters, but he and his wife still took part in the everyday life of the shop personally. Going to the Gerbeaud or Zserbó was a feeling of life. Aristocrats, foreign and Hungarian artists frequented it, because the name Gerbeaud was a guarantee for high quality and chic. Archduchess Auguste of Austria was a regular guest and had her supper in a room hidden behind curtains and with a separate entrance. The master had the small salon built specially for the Archduchess so that the whole confectionery did not have to stand up when the imperial lady arrived.
The World War did not damage the building, but home delivery was suspended for a long while, due to the severe egg and flour shortage. But strangely, the birth of the ‘zserbó’ cake is dated to this period. According to elderly confectioners, the master himself created it saying:
‘All households have flour, yeast and apricot jam, so I’ll prepare something easy that everybody can make.’
Was the story true? We do not know. However, it is likely that the cake was created much later and Gerbeaud never tasted it, because he died in 1919. The cake was not mentioned in any recipe books until the 1950s, and the image of pantry shelves sinking under apricot jams during the famine following the war is a fair overstatement. The legend still prevails as Gerbeaud’s ‘zserbó’.
After the master’s death, his wife took over the management of the confectionery, and she took part in the everyday tasks similarly to his husband. She checked the cream on the coffee and the immaculacy of the antique Herend porcelain set. She ran the business until the age of 84 and died in 1940. A couple of years later in 1948, the confectionery was confiscated by the state. As the family did not approve of the usage of their name Gerbeaud – we saw that also in the case of Zwack Unicum – the ‘Zserbó’ was renamed Vörösmarty Confectionery.
The confectionery redolent of age is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year, titivated and rejuvenated. On this occasion, they created the Gerbeaud 160 torte that consists of classic apricot jam, walnut and dark chocolate ‘Cacao Barry Or Noir 1858’ as well.
Translated by Zita Aknai