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It was scandalous! She was a princess, and he a gypsy prímás. He played violin at the restaurant while she dined with her husband. Eyes must have met, hearts fluttered.
The diamond ring she removed from her finger to put in his hand. Secret meetings, then abandoning her young family. This, in 1896! It was the talk of Paris!
A cake was named after him: racy for its time, lavish with chocolate. The affair didn’t last, but thanks to the luscious cake, his name lives on… Rigó Jancsi.
The violinist was Rigó Jancsi (born Johann Rigó in Székesfehérvár) who had traveled in England, France and Germany before he met the love of his life. He found Princess Klara, née Ward, daughter of a Detroit millionaire in the Paris restaurant during the 1896 Christmas season. They traveled through Europe, including a stay in Rijeka before coming to Székesfehérvár to visit his parents who were dirt poor. All of Hungary was scandalized by the love affair and the Caraman Schimay family did everything they could to undermine the relationship.
But Princess Klara divorced Prince Josef and Rigó divorced his wife. They became Hungary’s beautiful couple in 1905, sometimes requiring police protection from the crowds who surrounded them.
They often stayed at Nemzeti Szálló, a hotel still standing in Blaha Lujza tér.
It was there that Rigó is supposed to have invented his confectioner’s masterpiece, a chocoholic’s dream, the Rigójancsi sütemény, in honor of his blonde princess. A friend of his, a confectioner, collaborated with Rigó in the making of the sweet. From 1910 it became enormously popular and available from cukrászdas.
Considered the “queen” of Hungarian cakes, it is cube-shaped, with two large layers of chocolate sponge cake – top and bottom – between which is a thick layer of very rich, heavy cream filling. The filling is extremely delicate and difficult to make, since if the chocolate is too warm when mixed with the foamy cream, the cream will run. Or, if it is not warm enough, the chocolate will end up as lumps in the filling.
Rigó and Klara settled in a castle in Egypt where she taught him to read and write. But, she turned out to be fickle. When they went back to Paris on a visit, she fell in love with a Spaniard and lost her passion for Jancsi. In the end, she married an Italian, Ricciardi, who was a mere stationmaster of the Vesuvian Railway.
The only remnant of this romance is Sütemény Rigójancsi. Today, more than 170 cukrászdas in Hungary sell about 32,000 pieces of Sütemény Rigójancsi every year.