The Finest Desserts in Croatia

The Finest Desserts in Croatia

In order to become better acquainted with traditional Croatian cuisine, explore ten desserts from various regions of this beautiful country, and enjoy the smells and flavours that so many Croatians remember from their childhoods.

Among the traditional Croatian specialities that have stood the test of time, which everyone should try at least once, desserts hold a special place as they have the power to bring you joy and brighten your day, especially when they are made with lots of skill and love. Whether it’s a dessert served after a delicious meal, or a bite to satisfy your sweet tooth during a break from work, sometimes all it takes is one cake to improve your mood. From Slavonia and Baranja, through Zagorje and Istria, all the way to Dalmatia and Dubrovnik... Croatia is full of recipes for desserts that remind many Croats of their childhoods and their grandma’s cooking, of hard-working hands creating wonderful delicacies out of common ingredients. Here is a selection of ten traditional Croatian desserts that will encourage you to begin exploring the secrets of old cookbooks of traditional Croatian cuisine.

Salenjaci

Salenjaci
Maja Danica Pečanić

Salenjaci are a sweet puff pastry prepared with a valuable ingredient many have probably forgotten about – lard. In addition to lard, which was used in various dishes and desserts, pork fat was also collected during pig slaughtering feasts, and often used right away for preparing the soft salenjaci. Salenjaci are made from pastry filled with home-made plum or apricot jam. Due to their layered structure, they are also called a “thousand-leaf cake,” which is the result of folding the dough multiple times while it is being rolled out. Warm salenjaci sprinkled with powdered sugar are filling and sweet, and a perfect choice for breakfast or a snack.

Kroštule

Kroštule
Maja Danica Pečanić

Once the carnival parades start in the towns of Istria and Dalmatia in February, the air is filled with the smell of kroštule, an essential carnival treat. The crispy and crunchy kroštule are a delicious treat made from eggs, flour, sugar, grated zest from locally sourced lemons or oranges and butter – ingredients normally found in every kitchen. The recipe for these delicious bites is passed down from generation to generation. Kroštule are made into the desired shape before baking – this usually means tying the dough in a knot, cutting and braiding it, or shaping it into strips and flowers, and then frying it in hot oil. Their preparation varies from region to region, and from family to family, but they are equally enjoyed by sugar lovers of all ages.

Rožata

Rožata
Maja Danica Pečanić

Rožata is a dessert that has managed to survive all of the historical turmoil from the Middle Ages to today, not only in Dalmatia, but the rest of Croatia as well. Like many other desserts whose recipes have been passed down through the centuries, rožata is also made from simple and modest ingredients. The main ingredients of this creamy and refreshing dessert are milk, eggs and sugar, while its unique aroma comes from the highly praised rose liqueur called rosalin or rozulin, which gave this treat its name. Since the cream is cold and hard, rožata is especially popular in the summer as a refreshment from the heat, and is often served to foreign visitors as a representation of Dalmatian cuisine.

Štrukli from Zagorje

Štrukli from Zagorje
Maja Danica Pečanić

Štrukli or štruklji from Zagorje (zagorski štrukli in Croatian), a traditional speciality of the Hrvatsko Zagorje region, were always prepared from ingredients readily available in every household. Their popularity grew even beyond the limits of the Krapina-Zagorje County and Varaždin County, and nowadays they are often made with the aim of representing Croatian cuisine to the world. In an effort to protect štrukli from Zagorje as an original Croatian dish, the art of preparing them has been entered into the Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Croatia. Štrukli can be prepared in one of two ways – by cooking or baking them – and they can be served as a complete meal or a dessert. Both methods involve using a base dough filled with cow cheese. The difference is that štrukli cooked in salted water can be covered in melted lard and sprinkled with bread crumbs or served in an aromatic soup, while baked štrukli are covered in sour cream before being placed in the oven.

Orahnjača and makovnjača

Orahnjača and makovnjača
Maja Danica Pečanić

Orehnjača or orahnjača and makovnjača (or walnut and poppyseed rolls, respectively) are yeast dough desserts traditionally made for holidays and other festive occasions in order to treat guests to a fragrant and tasty dessert. As the name suggests, orahnjača is made from walnuts (orah in Croatian), while the puffy makovnjača pastry is filled with poppyseed (or mak) paste. Other than this essential ingredient that sets these two pastries apart, the rest of the ingredients in the filling are the same: sugar, cinnamon and milk. Although no one makes them quite like grandma, orahnjača and makovnjača are so simple that even complete beginners can’t go wrong.

Paradižot

Paradižot
Maja Danica Pečanić

Paradižet or paradižot is a delicate Dalmatian dessert that is richer than the typical rožata, since it is based on ingredients that were not always easy to come by. The first layer of paradižot is made from hard biscuits that cover the bottom of the pan. To make the biscuits softer, the densely layered biscuits are sprinkled with Marasca cherry liqueur (Maraschino) or Prošek, an aromatic and highly valued dessert wine. The following layer of paradižot is made up of boiled egg-white dumplings, covered with an egg-yolk custard, and sprinkled with grated baking chocolate. Paradižot is still made all along the Adriatic coast. It is similar to another, simpler dessert made in inland Croatia called šnenokle (“Floating Islands”), and both represent popular desserts among people of all generations.

Skradin Cake

Skradin Cake
Maja Danica Pečanić

One of the most popular specialities of the area around the town of Skradin is a dessert that is a staple of every celebration or formal luncheon, which was traditionally made specifically for weddings. This is the Skradin cake (or Skradinska torta), a sweet cake that brides would bake for their wedding night to impress their betrothed and ensure smooth sailing at the beginning of their marriage. It is believed that today, the original recipe for this delicious dessert is kept by only a handful of homemakers in Skradin, although the list of its ingredients did not really change much throughout history. This delicious cake is made from locally sourced eggs, sugar or honey, grated lemon and orange peel, a tablespoon of rum or rose liqueur, vanilla, and finely ground walnuts or almonds (with three times as much walnuts). Glazed with chocolate and decorated with almond flakes or walnut halves, the Skradin cake will satisfy the sweet tooth of even the most demanding guest and bring a flavour of Skradin to the table.

Gibanica from Međimurje

Gibanica from Međimurje
Maja Danica Pečanić

Međimurje, Croatia’s northernmost region, borders with Hungary and Slovenia, so it is no surprise that its centuries-long culinary tradition shows influences from the surrounding countries. Gibanica from Međimurje is a cake that definitely falls into this category; this particularly rich delicacy has not one, but four different fillings! Walnuts, poppy, apples and cheese combined into a layered cake that delights with its juiciness and conjures up memories of orchards and fields. This sweet dessert is a must-have at every party or celebration. It used to be baked in clay vessels, which have been replaced with metal baking trays in modern times. Ingredients used to prepare it would be kept in pantries of hardworking homemakers all year in preparation for holidays or local and family celebrations.

Cremeschnitte from Samobor

Cremeschnitte from Samobor
Maja Danica Pečanić

When someone mentions Samobor, a charming town situated only twenty kilometres from Zagreb, the first thing any Croatian thinks of is the delicious cremeschnitte (samoborske kremšnite or krempite), a custard cake that can be found in almost any traditional cake shop. The cremeschnitte is recognisable for its light-yellow custard that is made from eggs, milk, sugar and flour, enclosed between two layers of crispy filo pastry, with an additional thin layer of whipped cream hidden beneath the top layer. The cake is cut into large cubes before serving, and for a final touch, powdered sugar is sprinkled on top to make this moderately sweet cake a bit sweeter.

Fritule

Fritule
Damir Fabjanić

Although they are mostly associated with the Croatian regions of Kvarner, Istria and Dalmatia, over the last few years, fritule have dominated the continental part of the country as well. With the arrival of cold winter days, you can buy them on every street corner, particularly during the Advent Festival in Zagreb. They were traditionally made on days of fasting, on Christmas Eve and during periods of abstaining from meat, when they would be sprinkled with powdered sugar or rolled in crystal sugar while they were still warm. Nowadays, they are eaten topped with various sweet syrups, such as chocolate, caramel and forest fruits. The soft and airy fritule are prepared by quick deep frying in oil, which gives them a golden colour and crispy outer shell. The bite-sized balls of fried sweet dough are a popular winter treat, so fresh and fragrant fritule are always quickly sold out.