Dalmatian Kremšnita, a Twist on Croatia’s Favorite Dessert

Posted by Florian in Baking, tagged with , , , ,

Several years ago, I blogged my very first Croatian dessert, the Dalmatian fritters, little balls of fried dough coated in flavored confectioner’s sugar. That’s not, however, the sweet dish you’ll come across the most in Croatia. Instead, based on my scientific survey using a representative sample of 1 person, the title of Croatia’s favorite dessert should go to kremšnita, a custard cream cake found in several Central European countries. I’ll talk about this humble cream slice in more detail in my next post, but for now you should know that it’s particularly popular in and around Zagreb, where it shows up in a couple different versions, and is often consumed with a heap of whipped cream on the side.

As is often the case in Croatia, the coast tends to turn a deaf ear to the mores of its continental neighbors, and prefers fried dough (e.g., the Dalmatian fritters) or carob cake to kremšnita. I can relate. At the end of the day, a dessert made solely of custard, whipped cream, and puff pastry is pretty boring, lacking any distinctive flavor (okay, okay, the same could be said about fried dough, but whatever). Which is how the idea for this recipe is born: why not make a more interesting kremšnita, a distinctly Dalmatian version, wherein one could inject some local ingredients? Take that, Zagreb!

Among the many delicious foods I tried during my trip last summer, two possible dessert ingredients resonated with me because I don’t get to use them much on this blog:

  • Carob (rogač in Croatian) is widespread throughout Dalmatia, especially around Dubrovnik and on the southern islands. I already mentioned carob cake, and surely there are many other ways that carob can be included in a dessert, whether it’s in the dough, the cream, or the sauce. I originally tried to make a carob crème anglaise, but the result was both underwhelming, flavor-wise, and visually unappealing. Carob puff pastry, on the other hand, delivers a beautiful contrast of color and taste between the cream and the pastry.
  • Mandarins are produced in the Neretva Valley between Metković and Opuzen in amounts of 70 to 80 thousand tons a year (still a relatively tiny figure; 200 times less than China, the lead producer). Neretva mandarins received Protected Designation of Origin status from the EU a few years ago. I remember seeing colorful mandarin juices and liqueurs on the shelves of the roadside vendors that dot the road to the Dubrovnik semi-exclave. As the locals also make honey, you can even find “mandarin honey” (mandarin blossom honey would be more accurate), its taste reminiscent of orange blossom honey but with mandarin notes. After a few more experiments, I settled on mandarin honey for the custard, and reduced mandarin juice to both flavor the whipped cream and make a bright orange syrup.

For the rest, I used the recipe from Ana-Marija Bujić’s excellent What’s Cooking in Dubrovnik as a starting point. Maybe some day I’ll distance myself even further from the original kremšnita format (by creating a sundae, perhaps?) but what you’re getting today is an individual dessert consisting of a custard flavored with mandarin honey, sandwiched between two layers of carob puff pastry, and served with a hefty spoonful (no frou-frou siphon today) of mandarin whipped cream drizzled with mandarin syrup.

And from now on, let this be known as the Dalmatian Kremšnita! I’m about to write to the Croatian National Tourist Board to let them know, and I encourage you to spread the word, inside and outside of Croatia. With your help, I could put the Dalmatian Kremšnita on Croatia’s culinary map!

Croatian Cuisine - Dalmatian Kremšnita

Carob puff pastry
Yields 4 servings

120 g butter
55 g water
0.5 g salt
60 g AP flour
50 g bread flour
20 g carob powder
5 g confectioners’ sugar

  • Melt 1/4 of the butter in the microwave, then mix in the water and salt.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, add the butter-water mixture and flour (both kinds). Mix on low speed long enough to make a ball, then knead by hand for 2-3 minutes. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • Still using a stand mixer fit with the paddle attachment, mix the remaining butter with the carob powder and confectioners’ sugar until homogeneous, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Place the mixture between two sheets of plastic wrap, and roll to a 1 cm thick square, each side about 9 cm long. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  • Dust your work surface with flour, and roll the dough into a square large enough to encase the carob butter (each side about 18 cm). Place the butter diagonally in the center, and fold the corners of the dough over like an envelope (the kind with the four triangular flaps). Use the rolling pin to seal the seams.
  • Roll the dough lengthwise until its surface area has tripled, to an approximately 10 cm x 30 cm rectangle. Fold into thirds by folding each edge over the middle. That’s the first turn.
  • Give the dough a quarter-turn clockwise, and repeat the previous step. That’s the second turn. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
  • Perform a third and a fourth turn, and refrigerate again for the same duration.
  • Perform a fifth and a sixth turn, and refrigerate again for the same duration.

Croatian Cuisine - Carob Puff Pastry

Carob puff pastry discs
Yields 4 servings

carob puff pastry

  • Roll the puff pastry to a 20 cm x 40 cm rectangle, and cut into two 20 cm x 20 cm squares. Transfer the squares to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and prick with a fork.
  • Bake in a 200 C / 400 F oven for 13-15 minutes, until the dough has risen and looks “cooked”.
  • Remove from the oven, let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.
  • When the puff pastry is cool, cut into 8 discs using a 7 cm diameter cookie cutter. Reserve.

Kremšnita custards
Yields 4 servings

52 g (about 3) egg yolks
30 g sugar
30 g mandarin honey
8 g flour
180 g milk
4.2 g powdered gelatin
150 g heavy cream

  • In a bowl, mix the egg yolks, sugar, honey, and flour, using a whisk.
  • Bring the milk to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Whisk the milk into the egg mixture in several additions, starting with a very small amount to temper it. Sprinkle the gelatin over it, and mix again.
  • Return the custard to the saucepan, and cook over low heat to a temperature of 80 C / 175 F, while stirring slowly and constantly with a rubber spatula.
  • Pass through a chinois into a container, and let cool over a bowl of ice water until the mixture just barely starts to set.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the whisk attachment, whip the cream to medium firm peaks. Stir the custard a little to break up any lumps, and fold in the whipped cream with a rubber spatula.
  • On a sheet tray lined with plastic film, place four 7 cm diameter ring molds. Divide the custard between the molds, then cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Mandarin syrup
Yields 4 servings

300 g mandarin juice without pulp
50 g sugar

  • In a saucepan over medium heat, reduce the mandarin juice to 1/4, skimming regularly.
  • Mix in the sugar, stirring until completely dissolved.
  • Remove from the heat, let cool, and refrigerate.

Croatian Cuisine - Dalmatian Kremšnita

Mandarin whipped cream
Yields 4 servings

320 g cream
85 g mandarin syrup

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the whisk attachment, whip the cream to soft peaks.
  • Add the syrup, and continue whipping the cream until it forms hard peaks. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.

Assembly
Yields 4 servings

8 g carob powder
10 g confectioners’ sugar
carob puff pastry discs
kremšnita custards
mandarin whipped cream
mandarin syrup

  • Combine the carob powder and confectioner’s sugar in a sugar shaker.
  • Sprinkle all the puff pastry discs with some sugar-carob powder.
  • Run a knife along the side of each kremšnita custard mold. Place each custard on top of a puff pastry disc, remove the ring mold, and top with another puff pastry disc.
  • Transfer each kremšnita to a plate. Garnish with a hefty spoonful of whipped cream, and drizzle some mandarin syrup on top of the whipped cream. Serve.

Croatian Cuisine - Dalmatian Kremšnita