A sweet trip to Croatia…. with a strudel in hand

Have you ever been to Croatia? We have not, for the time being at least… But the Municipality of Athens has, as it takes part in the ABCitiEs project, an initiative that promotes collaborations between entrepreneurs, aiming at improving social cohesion and dealing with urban space degradation. The Municipality of Athens travelled to Varaždin, a historic, green city in Northern Croatia, inhabited by people who love and respect it. An example that can inspire us to love even more our own cities…

And because thank God sweets are everywhere… do you know how many delicacies they have in Croatia? In this sweet article we will travel to the beautiful town of Varaždin and look for its traditional confections. We will stroll its streets, squares and parks and learn about the very interesting ABCitiEs Interreg Europe project. Given that we will get hungry for sure, we will also bake a Croatian strudel with apples, berries and cranberries!

Varaždin’s central square, or Korzo as the locals call it, in an architectural model and in reality; in the centre the building of the Town Hall, one of the oldest in Europe

undefinedFive regions take part in the ABCitiEs project: Athens, Amsterdam, Manchester, Vilnius and Varaždin-Čakovec. Mr. George Neofytou, architect – Head of the Department of Resilience and Sustainability of the Municipality of Athens and Dr. Eleftheria Alexandri, civil engineer in charge of the ABCitiEs project, represented Greece on behalf of the Municipality of Athens. In Varaždin, they attended a two-day interregional meeting, where researchers, entrepreneurs and policymakers shared ideas and experiences from their regions. In their free time, they got to know the city and its history with the eager help of its citizens, tried its traditional dishes and desserts and told us everything about all that!

Mr. George Neofytou, Architect, Head of the Department of Resilience and Sustainability Division of Strategic Planning, Resilience, Innovation and Documentation of the Municipality of Athens
Dr. Eleftheria Alexandri, Civil Engineer NTUA, MPhil Cambridge, PhD Cardiff, in charge of the ABCitiEs project for the Municipality of Athens

Varaždin is “the city of baroque, young people, music, flowers and bicycles” as it presents itself at its website (where we found the historic information for this article). Wandering its streets, one comes across picturesque buildings, cobblestone streets and green squares and parks, as well as many artworks and exhibits in public spaces.

The Traditional Crafts Square of Varaždin with its exhibits

Those reflect the city’s history, traditions and symbols: the traditional crafts, the siren, the horseshoe, the turtle, the angels… Thanks to the latter Varaždin is also called the “city of angels”. You will stumble upon them in cracks and voids in buildings everywhere, in places you wouldn’t expect!

Angels hidden in between walls of buildings in Varaždin

One work of street art, though, made the biggest impression on us: a board on a wall, depicting a machine and the stages for making Varaždinski klipič, the traditional bread roll with the signature cigar shape.

Sculpture on a wall showing the stages for making Varaždinski klipič, with a recipe written in Croatian and English

Naturally, we researched the history of klipič and learned that it is a specialty, originating in the 18th century when Varaždin was still the capital of Croatia. The capital was transferred to Zagreb in 1776, when a huge fire devastated 80% of the city’s building. Until the 19th century, new important historic buildings where built, while the old town was regenerated based on a painting of the 18th century, created by an unknown artist .

Varaždin’s Fortress in the old town

We read that klipič is made with flour, oil, milk, yeast, sugar and salt. It must be at least 23 cm long and have four folds visible on the exterior. Before baking, it is brushed with egg and sprinkled with cumin, pumpkin or sesame seeds. Because the dough contains milk, klipič gains a melting texture. You will find it in bakeries and coffeeshops to escort your coffee. Without any second thought, we would chose its sweet version filled with marmelade or chocolate.

© Justcakegirl

We also learned that the production of this specific product is strictly regulated, as since 2007 the name Varaždinski klipič is registered at the State Intellectual Property Office of the Republic of Croatia and the Varaždin County Chefs’ Association has the exclusive right to use it.Τhe name comes from the word klip, which in the 18th century was used to describe a stick the Croatians used to throw to tree crowns to shake down fruit. According to chef Damir Crleni, president of the association, the story of klipič is connected with the development of tourism in the 18th century and the opening of the Grand Hotel Istra and its restaurant. Various dairy products were being produced there, among which many breads and rolls. He also thinks that klipič might be a simplified form of the bread rolls served in Viennesian cafés of the times. During the 19th and 20th century though klipič made its own way into the gastronomic tradition of the district of Varaždin.

© Hanumakocht

Not every klipić is Varaždinski klipič

Slogan of the Varaždin County Chefs’ Association, created for promoting the registered geographic origin of the product

Pumpkins are another Croatian trademark. They “hang out” at the open-air food market of Varaždin, where citizens find fresh fruit and vegetables, neat and clean on benches made of wood and marble.

The outdoor food market of Varaždin with its wood and marble benches

This is how the whole city is, as policymakers and citizens together have managed to preserve and highlight its historic character, making it a beautiful, welcoming place for visitors. The fortress in the centre of the town, the medieval paved streets, the baroque facades of the buildings and the churches’ bell towers, with the addition of Varždin’s squares with their fountains, benches and flowers, all those compose a fairytale image. An image that showcases the care and respect the locals have for their city.

The Cathedral at the central square of Varaždin
The baroque facades of Varaždin’s buildings

In Varaždin, contemporary lifestyle and cosmopolitan culture coexist in harmony with its history, traditions and natural and urban surroundings. Residents commute on foot or on bicycles, because as a graffiti on a wall says “biking around the city gives the planet hope”. Parks, that during the 19th century got influenced by Viennesian landscape architecture, still remain elegant and refreshing green lungs for the city. As does the Cemetery of Varaždin, another important landmark of great architectural value and beauty.

Graffiti on a Varaždin’s wall, with the phrase “biking around the city gives the planet hope”
…the rest of the graffiti
Varaždin, the city of flowers and bicycles

The Museum of Firefighting of the city preserves historic memory, connecting the past with the present, but also provides for the future, so that no disaster like the huge fire of the 18th century comes again. The Varaždin City Museum in the Fortress dominates among the green scenery of old town, the Croatian National Theatre -built by the famous Viennesian architect Hermann Helmer- stands out in the urban landscape, and the city abounds also in art galleries, as well as musical, gastronomic and artistic events and festivals. The angels also have their own museum, on top of making their appearance in the most unexpected places; if you ever find yourself there, you’ll definitely come across them!

Αngels poping up in the windows of a blind wall in Varaždin

Citizens are very proud -as they should- of their lifestyle and enthousiastic to share it with foreign visitors… So they did for the representatives of the ABCitiEs project.

ABCitiEs representatives with the local guide dressed in the traditional way

Τhe project is financed by the Interreg Europe initiative and coordinated by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. The Municipality of Athens and the Geography Department of Harokopio University of Athens take part in the project on behalf of Greece. ABCitiEs seeks to promote Area Based Collective Enterpreneurship. Simply put, it aims at researching the ways in which citizens can get involved in the regeneration and democratisation of their cities, improval of urban marketing, upgrade of public spaces etc. through the creation of cooperative schemes.

A characteristic Athenian example is the Kypseli’s Municipal Market, the first Market of Social Entrepreneurship . Its building belongs to the Municipality of Athens, while the management is undertaken by Impact Hub Athens, operating on a non-profit basis. Various citizen groups and social entreprises coexist on the market’s premises; their operation focuses on culture, education, social innovation, entrepreneurship, environment, health, art, technology, supporting local economy et al.

But now the time has come to go back to the food market of Varaždin and its pumpkins… Did you know that pumpkin seed oil actually exists?

A Croatian local product: pumpkin seed oil

We sure did not… We read that it can be produced by cold processing, which is more expensive but offers a much higher quality (as happens with Greek olive oil) and by warm processing, which is also very demanding. The idea of garnishing one of our sweets with pumpkin seed oil, sounds original and delicious! What is more, another pumpkin-based product one can taste in Croatia is their strudel with pumpkin and cheese.

Any type of pumpkin at the food market of Varaždin

Strudels are traditional baked goods coming from Northern and Central Europe. Croatian strudels in particular call for something kind of strange… Except for strong hands you will need a hairdryer. Yes, a hairdryer! Barbara Rolek -chef, restaurant critic and awarded food writer- describes that, according to 87-year-old Mary Horan, the hairdryer is used for drying the dough before adding the filling. Strudel making is a dying art, they worry, as even the women of St. Joseph the Worker’s Church have reduced their fundraiser production, while at its peak they used to consume 50-60 pounds (22-27 kilos) of flour at one time.

Our own strudel… the recipe follows!

As Mary Horan narrates, it went like this: every Saturday at 6.30 in the morning, the ladies were divided into two teams, one for kneading and one for filling. Each woman had a 3-pound (over a kilo) piece to knead. They had to knead it very much, for air pockets inside the dough to mostly disappear, to avoid tearing. They would leave the doughs inside a warm oven and cover the tables with white tablecloths. Then they would dust them with flour. The ladies used to place a piece of dough at the centre of the table and 5-6 of them would start carefully stretching it, buttering the corners and pushing gently with their hands. When the dough had reached the table’s edges, they would bring the hairdryers. In the end, they buttered the dough again and added the apple or cheese filling. Holding the tablecloth’s edges in hand, two ladies rolled the dough into the characteristic strudel shape. They would brush it with melted butter on top and bake it for 35 to 45 minutes.

Stretching the strudel dough (source)

You know what? We will dare to bake a strudel ourselves! We may get a little lazy at stretching and lower our expectations for the thinness of the dough a bit -as we are no Croatian Nanny for sure… but we will definitely do the hairdryer trick!

Strudel with apples, berries and cranberries

The strudel we made, with apples, berries and cranberries

A unique strudel version coming from Croatia is Štrudlu s Višnjama, which means strudel with sour cherries. However, as it is not cherries’ season, we chose to make an autumn filling with apples, berries and cranberries… and a lovely smell filled our home!

Ingredients for the strudel dough

All-purpose flour200 gr
Butter (melted)50 + 50 gr
Water (lukewarm)80 ml
Salt1 pinch

How to make the strudel dough

Place the flour, salt, 50 gr of melted butter and water in the mixer bowl. Knead for 1 minute with the hook attachment (or by hand) to form an elastic dough. Let covered to rest for half an hour.

If you don’t want to make your own dough, though, you can use a frozen fyllo dough.

Ingredients for the filling

Apples (red)2
Berries (frozen)150 gr
Cranberries60 gr
Sugar100 gr
Cinnamon1/2 tsp
Liqueur1 shot

How to make the filling

Cut the apples into thin sticks and mix them with the berries, cranberries, sugar, cinnamon and liqueur (we used homemade pomegranate liqueur). Let rest for half an hour.

The mixture for our strudel filling

Last step

Normally we should lay a tablecloth and stretch the whole dough on it, following the process we described above. But, as our stretching abilities are still at an early stage, we split the dough in three and stretched each on our silpat, as thin as we managed… Having stretched the dough (as thin as possible), brush it with lots of melted butter and add one third of the filling mixture along one edge of the dough, in a bar shape. Lift carefully the corners (so that the dough doesn’t tear) and roll. Brush on top with butter again and place on a baking pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 20 minutes, brush again with butter and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Total baking time will be 30-35 minutes.

And now, we are ready to grab our strudel and fly back to Varaždin, to try one last thing!

Εxcept for pumpkins, figs are also local products of Croatia. They are used to make an original confection called Smokvenjak or dried fig cake. In Greece we also have something similar, a traditional sweet from Corfu Island called sikomaida (siko means fig).

Local confections from Varaždin: dried fig cake (Smokvenjak) and pumpkin seeds covered in chocolate

We read that Smokvenjak used to be a healthy snack for those working in the fields, as it provides a lot of energy. This is why it was also called “peasant’s bread”. Today, it is prepared on holidays and celebrations and served as an appetizer before dinner. Thanks to its long shelf life, it is also a delicious travel snack and we believe that this is one of the reasons it is now sold in portion packages; another reason is that it is a perfect souvenir… We guarantee it, as we tasted it!

Smokvenjak, Croatian dried fig cake (source)

It probably originated on Croatian islands, where fig trees abound. It is made with very few ingredients, dried figs, confectioners sugar, almonds, alcohol (brandy or maraschino) and bay leaves. In order to prepare it, cut or grate the figs, mix them with chopped roasted almonds, add the alcohol, stir carefully, mold in any shape you like and cover with bay leaves or other herbs.

Although we haven’t attempted to make it yet, we tasted it and it was great! We would like to warmly thank Mr. Neofytou and Dr. Alexandri for the sweets they brought us, as well as the information and photographs they provided. We would also like to suggest that we all get inspired by the beautiful habits and practices we “came across” in the city of Varaždin… and of course, as eternal dessert lovers, we wish you to really enjoy the strudels you will make!

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Shivali says:

    Exceptional writing!!

    I have always believed, that like each place has its history it also has its flavour of food…loved reading the post…🙃🙃


    1. Thank you so much, for your beautiful words and your support! 💛💚❤️🙏


  2. Great post! Varaždin is such a charming town, I need to explore it more one day.


    1. Thank you so much! 💜💙💜🙏


  3. Tanja says:

    yes, many sweet dishes in Croatia;)


    1. Yes, great dishes!! 🙂❤️


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