Cakes, pastries and sweets - Croatia

Mantala is a grape must cake made from the must of a local grape variety called plavac mali. It is traditionally made in autumn for the cake to be ready for consumption around the Christmas holidays. Grape must is boiled with dried orange peels and left to reduce to 1/3 of the original quantity. The remaining liquid is called varenik. To this, whole grain wheat flour is added at a ratio of 200 grams of flour to 1 liter of varenik. This mixture is boiled and stirred for about thirty minutes, and then spices such as cloves, coriander, ground almonds and cinnamon are added. Lemon peel and pine nuts are also sometimes included. The exact mixture of spices varies by region and household. The mantala cake is considered to be ready when a wooden spoon stands upright in the mixing bowl. The cake is poured into a wooden mold (made from mulberry wood) lined with a wet napkin and left for three days to take shape. Afterwards, the mantala cake is removed and covered with bay or orange leaves and left to absorb their aromas until Christmas time, when it is traditionally served. This recipe is said to date back centuries, with documentation of the cake dating back to at least 1532. It was prepared as a luxury sweet for families and guests, and was not made by all members of society due to the high costs of the ingredients. Mantala cake is produced throughout the Dubrovnik region of Croatia, and was exported to Italy in the late 19th century, where it became known as pane schiavone (Slavic bread). It is still made today for home consumption, though fewer and fewer families keep this tradition.