An avid cook and baker, Ana Cerovski is a writer who lives in Croatia. Korcula is her favorite place there for finding new recipes and sourcing out different flavors. Here, she dishes on the sweetest part of her country’s cuisine – Croatian desserts.
Croatia is a country of many surprises.
If you’ve visited Split, you no doubt remember scratching your head, trying to figure out where Diocletian’s Palace is, then laughing as you discover you’re already in it (it’s not a separate building, and the Old Town is built in and around the palace).
Another surprise is the variety of traditional Croatian food dishes – they reflect a host of cultural and regional influences (from Austrian to Turkish).
Croatian desserts, in particular, are sinfully delicious!
Coffee and cake (or a sweet) is a time-honored tradition in Croatian culture.
All over the country, you find cafés filled with locals and visitors alike, chatting and relaxing over a good hit of java and a sweet treat.
From north to south, from west to east, every region has its own specialties and delicacies. These Croatian cakes, cookies, pastries, pies and other sweets are lovingly made, using recipes handed down from generation to generation.
Here’s my guide to the 33 best Croatian desserts.
I dare you to resist them when you visit my home country! (I know. I’ve eaten all of the following desserts in Croatia.)
Best Croatian cakes
1) Kuglof (Bundt cake)
Kuglof is a bundt cake baked in a ribbed molded cake pan. Shaped like a large doughnut, with a hole in the middle, this yeast-based cake is a classic Christmas dessert in Croatia.
There are two different styles of kuglof in Croatia. In northern regions, it’s enriched with raisins and walnuts, while in the south of Croatia, kuglof is made with candied lemon, orange zest, almonds and/or figs.
While the cake itself dates back to medieval times, the modern-day bundt pan was invented in 1949 in Minneapolis.
2) Kremsnita (Vanilla custard cake)
Vanilla custard cake (or in Croatian, kremsnita) is a delicious sweet made of puff pastry (sometimes layers of puff pastry) and a whipped egg cream filling, dusted with icing sugar on top.
The most popular kremsnita comes from the charming small town of Samobor, about 15 miles from the Croatian capital of Zagreb. There, you can try a true custard cream cake, properly served slightly warm – the sweet creamy goodness is to die for!
3) Dubrovacka torta (Dubrovnik’s cake)
One of the most delicious Croatian cakes is Dubrovnik’s cake. And you guessed it, the cake comes from Dubrovnik. Apparently, the recipe dates back to 1585, when it was used in a Dubrovnik monastery.
The main ingredients are oranges, almonds and chocolate.
After you’ve walked atop the Dubrovnik city walls – looking down at the sea and all the medieval buildings below – and you’re sitting in a café for refreshments, this is the cake to order.
4) Madarica (Layered chocolate torte)
One of the best Croatian desserts is the madarica. It’s my favorite dessert!
It’s such a gorgeous cake – to look at and eat! No wedding, birthday, party, celebration or other gathering in Croatia goes without it.
The traditional madarica features a couple of dough layers covered in chocolate. But today, there are many different variations, so you can find it layered with jam, white chocolate and other fillings, and there may be more layers too.
My grandmother has years and years of experience making and baking Croatian cookies, sweets and cakes, and I have to boast that the way she makes madarica can’t be beaten!
5) Skradin’s cake (Chocolate cake)
Is there anything better than a cake covered in chocolate? Absolutely not!
Skradin’s cake is a traditional masterpiece. Its main ingredients are ground walnuts, rose brandy, honey, lemons and oranges. And then the cake is smothered in chocolatey goodness.
Are you drooling yet? Once you see it, you certainly will be. This is truly a beautiful Croatian dessert!
6) Harubica (Carob cake)
Let’s go visit the region of Dalmatia, which covers a central coastal strip in Croatia and cluster of islands in the Adriatic Sea. Korcula is found here.
Said to be the birthplace of Marco Polo, this beautiful forested island – with a medieval fortified town of the same name – is one of the top places to visit in Croatia. (My heart belongs to Korcula.) And its traditional gastronomy is nothing short of amazing.
One of Korcula’s most delicious recipes is for harubica, a dessert made of carob. Coming from the carob tree, carob is an alternative to cocoa and is sold as carob powder or carob chips, like chocolate chips.
Korcula’s carob cake is typically made as cupcakes, with a dollop of orange jam on top of each little cake.
7) Imotski cake (Almond lattice cake)
Originating from the small off-the-beaten-path town of Imotski, this almond cake has a thin latticed pie crust on top with an almond, orange, lemon zest and cinnamon filling.
Imotski cake is hailed as the queen of all Croatian cakes, thanks not only to its tantalizing harmony of flavors, but because the pie crust is pinched high in points all around the cake to make it look like a crown.
8) Hrapocusa (Cake of Brac)
Hrapacusa, hropocusa, hrapocusa. The name of this cake may have different spellings. But all variations refer to the same rich cake from the unique stone village of Dol on the island of Brac.
Brac is famous for its high-quality white stone.
Slaves hauled away pure white limestone from Brac quarries almost 2,000 years ago to build the famous opulent palace in Split for the Roman emperor Diocletian.
More recently, it was said that the stones used to build the White House in Washington came from the island of Brac. (Not true. The New York Times printed a retraction, saying the White House stones were quarried from Virginia and Maryland.)
The stone around Dol, however, is rougher and yellower in color than the rest of Brac’s radiant white limestone. The old stone houses and buildings in Dol, with their stone roof slabs and window sills, have an ancient weathered look. To glorify Dol’s rustic beauty, the ladies of the village were inspired to create a recipe for a cake that looks like Dol stone.
The bottom layer of this Croatian walnut cake is a dense sponge cake made of egg yolks, some egg whites, flour, loads of walnuts and maybe lemon zest. The top layer is made of egg whites, sugar and more nuts. And there’s no one recipe for the cake – every household in Dol has their own closely-guarded recipe.
Dubbed Brac’s “sweet aphrodisiac,” the cake is so special that it’s even listed by Croatia’s Ministry of Culture as protected cultural heritage. And every year on August 16, the village (which has only 100 inhabitants) hosts “Hrapocusa Night,” where all the women compete to bake the best version of the cake.
9) Rapska torta (Rab cake)
Legend has it that when Pope Alexander III consecrated the cathedral on the island of Rab in 1177, he was served this cake. It was baked by the nuns from the Monastery of St Andrew on the island.
And I’m going to let you in on a secret. The original recipe for Rapska torta (or Rab cake) is written in calligraphy and still kept in the monastery.
That doesn’t matter though. Because while there is a recipe, there are no measurements for its ingredients. And therein lies its beauty, say the local people. Each time the cake is made, it tastes just a little bit different.
Baked in a spiral on top of a thin crispy pie crust, this beautiful Croatian dessert has a marzipan-like filling of almonds, maraschino liqueur, lemons and oranges.
Best Croatian cookies
10) Breskvice (Peach cookies)
When it comes to traditional Croatian dessert recipes, Grandma’s little black book is always the best inspiration. That’s where peach cookies or breskvice come from.
These are small, sweet and cute-looking cookies, with rum mixed with peach or apricot jam sandwiched between two caps. Both caps of cookie dough are coated with pink juice and sugar.
While they might look like mini peaches, breskvice tastes much more decadent.
These Croatian cookies are popular at weddings, birthdays, family get-togethers and other special occasions. They’re a bit time-consuming to make, but so totally worth it!
Cukarini are sweet crispy cookies that, like harubica (#6), are also a traditional sweet from Korcula.
The original recipe calls for ammonium bicarbonate (similar to baking powder) in the buttery cookie mix, giving cukarini a crumbly and tender texture. Lemon zest is also added for a subtle citrus flavor.
Oh, and they are dipped in a rose liqueur and then covered with sugar! Mmmm…
12) Korcula’s spomilje (Almond meringue)
As you might have figured out by now, many recipes for traditional Croatian desserts come from Korcula. Spomilje is another one of them.
This is a meringue-type dessert made with egg whites and sugar, decorated on top with almonds.
It’s so popular that it’s recommended in numerous brochures and tourist guides about Croatia. But if you want the real thing, you know which island to visit!
13) Medenjaci (Ginger honey cookies)
Gingerbread cookies aren’t unique to Croatia. But we’ve put a twist on these cookies.
Traditional Croatian recipes call for the addition of honey (sometimes even rum!) to go along with the ginger, instead of molasses, which is common in North America. So our ginger honey cookies (medenjaci) are lighter in color and a touch sweeter than North American gingerbread.
Popular Christmas sweets, these cookies can be simple round treats or shaped in all sorts of cute patterns, like Christmas trees or snowmen. And they can be decorated with white icing or chocolate sprinkles.
No matter how they look, I can tell you that kids of all ages love them. Is the kid in you dying to bite into one of these?
14) Blato’s drowning men
Blato’s drowning men are a classic sweet snack or cookie from the small pretty town of Blato (home of the Moreska sword dance) on the island of Korcula.
Combining sugar with roasted almonds or walnuts, these crispy cookies are just the ticket when you need a hit of sweetness in your day!
15) Paprenjaci (Black pepper cookies)
Who would think you’d put pepper into cookies! Papar means pepper in Croatia, and paprenjaci (black pepper biscuits) are named after the pepper that’s added to the baking mixture.
Besides pepper, other main ingredients in paprenjaci are walnuts, sugar, honey and cinnamon. For decoration, chefs imprint them with interesting designs like leaves, hearts and crosses.
These traditional Croatian biscuits are typically made for the Christmas season.
16) Raspucanci (Chocolate crinkle cookies)
These are delicious chocolate cookies covered in powdered sugar!
They’re called raspucanci because they are raspucani (the Croatian word for “cracked”). They’re perfect with morning coffee or tea. Not to mention how cute they look…
Best Croatian sweet breads and pastries
17) Krostule (Sweet pastry knots)
I love making krostule – and eating them on lazy mornings. They’re one of my favorite Croatian pastries!
This very old, traditional recipe from Dalmatia calls for deep frying sweet dough, then sprinkling the crispy pastries with sugar. While krostule comes in different shapes and sizes, they’re mostly tied in a knot.
18) Pinca or sirnica (Easter bread)
Pinca (also known as sirnica) is a traditional sweet bread prepared for Easter in Dalmatia, Istria and other regions. To be honest, Easter simply isn’t Easter without this Croatian bread!
For more sweetness, pinca can be served with syrup and then sprinkled with sugar. Of course, it can also be made with chocolate chips mixed into the dough (or pouring chocolate syrup on top when you eat it), but that’s a more modern take – delicious too, of course!
Since the traditional version isn’t too sweet (if you don’t add all the extras), pinca is also served with cooked ham during the Easter breakfast in Croatia.
19) Grandfather’s mustache
This is one of the most interesting looking Croatian pastries.
Spread apricot jam over a strudel-like dough, sprinkle walnuts on top, roll up the two sides, then slather it all with melted chocolate. And you have grandfather’s mustache!
With the two sides being rolled in to create a spiral, the pastry resembles an elderly gent’s mustache – hence its name.
The recipe for this is quite old and a favorite for many generations.
Let’s return to the island of Korcula, because this dessert is only made there in the towns of Blato and Vela Luka (a port town founded by the people of Blato to export their wine and olive oil).
Lumblija is a bread-like cake, filled with raisins and almonds and covered in sugar and sweet grape syrup called varenik.
Its origins are believed to date back to Napoleonic times. After Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Dalmatia, a young French soldier, who was also a baker, fell in love with a young woman from Blato. When the army left Korcula, he left her with this sweet bread-cake and the words “don’t forget me.”
She didn’t, and lumblija is now baked in the memory of those who are gone.
21) Pogaca cake
Pogaca cake is actually more like a sweet Croatian bread. A round shape is most traditional, but it can also be baked in other shapes such as a star, braid or flower.
Raisins, poppy seeds and even jam are sometimes added to the dough for different flavors.
To eat it, we always break off a chunk from the pogaca cake in Croatia; we don’t slice it.
22) Zagorje’s zlevanka (Sweet cheese cornbread)
The Zagorje region in northern Croatia is a bucolic place of forests, rolling green hills, vineyards, fairytale castles and picturesque villages. The capital of Zagreb is found in Zagorje. The region is also known for some of the best traditional dishes of Croatia.
One favorite sweet dish is zlevanka. The basic ingredients in this traditional dessert are corn grits and fresh cheese. Sometimes grated apple is added to the batter.
Zlevanka tastes a little like “cornbread meets cheesecake.” Even though it’s a simple dessert, it’s one of the tastiest.
23) Makovnjaca + orehnjaca (Poppyseed and walnut rolls)
These two desserts are made using the same recipe – the only difference is in their fillings.
Yeast-based dough is kneaded then rolled out flat. For makovnjaca (poppyseed rolls), a sweet poppyseed filling is spread out evenly onto the rolled-out dough. For orehnjaca (walnut rolls), a sweet walnut filling is spread on top. Once the dough is covered, it’s rolled up from one end to the other. (Makovnjaca can also have raisins in the filling.)
After it’s baked, makovnjaca and orehnjaca are sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Oh, and if you’re craving a Croatian walnut roll, you’ll be happy to know that most bakeries and cafés sell walnut rolls.
Other delicious Croatian sweets
24) Plum Dumplings
Oh, plum dumplings… They are one of the most special Croatian desserts.
But who says that we can’t eat them as the main course? It’s true. Sometimes vegetarians eat these dumplings as the main course.
The soft dough is made from mashed potatoes and filled with fresh plums. The dumplings are then boiled and once cooked, rolled in sweetened fried breadcrumbs.
Just imagine getting a mouthful of warm dumpling with melted plum and crispy crumbs. I bet you’d be tempted to skip the main for dinner and go straight to these plum dumplings too!
25) Palacinke (Croatian crepes)
Each country usually has its own way of making pancakes.
Palacinke is the Croatian version – and one of the favorite Croatian desserts in many households. Made from a batter of flour and eggs, palicinke is heavier than a crepe but much thinner and lighter than, say, North American pancakes.
You can eat many different versions of palacinke. Savory ones, baked in the oven, can feature a cheese or ham-and-cheese filling. Sweet ones can be spread with jam or chocolate sauce, then rolled up to eat. Or you can simply squeeze lemon juice on top and sprinkle the crepe with sugar.
Oh, and in case palacinke don’t turn out the way they should when making them, they can always be served as smarn (see #31).
26) Dalmatian smokvenjak (Croatian fig cake)
Figs are an integral and traditional part of the Dalmatian diet; they’re often used in Croatian baking. And one of the most famous desserts from Croatia is smokvenjak, made with dried figs.
This fig cake calls for jam, fruit brandy, almonds and, of course, figs in the recipe. And that’s it! Think of the modern-day energy bar. The texture and taste of this round cake is similar (though I’d argue much more scrumptious).
Smokvenjak is typically served as one of the Easter sweets and during the Christmas season, accompanied by an aperitif. And it can last for weeks (unlike some of the other fresh cakes from Croatia covered here).
27) Fritule (Croatian fritters)
Mostly prepared in Istria and Dalmatia, fritule are small and deliciously sweet fried fritters, tasting somewhat like doughnuts.
They can have raisins in the dough. Or be dusted with sugar. Or maybe even filled with jam, apple sauce or chocolate. Whatever, crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, they’re one of the most popular Croatian sweets.
Oh, and since they’re small, you can take them as a snack while you’re wandering through the streets of the teeny medieval village of Trogir (nicknamed “Little Venice”) or other places in Dalmatia and Istria. Perfect, right?
28) Kotonjata of Vis (Quince cheese)
Made in winter, this traditional Christmas sweet is a favorite among Croatians, who call it kotonjata. It’s also known as quince cheese – except that it’s not a cheese. Confusing? Never mind.
Puréed quince fruit is part of this Croatian recipe, however. Kotonjata is made with quinces, sugar and lemon. The cooked quince puree is then poured into a parchment paper-lined pan, cooled and cut into squares.
Tasting like a jellied candy, kotonjata comes from the island of Vis, where the Mama Mia sequel, Here We Go Again, was filmed (Vis was the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi in the movie sequel).
Katonjata can be sprinkled with sugar or dipped in chocolate sauce. But once you taste it, you’ll never forget it!
29) Medimurska gibanica (Croatian strudel)
This is probably the most unique dessert that we’ll talk about here because it combines so many different ingredients.
Medimurska gibanica is a cross between a layer cake and strudel. With a phyllo dough pastry bottom, it has four different fillings – poppy seed, fresh quark cheese (like cottage cheese, but made from soured milk), walnuts and apples.
It’s baked in a casserole and then served warm from the oven (or at room temperature), covered in sweet cream. How’s that for a decadently delicious fusion of flavors!
30) Bucolaj (Croatian doughnuts)
Do you like doughnuts? Then bucolaj is for you.
Originating from Bujstina, in the northwest part of Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, this traditional Croatian dessert is usually made for family festivities such as baptisms, weddings, Easter and other gatherings.
Similar to the doughnut, bucolaj can be shaped like a small scone or bagel. Once baked, it’s dipped in milk, then sprinkled with sugar or chocolate. (It can also be made as a chocolate version).
Talk about yummy!
31) Smarn (Scrambled pancakes)
Have you ever made pancakes when it just wasn’t your day so all the pancakes looked bad? In Croatia, we have a dessert that’s actually made as a pancake-gone-wrong.
The name smarn comes from the German word schmarrn, which is a dish made of eggs, flour, milk and sugar. (Sometimes rum-soaked raisins are tossed into the batter too.) It’s almost like a pancake, but denser.
When the mixture is half baked in the frying pan, it’s torn into small pieces with a fork to continue cooking briefly.
Smarn tastes great sprinkled with powdered sugar or served with jam, chocolate sauce or fresh fruit salad.
32) Snenokle (Meringue in custard)
This quick sweet dessert comes from Austria originally. But snenokle has become a Croatian tradition too now.
The simple recipe only uses a few ingredients – eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla. But the end result is an irresistible concoction of soft foamy meringue clouds floating in a light vanilla custard.
33) Rozata (Crème caramel)
Another one of the most popular Croatian desserts is rozata.
With medieval roots, Rozata is part of the history of the town Dubrovnik; its recipe is generations and generations old.
The pudding looks and tastes like crème caramel. But it’s not a true rozata if it’s not made with the Dubrovnik liqueur known as Rozalin (rose hip liqueur).
Final thoughts on Croatian sweets
Croatian cuisine has come a long way in recent years as the country has welcomed more and more visitors. But we still honor our time-tested traditional food. And desserts and sweets are an integral part of our gastronomical culture.
When you visit Croatia, you’re sure to love these popular Croatian desserts. They’re just one more reason why you must put Croatia on your travel bucket list!
From Dubrovnik’s swimming beaches to medieval towns to idyllic islands – and of course its cuisine (and desserts!) – Croatia will turn out to be one of your absolute favorite countries in the world.
Photo credits: 8, 9, 12, 18, 23 Croatia Tourism | 14 Ana Cerovski | 26 Kobako, Wikipedia