Pinca is the leading star of the Croatian Easter menu. This sweet Easter bread is a lean version of the otherwise rich brioche.
It’s still buttery enough to make you swoon. But it’s less sweet so it goes well with its traditional savoury companions: ham and eggs.
Pinza was invented in the Province of Trieste and Gorizia. But throughout centuries, this Italian Easter bread travelled further down along the Adriatic sea. In Istria it became pinca, and in Dalmatia, we know it as sirnica.
Aside from its delectable taste, pinca is a rather mysterious Croatian bread. Because once its moreish flavours wear off, people are often left with questions. Why this and why that. And sometimes, not even Croatian locals know the answer.
So let me give you some Croatian sweet bread wisdom. Here are 5 secrets of the Croatian Easter bread. Plus my very own secret recipe… the old-fashioned, can’t be more authentic pinca bread recipe. Read on to see why…
Secret 1: what is pinca?
You’ve never tried it? Then the best way to describe pinca is to compare it to the brioche dough. Yes, it’s a yeasted dough, yes, it’s enriched with eggs, butter and sugar, but in smaller quantities than brioche.
We pair pinca with savoury food, such as ham and cheese. Sounds unthinkable? Then you must try it.
Secret 2: what does pinca look like?
Pinca is a round bread with three star-shaped cuts on the top. The cuts are made in the final proofing stage, for 2 reasons… First, in the Christian tradition, they symbolise the suffering of Jesus Christ. And second, in baking, they help the dough to get a better rise.
Once the cuts are made, pinca is brushed with an egg wash. So when it comes out of the oven, it boasts a wonderful dark sheen.
Secret 3: when do we eat pinca?
On Easter Sunday to celebrate the end of Lent and the resurrection of Christ. Pinca is made with lots of eggs to ‘make up’ for the 40 lean days of fasting. It’s the eggs and egg yolks that give the dough its intense yellow colour.
The right way to eat sweet easter bread is to have it blessed in a church. People will take baskets filled with pinca, eggs and ham and go to a mass on Holy Saturday or early on Easter Day. Only then will they serve it for Easter breakfast.
Secret 4: Why is pinca called pinca?
Word pinca comes from the Italian pinza (nipper, pliers, pincers). So it’s the cutting of the star sign that gives this Croatian bread its name.
This is also a culinary tell because the best way to make the star sign it to use scissors, not a knife. Scissors, nipper, pliers, you get my point…
The naming story doesn’t end here. Because pinca is also known as sirnica in Dalmatia. Now, sir means cheese in Croatian. So if you were quick to conclude that the Croatian Easter bread recipe contains cheese, think twice. No, no and no.
The locals will swear they have no idea why sirnica has a cheese connotation. But I will tell you this particular secret.
It’s because the Croatian word usiriti means to ferment. Do you follow now? So in the old days, to make a great pinca, the dough had to ferment. You couldn’t just pop down to a shop to get instant yeast.
Secret 5: what are the ingredients of pinca?
Oh, there’s everything there to make you die and go to heaven. There’s the light bready component. There’s the subtle sweetness balanced with the zingy flavours of citrus fruits.
There’s the buttery smoothness and the richness from eggs. The final oomph comes from plump, boozy raisins. Oh, lucky them, they’ve been soaking in rum for hours.
And you? You’ve been fasting for 40 days. So, wake up, it’s time to feast now.
The secret Croatian Easter Bread Recipe
Pinca is a traditional, ancient bread. So the chances are it was made with sourdough. Unfortunately, most recipes today use fresh or instant yeast. Which only tells me they are not that original.
Why? Well, because I doubt out great grannies had instant yeast at hand. They fermented the dough. It was painstakingly long but their buole was a piece of art. So, let’s recreate it to the full…
110 g [3/4 cup] bread flour (i.e. strong white wheat flour)
25 g [1/8 cup] brown sugar
35 g [2 tbsp] active mother sourdough starter
50 g [1/4 cup] water
500 g [4 cup] bread flour (i.e. strong white wheat flour)
the above sourdough starter
140 g eggs: 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks
70 g [1/2 cup] brown sugar
120 g [1/2 cup] unsalted softened butter
10 g [1/2 tbsp] salt
160 g [2/3 cup] tepid milk
120 g [3/4 cup] raisins, soaked in 90 ml [1/3 cup] rum
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg yolk for egg wash
6-7 sugar cubes for decoration
Method: day 1
1. Start early in the morning. Combine all the ingredients to make the sourdough starter. Use the mother starter that has been recently fed and left to grow at room temperature.
Don’t worry if the starter looks a bit on the dense side. Leave it to double in volume, which may take 4-12 hours.
Also, soak the raisins in rum.
2. In late afternoon or early evening, begin preparing the dough. Whenever you can, use the stand mixer.
In the old days, women would ‘beat the dough’ until beads of sweat came down their face. I remember my grandma’s arms – she had biceps like a power lifter.
Today, I stir towards the middle way. Traditional recipe, modern technology. Believe me, a stand mixer is your friend.
So, in a mixing bowl, combine flour, sourdough starter, sugar, salt, spices, milk and eggs. Put the dough hook on and let the mixer work the dough for 2-3 minutes. Low speed.
The dough will seem dry. Still, if all the ingredients come together, don’t be tempted to add more liquid. Butter will do the trick later on.
Leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
3. The next step is to get the butter in. Do it in 2 stages. Pop the first half in and mix it in for a few minutes. Then add the rest of the butter and the plumped up raisins. Let the mixer knead the dough for about 7-8 minutes.
Transfer the dough into a clean bowl. Cover it with cling film and leave it to proof for 2 hours at room temperature. Then, pop it into the fridge over night.
Method: day 2
4. The next morning… yes, we’ve been baking for 2 days… divide the dough in half.
Shape each half into a ball by turning them clockwise and tucking the dough under itself. Cover them with cling film and leave to proof.
This stage can last 4-7 hours. Do a sourdough ripe test. Press your finger into the dough. If it springs back slowly and the slight indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next stage.
5. Brush pinca with an egg yolk. Then, using scissors, make 3 cuts across the top. Create a star or a y shape. Leave them to rest for 30 minutes to do the final rise.
6. Preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F.
Crush a few sugar cubes inside a tea towel. Sprinkle pinca with the sugar dust and place them in the oven.
Bake for 10 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 180°C/350°F and bake for another 20 minutes.
When done, pinca is deep golden colour. Leave to cool completely. It will be hard because pinca smells divine.
Hands off. Control yourself. Wait for Easter Breakfast. Then tuck in. Don’t cut this special Croatian bread. Break it by hand.
Serve it with ham, cheese and eggs. But most of all – share it with your loved ones.
You’ve tried pinca and now you’re ready for more Croatian desserts. The best way to enjoy them is to bake them. Come over and get my Cookbook.
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