Remember the last time you had to decipher a Croatian recipe? Maybe you tried to read your grandma’s recipe book. Or you finally found the recipe for your favourite dish online.
I can see your face glowing. But after that initial spur of happiness you hit the wall. Not only do you need to convert the ingredients from grams into cups, tablespoons, ounces or pounds.
You see units that no one has ever heard of. Dag, dcl, vanilla sugar, a cube of yeast and other weird siblings ... Not even Google translate can help you.
That’s why you have me! In this post, I am going to decipher ingredient units that Croatian cooks take for granted. Many of these pass as common knowledge in our kitchens but make the rest of the world scratch their head.
1 Prepackaged ingredients
If you love baking Croatian desserts, pay close attention. The list of our baking ingredients includes many prepackaged items. Here are the usual suspects:
This vanilla-flavoured sugar looks like a regular granulated sugar that is scented with vanilla. It comes in a small sachet of 10 grams which is 3/4 tbsp. Substitute with the same amount of normal sugar and add some vanilla flavouring.
Prašak za pecivo
This is baking powder packaged in a 12-g-sachet which comes to 3/4 tbsp. When a recipe calls for ‘jedan prašak za pecivo’, it means one sachet.
Kvasac or germa
This is yeast and can be fresh or dry. ‘Jedna kocka kvasca’ translates as one cube of yeast. It refers to a 40 g fresh yeast cake (1 1/3 oz). Croatian bakers love using fresh yeast. If you don’t have it at hand, substitute one cube with 14 g (2 1/2 tsp) dry instant yeast.
Croatian dry yeast comes packed in a 7-g-sachet which comes to 1 1/4 tsp.
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This is gelatine which is usually in the powder form. Croatian powder gelatine comes in a 10-g sachet and converts to 1 1/8 tbsp. This amount is enough for 500 ml (17 oz) of liquid.
In Croatian recipes, pudding is often used to make butter cream. When a desserts calls for ‘jedan puding’, you need to get 1 bag of instant pudding which comes in a 37-g- (1.3- oz-) serving packet. Vanilla-flavoured pudding is the commonest choice. If you don’t have it at hand, use the same amount of corn starch and add vanilla flavouring.
Šlag iz vrećice
Šlag means whipped cream. Nowadays most cakes are made with liquid cream that is whipped. Some recipes, however, include powdered whipped cream. This comes in a 42-g- (1.5- oz-) serving packet. You need to add water or milk (it will say on the label) and beat the mixture to get whipped cream.
This refers to a row of chocolate. Some old recipes call for, let's say, ‘tri rebra čokolade’ (three rows of chocolate). Obviously, this means nothing to you if you don’t know how big our standard chocolate bar is.
The standard package for ‘cooking’ chocolate weighs 300 g (10.5 oz) and has 12 rows. So, if you need 3 rows of chocolate, your math is this:
300 / 12 = 25
25 x 3 = 75
75 grams (2.6 oz)
Majority of Croatian recipes have ingredients expressed in metric units (such as grams and millilitres). Then comes an odd cake where you only need a ‘čaša’ (glass) to measure everything.
Some simple cakes call for a glass of sugar, a glass of flour, even a glass of oil. In this case, a glass is most probably a plastic cup in which we buy set yoghurt. And this cup contains 200 g (7 oz) of yoghurt.
This word refers to a screw top that sits on a bottle. You will often find this in recipes that call for a splash of rakija. For example, we might say to throw in ‘čep rakije’ into a fritule dough. A screw top can fit about 1 tbsp of liquid.
A 'šaka' of raisins or walnuts means to use as much as it fits into a cupped hand. Obviously, this is not a very precise measure, as each person’s hand is different in size. But this is how our grandmas used to describe their baking method. Word 'šaka' means a fist. On the coast, a dialectal word is 'pest'.
In the realm of savoury cooking, you might come across 'grincajg'. This is a soup kit, a medley of vegetables that we always use in our clear soups. Grincajg usually contains 4-5 carrots, a slice of celery root the thickness of your index finger and 1 parsley root. Bunched together are celery and parsley leaves, 1 leaf of savoy cabbage, half medium leek, and a slice of kohlrabi.
2 Lesser used metric units
Outside of the English-speaking world, most countries use the metric system of measurement. In Croatian recipes, for example, we measure weight (mass) by grams and capacity (volume) by litres.
These basic units have derivatives for smaller and larger quantities. A millilitre, for example, is 1/1000 of a litre; a kilogram is 1000 grams.
In some older recipes, you will come across units such as dkg or dag for mass and dcl for volume. What are they?
Dkg or dag stands for a decagram, which is 10 x 1 gram (deca means ten). Or, in other words 1 dkg (dag) = 10 grams.
Similar is true for dcl (decilitre), but in the opposite direction.
1 dcl = 1 tenth of a litre (deci means one tenth). This also means that 1 dcl = 100 ml.
Just to make it more real for you, our standard glass has a volume of about 2 decilitres.
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3 Descriptives measures
Most vague of all, descriptive ‘measures’ are your ultimate test of perseverance. Our Croatian grandmas have few recipes written down because they cook by feel and intuition. And this is exactly how they pass down their knowledge.
These are their guidelines for the dough:
When you need silky smooth dough, the amount of flour is the starting point. Many bread recipes will specify how much flour but will continue like this:
‘add enough water to get a smooth dough’. (dodati vode da dobijete glatko tijesto).
What you need to know is that smooth dough starts off as sticky dough. Make it soft and add enough water so that the dough sticks to your fingers. Then continue to knead for at least 10 minutes. This is how long it takes for gluten strands to develop. And gluten makes a dough ball smooth.
Hydration of the dough
Many experienced bakers describe the perfect dough as ‘neither hard nor soft’ (ni pretvrdo, ni premekano). What on Earth does that mean, you wonder. In most cases, this is a 50% hydration dough.
You get to that point when you start with wet ingredients and add as much flour to stop the dough from sticking. Grandma will say something like this:
‘dodaj brašna koliko tijesto podnese’ - add as much flour as the dough can take.
‘dodaj brašna koliko pođe’ - add as much flour as needed.
yeast dough mystery
In bread recipes, the proofing step is explained in a hazy way too. Once you add yeast to the dough, you can expect instructions like this:
‘ostaviti tijesto dok se ne udvostruči’ - leave the dough to stand until it doubles in volume.
This can mean anything from 40 to 60 minutes. It will depend on the size of your dough but also on how warm your kitchen is. Proofing time also changes according to the season and air humidity. The best you can do is keep checking often after the first half hour.
4 Bakeware sizes
Baking requires precision and knowing the size of a pan is essential info. Unfortunately, many Croatian recipes don’t specify this.
Good news is there are a few clues from which you can guess a pan/dish size.
Some recipes will tell you to use the oven tray. This is the dish that comes with your oven. In Croatia, its standard size is 40x30 cm (15.7x11.8 in).
Granny’s rectangular cake pan
If you are lucky like me, you still keep you granny’s enamel cake pan. For many decades, most households used this dish for baking and roasting. It’s standard size is 36x20 cm (14.1x7.8 in). Fortunately, the enamel beauty has been revived and comes in various colours.
Universal in its uses, a roasting pan is your friend for baking strudel or burek too. The standard size is about 36x27 cm (14.1x10.6 in).
Round cake pan
If you are not a professional pastry chef, your round cakes will be medium size. This is either 24 or 26 cm (9.4 or 10.2 in) in diameter.
If none of these sizes correspond with your bakeware, there is an easy way to convert the ingredient amounts.
A helpful website for this is the ingredient cutter. You can increase or decrease the recipe amount. If you list the ingredients for the original pan size, their calculator can give you new amounts for your pan size. You can even switch from the rectangular to the round pan and vice versa.
Now, let me know of any other units you need help with.