By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Croatia has one of the most original cuisines in Europe. With influences from Central Europe and Mediterranean traditions Croatians have created a colourful, tasteful and original gastronomy. Carob’s revival is a very good example of their desire to return to their roots. Once a staple food carob was forgotten for decades but today young chefs are using it again inviting us to rediscover this gift of Nature.
What is carob?
Carob trees are beautiful big trees growing on poor soil able to live for five centuries. They have a thick protecting bark, very large leaves and generously produce tonnes of pods containing 15 to 20 round seeds. The seeds have been used since ancient times for their nutritional and medicinal properties. Carob seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs where they accompanied the mummy to the after-world. Ancient Greeks and Romans used carob both as food and medicine.
Why eat carob?
In Croatia carob trees can be found mostly in Dubrovnik region, in the Neretva Valley and on southern islands such as Hvar, Korcula or Vis. You may already have eaten carob without knowing it since it is often used to gel or emulsify ice cream. But, of course, there are more “noble” ways to use carob! Finely ground carob makes great sweet flour tasting like cocoa. This flour not only is not only gluten-free flour it is also a great source of fibre, protein, vitamins (A, B, B2, E and D2), minerals and trace elements (potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, silica and iron), antioxidants (polyphenols, myricetin and quercetin), pectin… Amazingly all these benefits almost fell into oblivion in the second half of the 20th century and carob pods were left unused under the tree they had fallen from.
How to use carob?
Thanks to a new generation of chefs concerned with health food carob has been rediscovered and is now used in more and more recipes. Things are slowly changing and the production of carob flour is still confidential. In the Dubrovnik region only one company went into this business. A few years ago the Goravica family devotes itself to farming and transforming carob. They bought lands covered with carob trees to eight families on Sipan Island and produce quality flour without any additive or preservative that is used to make cakes, pastries and spread.
I had the chance to recently meet Lucija Tomasic Sarie a talented young pastry chef born in Croatia who travelled through Europe to learn from renowned chefs. She also graduated from “Le Cordon Bleu”, the prestigious culinary school in London. She is now back in Croatia where she opened her own cake shop called “Mala Truba” and is very successful. She is a carob flour enthusiast and uses it to make delicious cakes. Her pastries are not only gluten-free they also are delicious with unmistakable sweet chocolate-flavoured aromas. She was happy to share one of her recipes with us, a traditional carob cake with her personal twist.
Lucija’s Carob Cake
You will need:
35 g (1,15 oz) brown sugar
1 vanilla pod
45 g (1,6 oz) milk
85 g (3 oz) butter
55 g (2 oz) carob flour
65 g (2,3 oz) ground almonds
1 teaspoon of baking powder
15 g (0,5 oz) cocoa powder
25 g (1 oz) rum-soaked raisin
15 pitted plums or dates
2 small grated apples
To make the chocolate ganache:
100 g (3,5 oz) whipping cream
100 g (3,5 oz) chocolate (55% cocoa chocolate)
50 g (1,8 oz) warm orange marmalade
Step by step making of the Lucija’s carob cake
1- Preheat the oven at 175°C (350°F)
2- Start by making the chocolate ganache. Bring the whipping cream to the boil and pour it over the chocolate. Let it melt without mixing.
3- Beat eggs and sugar together
4- Peel the apples and grate them. Mix with the raisin and plums (or dates) cut into pieces.
5- Heat the milk, butter and vanilla pod. Don’t let it boil and mix with the beaten eggs and sugar.
6- Add the carob flour, baking powder, almond powder and grated apples one by one.
7- Pour batter into a 9-inch greased round cake pan and bake at 175°C (350°F) for 20 to 25 minutes. Leave your cake to cool.
8- Beat the cream, orange marmalade and chocolate together to get a thick frothy ganache. Top your cold cake with it. You can also decorate it with candied orange peel. Enjoy!
What to drink with your chocolate carob cake?
Croatia is a great wine producer with originality and quality. Two hundreds varieties including 120 native ones are grown in this small country. This makes Croatia one of the richest wine producer countries in the world.
As you know many wines can match a chocolate cake. But if you want to have a true Croatian dessert, why not drink a wine from the Dubrovnik region? You may find Croatian wines online, you can also go to Croatia to make your choice. Wine tourism is growing fast and gives you the opportunity to discover this beautiful country. From north to south, from seaside to hilly countryside there are vines growing everywhere creating sensational landscapes.
To match her chocolate carob cake Lucija Tomasic Saric recommends a medium sweet wine from the Mrgudic Bure Estate. It is a very small production and is sold in small bottles (37,5 cl – 12,5 fl. oz.). Its rich and fruity aromas will perfectly match your original and delicious carob cake.
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Annick Dourbes or courtesy of Croatia Tourism Office