By my second day in Vodice, Croatia, my early morning was spent in the kitchen of Luka’s restaurant assisting in the morning preparations. My goal was simple – learn how he went about creating the incredible Croatian dishes he served each day.
The air was filled with incredible aromas from pastries baking, stews simmering and meats roasting. I worked side by side with Luka’s staff while Luka over saw our efforts. Then I would watch Luka take the results of our efforts and transform them into his wonderful creations.
One of the special treats for my efforts occurred when a tiny pastry, kolač, came out of the oven. Tiny squares of flaky dough folded over fillings such as apricot or poppy seed or walnut. Each pan generally resulted in one or two of the pastries that had opened rather than remained rolled. These were my reward for serving as his prep cook. Luka declared them “slomljen” (broken). He would then prepare both of us a latté and we would sit outside, watching daybreak across the Adriatic Sea and enjoy our treat of “broken” kolač. I began to notice that every day, more and more of the pastries seemed to open during baking so my rewards increased. Eventually, on my final morning, I departed with an entire bag of “broken” kolač.
Luka’s story of the kolač went back to his childhood in his Baka’s (grandmother) kitchen. As Christmas approached, he and his cousins would rush from school at the end of the day to his grandmother’s house. Each day, just as they arrived, she would pull a sheet of kolač from the oven. Baka would tell them they were all “slomljen” so the children were required to eat them to hide her embarrassment. Luka and his cousins enjoyed hiding Baka’s embarrassment well into their teens.
I watched Luka each morning as he pulled the kolač dough from the refrigerator, rolled into thin sheets, cut into small squared, filled and brought the sides together. What I did not see was his recipe. He would only tell me it was mascarpone cheese, butter and flour. There was no sugar or flavorings, just simple dough.
Upon my return home, I began experimenting with mascarpone cheese, butter and flour until I was able to create a pastry as flavorful as Luka’s. Then one day when I was ready to make the dough, I did not have mascarpone. Intent on baking, I searched my refrigerator for a substitute. The only ingredient I could find that would provide a comparable fat content was vanilla bean ice cream. And that experiment resulted in the recipe below.
I also wanted to find a way to create a dessert from these fabulous cookies. As Luka repeatedly told me, “sometimes simple is best.” Hence, the simple stack of cookies plus a bit of whipped cream.
This recipe also includes unsweetened coconut to the dough. It provides the structure to the dough required to create larger cookies for stacking.
While apricot and almond create the fillings here, any fruit or nut filling could be used.
The ice cream is vanilla bean but the flavor can be changed by using varying flavor types.
½ c vanilla bean ice cream
¼ c + 2 T butter, unsalted, room temperature|
1 c all purpose flour
¼ c unsweetened coconut
¾ c apricot jam or preserves
½ c almond filling
½ c heavy whipping cream
1 T powdered sugar
¼ t almond extract
2 T almonds, finely ground
Place the ice cream in the refrigerator for 2 hours to soften. In a small bowl, whisk to combine butter and ice cream.
Add the flour and coconut. Mix, by hand, until completely blended. Form the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator overnight.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured tea towel, roll dough to a 11x22 inch rectangle. Trim to 9x11. Cut rectangle in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 8 pieces resulting in 16 pieces measuring 2.5 x 4.5 inch pieces. Roll dough scraps into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 350°. Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 8 cookies on each sheet. Place sheets in freezer for 5 minutes. Remove from freezer and place in oven. Bake 10 minutes.
Place apricot jam in a small microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir.
Remove the sheets from the oven. Spread 1 tablespoon of apricot jam on 8 cookies. Return to the oven and bake an additional 3 minutes.
Place 1 tablespoon of the almond filling on 8 cookies. Return to the oven and bake an additional 3 minutes. Remove sheets from oven and allow cookies to cool on the sheets.
While rectangles are baking, remove reserved dough from refrigerator. On a lightly floured board or tea towel, roll the dough until as thin as pie crust. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Once dough rectangles have baked, place this dough into the oven and bake 12 minutes. Remove from oven and spread with remaining apricot jam. Return to oven and bake an additional 3 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on sheet.
Once the reserved dough sheet has cooled, cut into shards of varying sizes.
In a small bowl, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form, about 3-4 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and almond extract. Beat to stiff peaks, about 1-2 additional minutes.
For each serving, stack 4 cookie rectangles on a dessert plate, two of each type, beginning with an almond cookie and alternating with the apricot cookies.
Top with 3 dollops of whipped cream. Add cookie shards. Sprinkle with ground almonds.