Today we have not just any old cookies, but cookies with status. They are called pazinski cukerančić (pronounced “paz-in-ski ts-ook-er-an-chick”) and they were declared to be part of the intangible cultural heritage of Croatia back in 2018.
Pazinski cukerančić hail from the city of Pazin on the Istrian peninsula in the north-west of Croatia. The second part of the name comes from the local word for “sugar”. They are traditionally leavened with just baker’s ammonia, which gives you a lot of lift and a light texture. However it does mean you get a really pungent whiff of ammonia when you open the oven door after baking so you do need to be prepared for that! And once they have been baked, they covered in brandy and coated in sugar. I’ve done that here, but rather than dipping I’ve used a brush to make sure the hot cookies are given a boozy coating.
I’d love to be able to say that I have loads of history about them. However writing this post has been a bit tricky, as I’ve not been able to find out much more than the fact these cookies exist, where they come from, they are made for special occasions including Christmas, and the recipe to make them! So if you do know more, please do share your insights!
What is undeniably special about these cookies is their branched shape. I think it makes them look very whimsical and they remind me of reindeer antlers. While they may look complex, they are easy. You simply need to roll a piece of dough to a long, thin sausage, then cut a little into either end, shape them into an arch, then open up the ends. Do the same with a few additional cuts along the length of the body, and hey presto you have the funky shapes that really do look amazing once they have been in the oven.
Once the cookies are baked, I mentioned they get a brandy-and-sugar treatment. Various recipes suggest that you do this by dipping the cookies in the booze and then in the sugar, but after a couple of them decide to spontaneously break apart and go for a little swim in the brandy, I decided another approach was needed. The easiest way is to put them on a wire rack with a tray underneath (the tray is important, for reasons which will become apparent!). Then dip a pastry brush into some brandy, and coat a part of a hot cookie. Then sprinkle it immediately with some granulated sugar, and it will stick to the surface. If you cover the whole cookie in brandy, then do the sugar, the brandy evaporates and the sugar falls off. It sounds fussy, but actually if you’ve got one hand with the brush and the other for sprinkling, it’s quite easy. And all that sugar that falls off the cookies will collect in the tray, and won’t fall all over the worktop and end up on the floor!
One fun detail I was pleased to see was that in taking my pictures I ended up not just with a reindeer antler, but what looks to me like a little deer in profile – rather sweet, yes?
To make Pazinski Cukerančić (makes around 25)
For the dough
• 200g plain flour
• 50g sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon baker’s ammonia
• zest of 1/2 lemon
• zest of 1/2 orange
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 egg, beaten
• 40ml milk
• 150ml brandy
• 200g caster sugar
1. Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Add the lemon and orange zest and butter, and rub together.
2. Add the beaten egg and enough milk to form a dough. It should not be sticky so add more flour if needed. Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour or overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
4. Take pieces of the dough, the size of a small walnut. Roll them to a long sausage, around 15cm, then transfer to the baking sheet. Form into an arc, then use a pastry cutter or knife to make incisions at either end, and open up the shape. Make two more cuts along the length of the dough, and open them up too.
5. Bake for around 20 minutes until golden, turning half-way to get an even colour. Watch out for ammonia fumes when you open the oven door!
6. When done, take each cookie in turn. While still hot, put a cookie on a wire rack over a tray. Brush part of the cookie with brandy and immediately sprinkle with granulated sugar. Cover the whole cookie, then repeat until all the cookies are done. If they do get too cool, you can pop them back in the oven for a minute to make them hot again. Once they are all sugared, leave to cool completely until the sugar is dry.