The traditional cake of Friuli Venezia Giulia
“That’s enough! I’m quitting everything to work in a mountain hut.”
I studied Communication and have been working in Marketing for the last six years. Whenever the work gets intense and my mind blows from all the stress and the deadlines, the phrase above pops into my head. I repeat it like a mantra to remind myself that there’s more to life than stressing overwork.
In a moment of particular stress, I really did it. In the summer of 2018, I spent my only week of vacation in Malga Pozôf on Mount Zoncolan (Friuli-Venezia Giulia). I’m aware of the work that lies behind such businesses, but the tiredness I felt there was healthier. I helped in the kitchen, I waited tables and every day my eyes closed shortly after sunset, but I felt lighter. My weariness didn’t kill me. My energies drained from running on velvet green fields or while herding cows in the pouring rain. I was exhausted but my mind wasn’t.
A few months after my experience in the mountain hut I met Stefano. Now it’s two of us wishing to go living in the mountains. We dream of spending our days trekking in Friuli Venezia Giulia. We imagine ourselves cooking traditional recipes for people from all over the world. We’re eager to communicate this unknown side of Italy. Even if we never said it aloud, we know that being together in the middle of the mountains could be enough for us to be happy. It’s our dream and our plan B.
What you will read in this post:
An unusual Italian (and Slovenian) cake
Tiramisù, Italy’s most well-known dessert, also comes from our region. But there is no dessert that summarizes Friuli-Venezia Giulia better than Gubana.
No, you won’t find Gubana in any Italian cookbook (if you do, please send me pictures!). And if you’ll ever taste Gubana you’d hardly recognize Italy in its rich and exotic flavor.
Gubana is usually baked for Christmas (in Friuli-Venezia Giulia it is more popular than Panettone or Pandoro), Easter, or any other important celebration. It is a symbol of good luck and richness. The stuffing is so rich that in Friuli-Venezia Giulia we often say “O soi plen come une gubane“ (I’m full as a gubana).
Truth to be told, Gubana, just like Friuli-Venezia Giulia, became Italian after the First World War. The word Gubana probably comes from the Slovenian verb “gubati” which means to fold. That’s why, although this leavened cake comes from the Natisone Valley, it embodies the history of the entire region. [Natisone is a river that flows in the extreme eastern part of the region, right on the border between Italy and Slovenia].
Friuli-Venezia Giulia is the land of passage between Italy and Eastern Europe. Foreign populations have invaded Friuli-Venezia Giulia many times in the course of history. They came in like a tide and each time waves left behind fertile ground to enrich our land. The result is a unique blend of Italy and the rest of Europe.
How to serve Gubana
This is how Gubana was born. The yeasted dough and dried fruit have the taste of a winter afternoon near the fogôlar (the typical fireplace that is still found in many homes in Friuli-Venezia Giulia). It’s impossible not to accompany Gubana with a tip (or a full glass) of Slivovitz (a type of brandy obtained from the fermentation of plums) or grappa. You could say that we like to feel the heat of the fogôlar inside our bodies, till it inflames our throats and hearts.
This weekend Stefano and I baked our first Gubana the result was phenomenal. There is certainly room for improvement. I’m pretty sure that this recipe was born in the embers’ light of and does not go hand in hand with precision. It is a recipe whispered from mouth to mouth, made up of a few precise ingredients and a lot of “sintiment” (feeling). And as such it must be handed down. Below you can find the basic Gubana recipe. Be aware that time will define your unique family recipe.
In the meantime, we imagine this weird Italian cake cooling on the windowsill of our imaginary hut.
- ½ sachet of vanillin;
- Half a sachet of dry granular brewer’s yeast;
- 45gr of sugar;
- 2 medium-small eggs;
- 63 grams of warm milk;
- 7 gr of grappa;
- 250 grams of flour;
- Lemon peel;
- Half a teaspoon of salt;
- 40 gr of butter at room temperature.
- 125gr of walnuts;
- 50 g of pine nuts;
- 90gr of raisins;
- 40 gr of breadcrumbs;
- 25 gr of butter;
- 1 medium egg;
- ½ tablespoon of honey;
- Lemon peel;
- Orange peel;
- 5 + 55 gr of grappa (or marsala);
- ½ sachet of vanillin;
- Cocoa to taste.
- 1 egg;
- Cane Sugar.
The recipes found online suggest using the planetary mixer, but since we didn’t have it, we relied on elbow grease. The good news is that Gubana was born before household appliances and the result is therefore good anyway!
Put the milk in a saucepan and allow it to heat a little. Pour the yeast, flour, vanilla, and sugar into a bowl and mix. Always stirring, add the drizzle of warm milk and grappa. In a separate dish, beat the eggs with the lemon zest. When the eggs are lightly whipped, add little by little to the mixture and mix well. Shape into a ball and leave to rise in the oven for at least 30 minutes.
Then add the salt and knead until it has melted. Add the butter in small pieces and continue to knead. It is best to work the dough by pulling it to activate the gluten and leavening. The dough will be very moist and sticky, form a ball as best as possible, and leave to rise again for at least two hours (preferably three). After one hour of leavening, check the dough to make sure it is rising well, if this is not the case, knead it a little longer and put it back to rest.
While the dough rises you can devote yourself to the filling. Soak the raisins in grappa (or Marsala) for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, blend the walnuts and pour them into a large bowl. If you want you can also add almonds.
Melt the butter in the pan and add the breadcrumbs. Toast for 5 minutes, when it has cooled, pour it together with the walnuts. Chop the pine nuts and add them to the mixture.
Drain the raisins and chop them partially, then add them and the Marsala to the filling. Also add the egg yolks, honey, orange, and lemon zest. Cocoa can also be added to taste. In the Gubana cocoa is not predominant (it is in the Putizza Triestina) therefore adding carefully one sprinkle at a time. Whip the whites until stiff and incorporate them into the mixture from bottom to top.
When the leavening is complete, roll out the dough to about half a centimeter thick, giving it the shape of a rectangle. Spread the filling on the pasta plant a border of about 2 cm that will be brushed with a little egg. Roll everything up starting from the longest side, tightening well. Once the Gubana “salami” has been formed, wrap the salami on itself until it forms a snail and place it in the mold. Some say that the word Gubana comes from the Slavic word “Guba” which means “fold“.
Leave to rise in the oven for an hour and a half then remove from the oven and turn it on at 150 ° ventilated. Brush the surface with the beaten egg and brown sugar. Bake only when the oven is at temperature. Cook for 20 minutes then remove from the oven to give a second brushstroke of egg and sugar. Bake for another 25 minutes.
Let it cool and serve by dampening your Gubana slice with as many grappa as you like.
If you don’t want to bake, take a look at
My favorite Gubanas
- La Gubana della Nonna: https://www.gubanadellanonna.com
- Vogrig: http://www.gubana.it (Se sei in vena di provare una nuova “droga”, ti consiglio i loro “Struky“)
- Dorbolò: https://www.gubanedorbolo.com
Don’t forget about the Slivovitz: https://www.ciemmeliquori.com/prodotto/slivovitz-distillato-di-prugne/