Croatian Walnut Pita

On the Dalmatian coast, the region of the Maraska has long exported its sour cherries to the rest of the world under the name “maraschino” cherries. Washington state, as it happens, abounds in sweet and sour cherries on both sides of the Cascade Range, including the wild and very tart chokecherry. The Franulovich family feels at home not only among the sea and pines of Anacortes, but also among its cherry trees.

From their Austro-Hungarian side, Groatians have inherited an enormously rich tradition of desserts, as I found in a cook book called Croatian Cuisine, published in 1978 by a pair of California university students, Ruzica and Alojije Kapetanovic. One distinctive Croatian pastry is a type of shortbread they call “pita,” which for dessert they fill with fruits, nuts, cheese, and chocolate, and for a main dish with meat, cheese, and vegetables. Here I’ve wedded a dessert walnut pita to a sour cherry pita, blessed by bitter chocolate and rum, following the northwestern rubric “everything in excess.”

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream

Filling

  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar, plus some for sprinkling
  • 2 cups walnuts, ground
  • 2 ounces bitter chocolate, grated
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 2 cups tart cherries, pitted
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Method

Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Slice the ½ pound butter into small pieces and cut into dry mixture with fingertips or processor. Combine the egg, lemon juice, lemon rind, and sour cream and mix lightly with the flour mixture until the dough just begins to stick together. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour. Divide the dough in half and roll or pat each half into a rectangle the size of a 9-by-12-by-2-inch baking pan. Butter and flour the baking pan well. Place one rectangle in the pan, wrap the other in plastic, and chill both while preparing the filling.

Beat egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy and add the nuts, chocolate, and rum. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold into the nut mixture.

Spread this filling over the bottom layer of dough. Spread the cherries on top of the filling and cover with the remaining dough layer. Brush top with melted butter and a sprinkling of sugar. Bake at 350° until top is nicely browned, 45 to 60 minutes. Let cool, then cut into diamonds or squares.