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At Easter time, the Croatian coastal regions of Istria and Damatia pump out thousands of egg-based sweet breads known as pinca to complement the other colored egg-themed offerings. Also known by the name sirnica, this circular cake is a regular offering at late Lenten celebrations throughout Slovenia and Croatia as well as in some parts of Italy. The cake dough is a balled heap of flour, milk, egg yolks, citrus zest, vanilla, sugar, salt, yeast, butter and sometimes a little booze that is baked until browned with a three-pointed star cut into the top.
Precise measurements are needed to make a proper pinca. A sample recipe at the Ostaria Istriana Web site, which presents culinary and other cultural information about the politically divided Croatians and Slovenians of the European region of Istria, includes a traditional Dalmatian mix of ingredients. To make four balls of cake dough, it will take 2 lbs (about 1 kg) of flour whipped with the appropriate amount of yeast, and 7 oz (about 200 g) of room-temperature butter. Into a depression made at the top of this ball goes the yolk of five eggs, 7 oz. (about 200 g) of granulated sugar, a few drops of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, a little citrus zest, and perhaps a shot each of brandy and rum. Some chefs also add a little milk to the dough for a potentially richer final product.
These ingredients are kneaded through the dough until a uniform consistency is reached. After the dough sits at room temperature for a few hours, it should double in size, which is a baking technique called proving. Then it is divided into as many as four equally sized balls of dough, which are set aside to keep rising.
After about another hour, the pinca cakes are sliced along the top in the pattern of a three-pointed star and placed on a greased pan. Their tops are brushed with more egg yolk and sprinkled with a courser sugar than the granulated variety. The cakes bake at about 400°F (about 200°C) for at least a 20 minutes but may need as long as 45 minutes to properly finish. These cakes should be golden brown and hyper-sweet on the top from the yolk and sugar.
A common way to present pinca is in a cross at the center of a table for a special meal. Many Croatian bakers also make a variation known as primorski uskrsne bebe, which braids thin strands of pinca dough around and away from a colored, hard-boiled Easter egg, creating a vague resemblance to a swaddled baby Jesus.
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