Jelačić Cake – Sweet Slice of History

While Christmas is about dozens of different little cookies, New Year's is more about something big and spectacular like a rich cream cake.

While the citizens of Vienna had their famous Sacher cake, here in Zagreb, on the outskirts of the former Austrian-Hungarian Empire, we just had to have something similar, but something we can call our own. And what better way to pay respect to our national hero, the Viceroy of Croatia – Josip Jelačić – than to name a delicious cake after him. Obviously, the recipe is not that old and certainly not very traditional because it includes a lot of chocolate and
whipping cream, something that ordinary people could not afford in large amounts. For some reason not so common in local pastry shops anymore, Jelačić cake is actually a classy crowd-pleaser.

“This is what a professionally baked Jelačić cake should look like.” Image credit: Zvona Catering)

The legend about the origins says Jelačić himself enjoyed this cake at his estate and that later his granddaughter shared the recipe with the world. When you search for the recipe, you'll find two basic versions – Jelačić torta, which is just a classic round cake, and Jelačić šnite, slices from a rectangular baking tin. In both cases you get a rich
and creamy dessert consisting of at least two layers of sponge cake with heavy chocolate cream in between, and chocolate frosting on top. And in order to write this ode to Jelačić cake, I decided it would be best to actually make it, put my words into action! But I must warn you… I'm not a bad cook, I think, but desserts are just not my thing, and I haven't really baked a proper cake since a disastrous and traumatic experience quite a number of years ago. So for me, trying to bake a Jelačić cake is similar to entering the New York City Marathon for someone who occasionally just jogs a little bit in the park.

“Step 1, the sponge cake dough goes in the oven.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

The decision was made – I'm doing the round version, which I personally find more difficult, and therefore more challenging. Boldly, I gathered all the ingredients and set off for this adventure. Jelačić cake is not protected and you cannot find a single, standard recipe. Browsing through various recipes online, I took bits and pieces of inspiration from here and there and settled for what I thought was the best option. First I needed sugar, six eggs – yolks and whipped whites separately – ground walnuts, and cocoa powder to make the dough, which I poured into a round tin and baked for 20 minutes. In the meantime, I had to prepare the chocolate cream.

“Step 2, Whipping up the chocolate cream.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

When I put the cake in the oven, it looked promising. Of course, I licked the remains from the bowl and the taste was very rewarding. But to my great disappointment, the sponge cake did not rise enough to cut it in two halves, between which I was supposed to put a thick layer of chocolate cream. After a few loud curses, the crisis manager in me decided not to despair but to make use of what I got. For the cream I needed melted dark chocolate, milk and whipped cream. Combined together, it’s heavenly! As it turned out, I ended up with much more cream than I needed, so I guess I will have to use it with everything in the next couple of days. I spread a generous layer of the cream on top of my insufficient sponge cake and put it in the fridge to thicken.

“Delicious, but for some mysterious reason too thin sponge cake.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

A few hours later, after lunch, I decided to test serve the cake to my family. Although this failed single-layered cake looked nothing like the beautiful pictures of Jelačić cake, and I was sure my creation is not worthy of the great historic person it was named after, my family loved it and my heart was in place. Don’t judge a book by its covers, I guess. There’s enough time and room for improvement and I promise I’ll make a better version for New Year’s Eve.

How about you, fancy some sweet history for dessert?

“Here it is – my humble first try at baking Jelačić cake.” Image credit: Taste of Croatia

Header image credit: Taste of Croatia

Author: Morana Zibar/Taste of Croatia