The tradition of making gingerbread began back in the Middle Ages when cakes were made in richly ornamented wooden molds in European monasteries. Nowadays, ornate gingerbread, made with copper molds, are nicely packaged and given as gifts to the furthest parts of the world. In the Bedenica region of Croatia near Sveti Ivan Zelina, you will find licitars made by hand. In 2010, UNESCO honored this symbol by listing it on its Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which is consists of intangible heritage elements that show the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance.
Licitars are colorfully decorated cookies, once sweetened with honey, though now sugar is used as an inexpensive ingredient. Bright red in color, this gingerbread is made in various sizes, colors and shapes: hearts, cherries, babies, birds, mushrooms, horseshoes, wreaths or horses. As a gift, they are primarily intended for giving on special occasions. The tradition of giving a licitar heart is a means for a young man to express his love for a girl. This tradition has been immortalized in the famed ballet by Krešimir Baranović “Licitarsko Srce” (Gingerbread Hearts), performed on stages around the world.
Want to try the art of making licitars?
Here’s a recipe from the Zagreb County Tourist Board.
2.2 pounds/1 kg sugar
2.5 cups/6 dl water
2 Tablespoons/3 dkg of licitar yeast or baking powder
4.4 pounds/2 kg of plain flour
.75 pound/1/3 kg granulated sugar
1 quart/1 liter water
Red food coloring
4 1/2 cups/1 kg gelatin
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Decorating: 180 minutes
Total Time: 198 minutes
Yield: 60 Croatian Licitars
Mix together dough ingredients, and let stand about eight hours. Knead the dough again and roll out on table with rolling pin. Cut the gingerbread with the gingerbread molds and place on greased and floured baking pan. Preheat oven to 300ºC and bake gingerbread several minutes. After baking, remove excess flour from the gingerbread and leave to dry for several days.
Soak gelatin in water, mix well and cook in double-boiler until thick. Add colour. Dip the smaller licitar shapes into the glaze, remove them and hang them to dry (at least one day). Add glaze to larger licitar shapes using a pastry brush.
To decorate the licitar, combine the ingredients and fill a pastry bag and add the desired nozzle. When the decorations are dry, the licitar is finished. In the end, if you don’t like the creation, you may freely eat it!