Next time you go to the northern part of Italy, you must visit Udine. It is about two hours drive from Venice and is surrounded by mountains. It has a little bit of Vienna, a little bit of Venice and a whole lot of uniqueness. It has paintings and art by Tiepolo and Palladio. It has incredible prosciutto (the township of San Daniele is just up the road) and crisp white wine such as Friulano. It is in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia which used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and now borders Slovenia, Austria as well as the region of Veneto. Even the language, Friulano, is quite distinct and very much unlike the dialect that my parents spoke living in Monfalcone, less than 50 km away. It is surprisingly not on the tourist radar and even a bit of a mystery to other Italians. I adore going there plus I have the added bonus of most of my Italian family living close-by.
The cuisine of FVG doesn’t always seem Italian, some of it reflecting its Slovenian and Austrian traditions and its mountainous terrain. Gubana, a yeast cake with a filling of nuts, dried fruit and grappa, is a perfect example of different cultures and traditions meeting. Even its name can be a bit confusing – there is potizza (Slovenian), presnitz (from Trieste) and gubana (from the Natisone valley in Friuli) all very similar cakes and none of them sound Italian. I remember mamma buying this gubana in Cividale del Friuli, to take back to Australia the last time we went back to Italy together about 10 years ago as we could not find gubana here. The cake has origins that go back to the 1400s and I loved its shell-like layering. It was lovely but as it had probably made months before, a bit dry. I really wanted to try to make my own.
It is surprisingly not that difficult to make, but it takes a bit of time, mainly the resting time as it uses yeast. I made gubana a couple of times in April. Neither of them had the traditional shape. I didn’t have the right size cake tin – the tin was too big the first time (so it turned out more like a presnitz as shaped in a ring) and too small the second time (see photo below). It still looked great and everyone *loved* the taste. The recipe I used is based on this recipe on the SBS website. I gave a large piece to mamma to take home and she told me that she didn’t share it with any guests who came to visit in the following week – she kept it all to herself!
450g (16 oz) 00 flour
110g (4 oz) caster sugar
7g (1/4 oz) dried yeast
good pinch salt
1 whole egg plus one yolk at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla essence
zest 1 orange
100g (3.5 oz) butter, melted
125ml (1/2 cup) milk
1 extra egg, lightly beaten, to glaze
100g (3.5 oz) sultanas soaked in 125ml (1/2 cup) grappa
50g (1.75 oz) currants
40g (1.4 oz) candied orange peel, finely chopped
zest 1 lemon
110g (4 oz) roasted hazelnuts
110g (4 oz) walnuts
30g (1 oz) pine nuts
80g (3 oz) Savoiardi (sponge fingers), broken into chunks
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey
1 small egg, lightly beaten, for glazing
Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the egg, yolk, vanilla and orange zest. Melt the butter at medium heat and add the milk, removing from the heat as soon as the mixture warms. Now add the egg mixture and the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon to combine and then with your hands. Knead for around ten minutes on a lightly floured work surface (I used my KitchenAid with a dough hook for 6-7 minutes). The dough will be smooth and elastic. Place in a large buttered bowl, cover in plastic wrap and set aside in a warm draught-free place for an hour or until it doubles in size.
To make the filling – place the three types of nuts in a food processor and process to desired consistency. Add the Savoiardi and pulse until they resemble the nuts in size. Place these in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients until evenly combined. You should have a thick paste.
Butter a 20cm (8 inch) cake tin with a removable base. Punch the dough down on a floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. Roll out with a rolling pin to approximately 30 cm – 50 cm (12 – 20 inches) Place the dough on a clean tea towel, and spread the filling evenly over it, leaving a 2cm (just under an inch) border around the edges. Roll up the dough lengthways, using the tea towel to help you if needed. It will be a long sausage shape. Place the sausage in a tin creating a coil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm draught-free place to rise for another hour or until it has risen by a third.
Brush with the egg and bake for 20 minutes at 180 C (350 F) degrees, then lower the heat to 160 C (320 F) degrees and bake for another 40 minutes.
Here is a 30 second video that my daughter took on Easter Sunday of me cutting into the gubana I had made the night before. I was clearly excited by its appearance (by my huge gasp when I lift out the first slice and my husband laughing in the background at my reaction)!