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Gubana: Your New Favorite Holiday Pastry

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Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home. 

Today: Why you should make gubana -- a sweet, swirling nut roll from northern Italy -- for the holidays this year.

Gubana from Food52

There's nothing like the scents of cinnamon, rum, orange zest and vanilla wafting through the house to get you in the holiday mood. And that's exactly what will happen while you're baking this sweet swirling bread, heavy with raisins, cocoa and nuts, all rolled around a delicious orange and vanilla-scented dough. 

With its characteristic snail shell-shape, the gubana is a traditional holiday treat from the very north-eastern corner of Italy in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and is especially famous in the area of the town of Udine. Considering that this sliver of Italy lies along the border of Slovenia, it's not surprising that this cake has more similiarities with cousins in Croatia and Slovenia than any cakes or sweet breads in other Italian regions. 

Gubana from Food52

Take Slovenian Potica or Croatian Povitica for example -- yeasted dough is stretched paper thin (much thinner than the gubana's dough), then covered with a sweet paste made predominately from walnuts before being rolled into a log or a ring and baked. These nut rolls, as they're often known in the U.S., are also related to the Germanic Gugelhupf -- and they're also not too far removed from rugelach, either.

Despite the nearby, similar traditions, there's no doubting the fact that the gubana has long been a favorite of the area, where this usually home-baked treat is served at special, festive occasions, from weddings to Christmas. It even goes as far back as the early 1400s, when it served during a banquet for the visiting Pope Gregory VII. 

Gubana from Food52

There is a Fruiulian saying, essere pieno come una gubana -- to be as full as a gubana. And this is what differentiates this dish from its neighboring relatives, which have simpler fillings. This filling is a long list of ingredients that includes four types of nuts, raisins, cookies (or in some recipes, breadcrumbs), sweet wine, sugar and cocoa. In some cases, rum or grappa, honey and candied cedro also make an appearance. You'll only need a thin slice of this rich, satisfying treat to get you in the festive mood.

Gubana from Food52


This recipe is adapted from Italian pastry chef Luca Montersino's recipe.

For the dough:

5 cups bakers flour
10 ounces milk
1 cup sugar 
5 1/2 ounces unsalted butter
1 egg plus one extra yolk
1/2 ounce fresh yeast
1 teaspoon salt
Zest of one orange and one lemon
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped of seeds

For the filling:

8 ounces of raisins
1/4 cup moscato, marsala or any sweet wine
3 ounces peeled almonds
3 ounces walnuts
1 1/2 ounces hazelnuts
1 ounces pinenuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 ounces butter
4 ounces plain cookies such as graham crackers, crushed
1 1/2 ounces candied orange peel
1 1/2 ounces amaretti cookies
1/4 cup bittersweet cocoa powder
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emiko Davies

Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!
Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!

Tags: Christmas, Holiday, Bake, Holiday Entertaining