Sirnica: The Croatian Plaited Easter Bread

It’s hard to believe that Easter is fast approaching but as I write this it’s less than two weeks away. I’m not sure if everyone else feels as if they just left behind all the credit card bills of Christmas and wonders how Easter caught up with us so quickly, but before you could even blink an eye, the seasons turned and here we are.

For Croatians, Easter is the holiest holiday of all, it’s much more of a bigger deal than Christmas and it’s the one time of year that families come together to fast, pray and ultimately celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Growing up, the high holidays were always celebrated with specific foods in our household and Easter was no exception. Some of the best memories of growing up Dalmatian were the Easter foods which our mothers and grandmothers lovingly prepared year after year. There was a certain ritualism to these foods and the sense of structure and continuity which they evoked, it was like a homecoming and a sign that just like spring, Easter was a time of renewal.

I decided that I’d like to delve deeper into some of these foods and provide a bit of a spotlight on the ones which most of us will associate with Easter in Croatia (not just us Dalmatians either). Therefore, for the next few articles, I am going to provide some coverage on the traditional Easter foods we all know and grew up with and which many of us continue to prepare for our own families and children, thereby following in the footsteps of our ancestors.

As far as Easter is concerned, the one dish which every Croatian household cherishes probably more than gold is Sirnica. Sirnica, which literally translated simply means ‘cheese bread’ is usually prepared just a few days ahead of Easter. I always knew when it was about to be prepared because that was the day my Mother would come home from grocery shopping with tons of brown eggs, walnuts, oranges and lemons, brick cubes of butter, and an entire industrial size paper bag filled to the brim with flour. Enough for some serious Dalmatian baking to begin. She would lovingly store all these ingredients in the pantry and clear our large wooden kitchen table for the exhausting task of making the Sirnica by hand. And she wasn’t alone.

When I was younger, I’d recall my Godmother would often come over and keep her company and the two of them would prepare their Sirnica in each other’s company, telling stories and exchanging all the latest gossip together (I am sure Jesus did not mind!). The table would be stripped bare and my mother would begin by sprinkling generous dosages of flour into the middle of the table and then, baking pin in hand would begin pushing in and kneading the flour dough until it was plumpy and thick. We kids always had a grand time listening to the whiz and whirl of the kitchen appliances while she pressed and firmed the dough for what we knew a few hours later would be mouth-watering Sirnice. The problem was, we weren’t allowed to consume them until the Saturday after good Friday because as everyone knew, the Sirnice had to be blessed. I’m telling you the art of Sirnice baking is a serious process and one could hand out awards based on the time and energy Croatian housewives set aside in producing Sirnice year after year.

Take the case of my Mother, Mila. She’s now 64 and still going strong in the Sirnice baking department all these long years later. When I was a teenager she would make a Sirnica for every member of our family, and considering I am the eldest of five siblings, that meant seven Sirnice in total (including both of my parents). Now to complicate matters, my first cousin - Tomislav Radman, was such a voracious connoisseur of my Mother’s Sirnice at the expense of his own mother’s, that it became a bit of a standing joke between my Mother and my Aunt Simone as to whose Sirnice’s Tom was going to consume that Easter. In the end, my Aunt just shrugged her shoulders and my Mother took on the responsibility of ensuring my cousin Tom was supplied with at least one Sirnica from her over (err, two considering how quickly he consumed them) year over year. She never complained and to this day she will still make them for every member of our now growing family, including modified smaller version Sirnice (almost the size of large donuts) for my sister Michelle’s three children, who constitute her only grandchildren to date. I would imagine that in this regard she is not alone and is only doing what thousands of other Croatian housewives do during the Easter season and what her ancestors have done before her.

So, what is so special about Sirnica’s you may ask? Well, they taste like lightly aromatic puff pastry and are known for their lemony flavored dough, which has a top portion similar to Jewish Challah bread but with an interior that although looks hard, is actually soft on the palate. It’s hard to put into words but if you grew up Croatian, Sirnica is one of those items you absolutely need to see on the Easter table or it’s basically as if Easter never happened. The two go hand in hand. Sirnica is round in shape and while still in dough position, a knife is used at the top to create something of a cross effect, which I am sure has to do with Christian tradition and lore. You can make large ones, medium size ones or small ones, its all up to you, but the variety I grew up with in Dalmatia were usually medium-sized, brownish on the top, and yellowy in the middle. Some people use orange rind to give the top coating its subtle but fruity flavor, but traditionally its always been the rind of one lemon.

Sirnica was typically always found on the kitchen table on Easter morning and was usually placed in the middle of a large plate or basket surrounded by the traditional Croatian Easter eggs known as pisanice, as well as sausages, apples, walnuts and whatever else dictated seasonality or availability. One of my best memories of it, however, was seeing it laid out in those old Slavic embroidered tea towels which reminded me of Russia, the kind my Mother kept in a special chest and only brought out for festive occasions or the high holidays. She would wrap the Sirnica and her other confections in these tea towels and place them in a basket to be blessed during what seemed like the longest service of the year, a mass that lasted almost three hours in duration and which culminated in the blessing of each individual basket by the priest or deacon. After the mass, we would go home and place the Sirnica back on the kitchen table on one of the more decorative plates and look forward to Sunday morning when as a family we would eat the Sirnice and hit our Easter eggs amongst each other for good luck. These are among the most cherished memories of Easter for me and the Sirnica has always played a pivotal role. With Easter 2018 less than two weeks away and my Mother getting on in years, I’ve made it a point to finally stand up with her by the old wooden table and learn the art of Sirnica making so that I too can pass down a small piece of this vital family legacy to my own family one day soon.


  • 250 milk
  • 14 grams of active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 850 g plain flour
  • 250 g salted butter
  • 250 g sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp marsala wine (or red wine)
  • 1 egg extract
  • Icing sugar to dust with


  • Combine the milk, yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl or jug. Stir well and set aside to proof.
  • Place the flour and butter into a food processor and pulse until the butter has incorporated into the flour. Transfer the flour mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and lemon-orange zest and mix well, using a whisk.
  • Lightly mix the egg yolks, vanilla and marsala then add to the flour, along with the yeast milk. Using your hand, bring the mixture together to form a dough and knead for 10 minutes until it springs back when touched. Alternatively, use a mixer with dough attachment.
  • Place the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rest in a warm place to rise for 2-3 hours. It may even take 4 hours to double in size.
  • Line a baking tray with paper and spray lightly with oil. Set aside.
  • Once the dough has risen, take it out of the bowl and cut into even quarters. Roll each quarter into a perfect ball and place onto the lined and greased baking tray. Allow to rise again for 1½ - 2 hours before baking.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • Brush each ball of dough with the beaten egg, then cut a shallow cross into the tops of each. Traditionally, it's at this point that you scatter over some crushed sugar cubes if you can find them.
  • Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until golden and a skewer comes out clean when tested.