Gubana: Italian Easter bread for an Australian road trip

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We are on a road trip!

Tonight, we are in the inland town of Gundagai. First stop in what is shaping up to be a trip through historic inland towns and villages.

I haven’t driven our car for weeks, and for at least a couple of months before that, since I prefer to walk or take public transport to get around our patch of inner Sydney. It took a while to get used to the manual gears, the road, other cars, but then I settled back into familiarity with our good little car, and we were away, to quieter and greener places.

When I was not driving, I nibbled on a slice of gubana.

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Gubana. A special Easter cake/bread I stumbled across almost by accident. I made the recipe, and found the flavours intriguing, lingering, in a way that says old fashioned good things. Bread-like, not quite as rich as brioche or challah, crammed full of walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, chocolate, hazelnuts, and more. The bread is almost like panettone, and filling is so flavoursome, with a lingering sweetness that comes from dried fruit rather than sugar.

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Then, I began to read about its origins, and I was hooked.

This is a short post, since I am typing on a tablet in a quaint B&B that used to be a Methodist church, nibbling on complimentary chocolate and port. So I’ll let others tell you about this fabulous bread.

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Just as the German city of Dresden is forever tied to Stollen, the city of Cividale del Friuli is firmly connected to Gubana. This sweetly stuffed, spiraled cross between bread and a cake originated in neighboring Gorizia and over the border of Slovenia, but Cividale is its true home.

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 is unique in both flavor and texture. Sweet butter is folded into the dough for flakiness, the milk and eggs yield a soft, pillow-y texture, and the “oompf” from the yeast lends a light, airiness. After rising, the dough is rolled out into a flat rectangle, and spread with delicious, grappa-spiked filling of chocolate, cocoa, raisins, orange zest, nuts and spices, rolled up into a long snake and then spiraled into a turban before baking. The truly Friulian way gild the lily is to anoint a wedge of Gubana with a small splash of local grappa.

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Every city, every homemaker, will have the “original” recipe for Gubana and they will differ from town to town however, the origins are widely attributed to Cividale. In 1409 Gubana was listed as part of the menu’ during a dinner sponsored by the city in honor of Pope Gregorio XII. In numerous songs, telling the history of Friuli, the Gubana is mentioned as one of the specialty for celebrations. In many areas, brides will give pieces of Gubana instead of the confetti used in the rest of Italy.

The recipe I used comes from Carol Field’s book, The Italian Baker, and adapted by Citrus and Candy.

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Gubana

Ingredients

Bread

125ml C milk
320g plain flour
14g instant dried yeast
60g caster sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt
60g unsalted butter, softened

Filling

150g hazelnuts, roasted, peeled and finely chopped
50g walnuts, roasted and finely chopped
2 Tbl of pine nuts, roasted
80g plain Italian sweet biscuits (like savoiardi) or brioche crumbs
85g raisins, roughly chopped
1/4 C apricot jam
40g chopped glacé orange rind
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
1 Tbl dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbl sweet Marsala
1 Tbl Grappa
1 Tbl Amaretto

1 egg for eggwash

Method

Place milk, 1 cup of the flour and yeast in a bowl and stir until smooth. Cover with clingwrap and in place in a warm, draught-free place for 10 minutes or until it becomes bubbly.

Place remaining flour, sugar, egg, egg yolk, lemon rind, vanilla and salt in a large bowl and stir. Add in the yeast mixture and stir until it forms a dough.

Add softened butter and knead into the dough with your hands until mixed.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic, adding extra flour if it starts to get too sticky.

Place into a greased bowl and turn to coat the dough. Cover with clingwrap and leave for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

For the filling, place all ingredients in a bowl and combine well.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to form a 25 x 45cm rectangle. Spread filling over the dough leaving a 3cm border.

Roll up the dough tightly lengthways to form a sausage shape and pinch the ends to seal.

Twist into a lightly greased 20cm springform tin to form a coil. Cover and leave for an hour, or until the dough has risen by a third. In the meantime preheat oven to 180°C.

Beat 1 egg for eggwash and brush the top of the Gubana and bake at 180°C for 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 150°C and bake for another 25 minutes or until a deep golden colour,

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Slice to serve. Store in airtight container.

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41 thoughts on “Gubana: Italian Easter bread for an Australian road trip

  1. Patty Nguyen 19 April 2014 at 9:16 am Reply

    Wow, that bread is chock full of goodness! Thank you for sharing its origins. I hope you’re having a fantastic road trip!!

  2. birgerbird 19 April 2014 at 9:20 am Reply

    This is my kind of post — so interesting! And the bread is gorgeous.

  3. Chaya 19 April 2014 at 9:31 am Reply

    it looks delicious! anything with cinnamon and nuts is a go-to for me. i’d love to try this in a braided challah.

  4. thepaddingtonfoodie 19 April 2014 at 9:43 am Reply

    We grew up with this. My mother makes it every Easter and Christmas. So delicious. How’s this for coincidence? I”m helping her bake one today, her version is a little different using nuts and chocolate. We’ve also just spent a week on a road trip from Sydney to Canberra via the South Coast. Everything is so lush and green. Enjoy your road trip and have a happy Easter.

  5. Gather and Graze 19 April 2014 at 9:54 am Reply

    This looks delicious SG and packed full of aromatic ingredients! Have a great road trip! I haven’t been to Gundagai in years… great to visit some of these smaller historic towns!

  6. Ngan R. 19 April 2014 at 10:07 am Reply

    Saucy, your description of this bread leaves me wanting to make a loaf right now. The grappa soaked fruit and nut filling sound wonderful for this bread, and you’re right, such a filling is preferable to mounds of sugar. Lovely bread and bit of history. It seems with all foods, every region has their own way in doing things. Have safe travels and enjoy your weekend!

  7. Nancy 19 April 2014 at 11:01 am Reply

    If bread can be beautiful, this one most certainly is! I’ve never seen one filled with so much goodness. Every bit of the filling sounds delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipe and your tales of traveling :)

  8. Butter, Basil and Breadcrumbs 19 April 2014 at 12:02 pm Reply

    Living vicariously through you… :-) I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a bread filled with so much nutty and fruity deliciousness…with so many flavors going on, this one is right up my alley! Interesting history.. I love that! :-)

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 6:16 pm Reply

      Thank you Prudy! Just catching up with posts and comments now, hope you’ve had a great Easter too! :-D

  9. lapetitecasserole 19 April 2014 at 2:04 pm Reply

    Saucy your gubana look perfect! One of my mum best friends prepares it every year, and since she knews that I love it, she used to make a small gubana for me… exceptionally she prepared it on December when I was in Italy for Christmas! It has been a great surprise!
    Thank you for letting me feel home and especially to have shared with us the special history!

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 6:15 pm Reply

      Oh, wow, thank you so much for your kind words!! I was wondering what the “real thing” should look like! :-P
      It is so sweet of your mum’s friend to make a gubana just for you, isn’t it wonderful how bread can have really interesting stories and personal memories?
      I hope you had a great Easter! :-D

  10. ladyredspecs 19 April 2014 at 2:48 pm Reply

    Yummo, great looking bread! Enjoy your trip, and happy Easter

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 6:12 pm Reply

      A belated thank you! And hope you had a good Easter break (and Anzac long weekend) too!

  11. Liz 19 April 2014 at 3:05 pm Reply

    enjoyed very much, Saucy. Am echoing the above “yummo” :-) Port sounds like a lovely blog-writing accompaniment. And lol, your “short posts” are more complete and information-filled than my standard ;-)

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 6:11 pm Reply

      Ahh the wonders of Google, in making me sound informed – port and chocolate was pretty cosy after a long day’s driving, that B&B owner knows her stuff!

  12. […] Saucy […]

  13. yummychunklet 20 April 2014 at 6:06 am Reply

    First time hearing about this bread! Looks great!

  14. lemongrovecakediaries 20 April 2014 at 10:43 am Reply

    This bread is new to me too – sounds delicious! Have fun on your road trip!

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 6:09 pm Reply

      Thanks Karen, nearly at the end of the trip and we have had a blast. The bread is pretty good – makes me want to visit northern Italy and Slovenia!

  15. Michelle 20 April 2014 at 2:25 pm Reply

    What a beautiful bread! We went to Slovenia a few years ago and it was delightful.

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 6:07 pm Reply

      I still haven’t been, but eastern Europe is high on our wish list, well, maybe not Crimea for the next while..

  16. spiceinthecity 21 April 2014 at 1:19 am Reply

    Such a lovely looking bread Saucy! You paint quite the picture with your words, too :)

  17. laurasmess 21 April 2014 at 2:44 am Reply

    Wow. That loaf is seriously impressive. I’ve never heard of Gubana before but now I’m itching to try it… yummo. Thanks for the recipe share. Oh, and the grappa accompaniment? Swooooon! x

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 4:34 pm Reply

      Yep, grappa plus loads of Italian goodness, I could live there and get used to this kind of bread!

  18. chefjulianna 21 April 2014 at 6:00 am Reply

    Wow! Now that’s my kind of Easter bread! My brain is going crazy with all of those flavours. I have never made a yeast bread, but I think your recipe has finally kicked my butt to learn how!! :D

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 4:29 pm Reply

      If you’ve made cinnamon scrolls or other buns, the technique is pretty similar! And it is pretty tasty! :-)

  19. Johnny / Kitschnflavours 21 April 2014 at 11:02 am Reply

    And there I was expecting your sourdough hot cross buns. This sounds delectable. And how come I didn’t see anything like this when I was travelling through there several years ago. Of course, it may not be a summery thing. Really nice combination of flavours. Beats hot cross buns any day.
    Anyway, enjoy your trip. Looking forward to seeing some photos in the next while.

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 4:21 pm Reply

      Thanks Johnny, holiday photos coming once I’m back home with my laptop. The bread/gubana is meant to be a Christmas/Easter/wedding thing, maybe you should have gate crashed a wedding? :-)

  20. eclecticoddsnsods 22 April 2014 at 5:21 am Reply

    Looks great is it easy to make, because it looks too good to be easy x

    • saucygander 25 April 2014 at 2:59 pm Reply

      Hi there, if you have made buns or cinnamon scrolls before, it’s pretty similar. If it’s your first time, I find reading the instructions a couple of times before starting helps – there’s a first time for everything, and even if it flops it’ll be fun – and knowing you, you will create another great post from it! :-D

      • eclecticoddsnsods 25 April 2014 at 8:34 pm

        haha, yes i think people like my cooking dramas, but this week..yahay i didnt have one!!! woohoo..I might try this if i am feeling brave hehe, never made buns before x

  21. Jody and Ken 23 April 2014 at 3:53 am Reply

    Great cake! Sounds like fluffy brioche filled with grappa infused treasure… Ken

    • saucygander 24 April 2014 at 6:33 pm Reply

      It’s a tad drier than brioche, almost like panettone. We really liked it, not only because it’s grappa infused.

  22. milkandbun 23 April 2014 at 4:38 am Reply

    Oh my Gosh! The bread looks stunning and so delicious; I’m bookmarking it! Thanks for the sharing!
    Have a great trip!

    • saucygander 24 April 2014 at 6:26 pm Reply

      Thank you! We’ve come back into mobile phone network on the roadtrip, woohoo! The bread was quite tasty and kept surprisingly well!

  23. mademoisellegourmande 23 April 2014 at 8:09 pm Reply

    This looks so good! So moist and yummy! Thank you for sharing..

    • saucygander 24 April 2014 at 6:21 pm Reply

      Thank you, we enjoyed eating slices of gubana! :-)

  24. Pam 25 April 2014 at 2:55 am Reply

    It looks absolutely beautiful and so delicious!

  25. aroundtheworldin80bakes 3 May 2014 at 6:22 pm Reply

    Oh my word this looks AMAZING!!! I’m adding this to my must bake list right away. Beautiful post and photos too. I love the angles it showcases the swirls perfectly.

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