The Sweet Seduction

Written by: Anita Palada, Edward Kiersh

Photos by: Goluzarije, Pixabay, Anita Palada

            “The seduction, the magic, begins with the hands, the kneading, the stretching,” laughs this modern-day Michelangelo sculpturing another sweet masterpiece in his cozy Split patisserie.

            “Of course my perfect strudels also need eggs, vanilla cream, the top ingredients, the very best almonds, nuts, yogurt mix and how I interpret various secrets, Croatian recipes from the past,’” continues Ivan Matić, 43, frenetically reaching for heaping amounts of sugar and gloriously-tart cherries.

            “But the real secret to making great strudel is the hands. Mine are filled with love. They are very sensitive. Perfect for making wonderful Strudel.”

            His colleague, baker Eleonara Višić, enthusiastically agrees. Standing alongside him, his partner in sweetness, she emphasizes just how critical hands are to preparing dough for kneading. An equally-experienced artisan, schooled by her beloved mother and grandmother, she compares her work to a much-revered painting, the always-crowded, sweetly-scented Guluzarije bakery to an artist’s studio. 

            “When I see dough I see a blank canvas in front of me,” she passionately explains. “I’m a painter with a brush in my hand. I have an image of the dough, how I will transform it with creams and fillings, how I will mix these vivid colors. I completely immerse myself in the dough so my hands and spirit are giving life, love. The dough then gives me a lot of great scents in gratitude.”

            But this duo’s deeply-felt passion—and ambitions—go far beyond strudel. While they meticulously sift flour, mix sugar, and stretch dough into just the right flaky thickness for strudel, these tradition-minded Croatians are also faithfully “recreating the specific smells and tastes of people’s childhoods in Dalmatia”— offering classical desserts that have long disappeared from bakeries.

            “The real people of Split are proud of their culinary traditions, rich and full of sweetness,” insists Ivan. “Fritters are a traditional cake in our country, made for hundreds of years, but they could not be bought anywhere. I want to evoke happy moments spent in homes with families, so I am making Brač Hrapoćuša, Trogir rafioli, apple and cherry strudels, vanilla rolls. Menus from a lost time.”

              Matić’s devotion to the past has spurred dreams about the future. He hopes to open two more “fairy tale” patisseries. In the meantime, patrons animatedly chat with Eleonora about concocting a strudel crust coated with melted butter, and seek out more than baking advice from Ivan.

            “People know I have a big heart like a bus, that I know all about love,” says Matić proudly, keenly eying his oven to make sure the dough bakes for 30 minutes at 180 degrees.

            “I tell them that love goes through the stomach first. Eating fine food, it is one of the ways to seduce a woman, and to maintain love beloved woman is smiling and happy, and I always want to see her that way. I want to treat my guests to the same beautiful experience, to eat deliciously, and to love each other.”

            Now that people are increasingly flocking to Guluzarije, Ivan throughly enjoys seeing people laugh with every flavorful bite of his strudel. Their smiles are making him—and Eleonora-even more committed to offering “absolute perfection.”

            “Pastries are happiness, so here dough is our love,”says Eleonora. “When I prepare cakes I am transported to a different dimension, another state of mind. I am happily divorced from reality.”

            It’s a wondrous realm both of these bakers want to share with each of their strudel lovers.