On our first day in Split, Croatia, we meet Robert. He’s been busy organising tours for us during our visit. Before we set off to meet our guide Sonia, we have coffee. “Let’s go and buy a cake to eat with our coffee.” suggests Robert. It appears that rather than buying a cake in the cafe we’ll visit, it’s customary to go and buy one at the local bakery and take it with you.
So, for the first time, I discover Kruščić. It means Little Loaf in the Dalmatian dialect, “Crusty” gets stuck in my mind. It’s love at first sight. The back wall is lined with loaves of many shapes and sizes and on right of the counter there is a mouthwatering selection of cakes. Actually cakes is not quite the right word. Pastries perhaps? On our first visit we choose cherry “strudel” and a dense tasty mixture of fruit with something like crème patisserie on top.
To that point, I hadn’t mentioned my passion for breadmaking to Robert said there and then how much I’d love to spend some time in the bakery. And Robert, being Robert does something about it.
Kruščić is ideally situated in the heart of Split. It’s just a short walk from the fascinating fish market, the local butchers shops, and perhaps a 5 minutes walk from the “green market” where the stalls groan with local fruit and vegetables.
If you’ve ever been to Split, you’ll know that ferries sail in and out of the harbour all day long. Every few minutes one departs for one of the islands. Tourists and locals alike bustle about waiting for the time to embark. At 5 a.m. when I walked into town, all was quiet. There was not one ferry in the port. There were a few people up and about and one cat sat right in the middle of the fish market which was yet to open. Yes, Kruščić’s owner bakery had invited me to spend a few hours in the bakery thanks to Robert. Heaven.
The bakery’s doors were open wide. It was a hive of activity – Dijana and Kristjan were already well into their shift. The third baker who makes the pastries had finished his shift hours ago. I donned my apron and tried not to get in the way too much. It’s a small space. Soon I help out a little, oiling tins, shaping the “pasties”, buttering the tops of buns as they come out of the oven.
Our mission: We love to bake. Through baking we connect with our community, feeding our family, friendy and neighbours, teaching and sharing our craft
The pasties are made from white dough rolled out thinly into ovals. Then a mixture of cheese similar to feta, spinach and seasoning is added. You then crimp the edges and bake. I try one of these later – absolutely delicious, light dough exterior and savoury inside. I got to work crimping, then brushing with butter and finally sprinkling with cheese
On my first visit, I was rather taken by the large spheres of rolls. Imagine 24 rolls stuck together, each set of six topped with seeds. These are kept in a wooden chest in the shop proper, definitely like treasure. Once the rolls have been rolled into the required shape, the tops are dampened then dipped into seeds (sesame or linseed) then placed close together on a tray. When they are baked the rolls come out as one large disk and each roll is peeled off to sell.
The doughs created either are based on sourdough or have a poolish starter. Some loaves had been made the day before and were taken out of the chiller to come to room temperature before baking. There’s one industrial mixer (and 10 kilos are made at a time. At one point Kristjan is clearly not quite happy with one dough. He explains that it’s something that he makes each day, in the same way. He adds a little extra water and is more happy with the result. He hefts the 10 kilos out of the mixer and manipulates it on the one large flat surface. With the chiller and oven there is not much room to move.
It’s the first time I’ve spent hours in a production environment. Many of the techniques I learnt with Richard Bertinet are here on a much larger scale. It helps put it all in context. The pace is fast but manageable, there’s passion in the air. Dijana explains that she was a teacher until quite recently. She feels far happier working here. It’s hard work, but very rewarding.
By 6:30 the shop staff have come in. At one point a favourite song comes on the radio (which happens to be French) and everyone sings along. The assistants make coffee as the bread came out of the oven, Kristjan tips the bread it onto the shelves. The two assistants arrange it to their liking and get ready for the day. The first customer arrives – she’s from the local hotel and wants to have bread for the guests breakfast.
The breads keep coming, it’s a juggling act with finding space for those proving, those ready to bake and those coming out of the oven. Rolls that resemble Chelsea buns are also created in rounds. These are filled with a mixture of almonds and spices, then rubbed with butter when they come out of the oven.
I’m intrigued. As they are making a set number of loaves, there is sometimes excess dough left over, each lump is added to a bowl. I discover that at the end of the day, the doughs are mixed together to make “Little Cottage” loaves.
Owner Anand Štambuk explains to me that a German baker helped set up the bakery originally, hence the German slant to some of the recipes. The bakery had to close during the War and when it reopened, it was difficult to source the flour as the mill was now located in another country, Bosnia. There’s a real passion for using traditional methods to bake to the highest standards without any additives, true “real bread”. It’s clearly a labour of love. Prices may be a little higher than other bakeries in the town but each year business grows sought out by locals and tourists alike.
By the time I leave about 9:30 am the queues are out of the door. Dijana and Kristjan are winding down. Another day of perfect bread.
Make a beeline to Kruščić when you’re in Split won’t you?
Obvrov 6 (iza peškarije)
Robert Aronson organises Tours in Croatia and produces Discover Split and Discover Korcula newspapers.