When we love someone we often like to say that we give him or her our heart. If you go on a vacation in Croatia, you will find out that there is a way to literally give your heart to the loved ones by gifting them licitar’s heart. Covered in red glaze, decorated with flourish patterns and packed in cellophane, licitar is a colorful decorated sweet honey pastry traditionally made in continental Croatia. For centuries this biscuit was a way of expressing love and affection to those that we love. Today licitar is on the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list which makes it not only one of the national symbols, but also an indigenous Croatian souvenir that will remind you for a long time of your Croatia vacation.

Licitar – A Recipe That Is Jealously Kept As A Secret

The first licitar pastries were made in the Middle Ages. Through the 16th and 17th century their production became popular thanks to the monasteries that were making licitars in their decorative sumptuous wooden molds. This kind of pastry making in continental Croatia came from the Middle European countries such as Germany and Austria. People there are still producing sweet, strongly seasoned pastries called Lebzelter or Lebküchler from which derives Croatian name licitar.

Robert Majetic / CC BY-SA

When the recipe for licitar came to Croatia, this little gingerbread-like-cakes were made mainly by reputable artisans from northern Croatian cities like Zagreb, Karlovac, Vraždin and Samobor. Their recipe for making licitars was a jealously kept secret that they passed from one generation to another, together with the most important tool for their making: gingerbread molds. Handmade in copper or galvanized in metal sheet, every mold was different. In that way, licitar makers could have a unique look at their pastries making them recognizable among the customers. In addition to licitars, these craftsmen also made other gingerbreads, honey drinks or wax items that they sold at fairs and church festivities. Today many stands in Zagreb and surrounding area are still recognizable by the vivid colors of licitars that are luring you to buy this authentic Croatian souvenir.

Seanpu1 / CC BY-SA

Ouch! A Sweet Pastry That Is Not For Eating

In a long tradition of producing licitar pastries in Croatia artisans slowly added some unique features into it such as the way of decorating, or the recognizable bright red glaze. Thanks to these modifications, licitar biscuit became over the time an authentic symbol not only of Zagreb and surrounding cities but of the whole Croatia.

As the exterior of licitar is very attractive, most children cannot resist it. However, those who bite it remain uncomfortably surprised by its taste. Although each pastry is made from common ingredients such as potato flour, water, sugar, baking powder, and edible colors, licitar is not meant to be eaten. Why? Because the main purpose of it is to keep the fond memories. Thus, if stored under ideal conditions, the licitar will last up to 15 years. In addition, today more and more licitars are painted with tempera, varnish or even poly color paint, so tasting them is not even recommended.

A Secret Of The Mirror In The Middle Of The Licitar’s Heart

Although licitar can take many forms: a horse, a bird, a mushroom, a horseshoe, etc., the most famous one is in the shape of a heart. The heart is preferable because of the custom that a young man presents it to the girl he likes. Externally coated with red glaze and flourish ornaments made of egg whites or boiled gelatin, the middle of the licitar heart is usually decorated with the small mirror that has the symbolic meaning. If you buy or receive licitar heart probably the first and most spontaneous move is to try to see your reflection into the tiny mirror. By looking at ourselves mirror is saying: ‘’know yourself’’.

Fraxinus Croat / CC BY-SA

When a young man gives the girl a licitar heart, he will stand behind her. In that way, he will be the first who she sees when she looks at it. She sees him, who has given her his heart, in which there is room only for her. Along with the symbol of the tiny mirror, licitar heart often has a message under it confirming romantic attachment with simple words like: I love you. However, the message itself varies on occasion and can range from humorous to even provocative one. In doing so, the size of the heart itself does not matter and varies: from the very small ones to the large ones that are ordered for special occasions such as weddings or baptisms.

Gift Them, Wear Them, Put Them On The Christmas Tree

Besides being gifted to the loved one, licitars can be a beautiful Christmas tree ornament. Once Christmas decorations like this were very popular. Even though you won’t find them today in an average Croatian household, their different shapes, colorful decorations, and red colors still make them a very appropriate and attractive holiday decoration. 

As the licitar heart is one of the most authentic Croatian souvenirs, it can be found also in the form of jewelry. There are jewelry stores that handmade gold and silver pendants, earrings and bracelets according to the motif of this popular pastry. In that way, anyone who comes to Croatia can bring a souvenir of lasting value with them.

Where To Find This Authentic Croatian Souvenir?

If you visit any of the cities in northern Croatia, such as Zagreb, Samobor or Varaždin, there is a good chance that you will find the artisans at stands with authentic home-made products, souvenir shops or traditional gift shops. It is also possible to order licitar online.

Although in 2010 UNESCO included the production of Croatian licitars on its list of protected intangible cultural heritage, fewer and fewer people are engaged in their traditional production. Keep in mind that buying this authentic Croatian souvenir directly from craftsmen during your vacation in Croatia helps small family businesses who have decided to continue the tradition. Once you buy it you can keep it for yourself or gift it to someone you love. The decision is up to you. What would it b

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