The Rab Cake or the Rapska Torta is a traditional Croatian cake originating from the Adriatic island of Rab, located in the Gulf of Kvarner. Made chiefly from almonds, grated citrus fruit and Maraschino liqueur, it is traditionally baked in the shape of a spiral, although with changing times a lot of other shapes have also become quite popular. Ideally, the cake is placed on a very thin spiral shaped dough and the sides are decorated with the same dough, creating small ruffles. It is then baked, just in its exact time to maintain its juiciness and sprinkled with icing sugar. Its taste and texture is simply beyond description.
It is said that in 1177, Pope Alexander III was crossing the Adriatic sea with his escorting ships, when they took refuge in the Croatian islands due to the impending storm. On his arrival, he consecrated the Cathedral of Rab Maria Himmelfahrt. In gratitude, the Benedictine nuns wanted to create an almond dessert with a wafer base reminiscent of the sweets of Siena, which was the Pope’s birthplace. This is how the Rapska Torte was born.
However, it is also believed that the Rapska Torte was already being baked in the homes of the wealthiest families of Croatia about three hundred years before the arrival of the Pope Alexander III. Two hundred years later, the nuns of St. Anthony’s monastery turned them into cakes and then they reached the hands of the Benedictine of St. Andrew. Not all women were very keen to make it at that time. So, only a few got used to making it.
The original recipe is a secret and is kept in the archives of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Andrew of Rab. However, it is said that the success of this cake lies in the preparation of its filling. The filling should be kneaded with hands several times to amalgamate the ingredients well. In addition, the amount of eggs will depend on the degree of drying of the almonds.
To flavor the cake, the zest of citrus fruits and Maraschino liqueur are used. The Maraschino liqueur is a cherry liqueur called marrascas to which sugar, almonds and honey are added. The distillate is left to mature for a minimum of 2 years in ash wood barrels, which do not transfer its color to the liqueur. Then sugar is added.
Today this cake is made on special occasions or on holidays like Easter, Christmas, weddings or christenings. In Croatia, it is always said that the Rapska Torte must always be present at weddings, otherwise the celebration would be meaningless. Or much worse, it is even considered to be a bad omen.
One of the best Rapska Torte is made by the Vilma Brna bakery on Rab island. Vilma got a chance to learn how to make this cake and today, shares it with everyone through her bakery over the years. She has won several awards, including the Croatian prize for the best souvenir. At the Vilma Brna bakery, one gets to see how this cake gets made as well as taste it, along with quite a few other delicatessen. The most traditional way of presenting it is in the shape of a snail, however, the shapes of hearts and elongated bars have also become quite popular these days.