Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Prekmurska Gibanica: My All-American Slovenian Strudel Pie Recipe

Prekmurska Gibanica, or Slovenian Strudel Pie

Here is my recipe for prekmurska gibanica. Or, if you prefer an English name, Slovenian strudel pie. 

I tasted this traditional dessert during my first trip to Slovenia. It is an unusual and tantalizing pastry with alternating layers of paper-thin strudel or filo dough and a series of fillings: apple, cheese, walnut and poppy seed.

It is a specialty from Prekmurje, the part of Slovenia that borders Hungary. The European Union has recognized it as an official traditional food, with the name and the recipe protected.   

I took the bold step of attempting prekmurska gibanica for the first time and then entering it into my neighborhood Fourth of July pie baking competition.  I actually won third prize. (Of course, there were only seven entries.  But I still felt proud!) 

To learn more about the background of this dish, or to read about the unlikely pie bake-off, take a look at my essay, from the old Red Room writing community: Slovenian Strudel Pie, as American as the Fourth of July.

I adapted the recipe from a variety of Slovenian sources, mostly online. It was not in my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks. Too exotic, I expect! But it is definitely a traditional food.

I tried to keep the preparation as simple as possible. There is no denying that this is an elaborate dish.  But it is also a forgiving one. I had a few disasters along the way, and it was still a success. Even my mother approved!

Going, going, gone!

Bottom Layer (Shortcrust Pastry):

1 ¼ c. flour
dash salt
1/3 c. butter
1 egg, beaten

Cheese Filling:

1 lb. farmer cheese or ricotta
1 egg, beaten
4 T. sugar

Walnut Filling:

½ lb walnuts, ground
5 T. sugar
½ t. cinnamon
¼ to ½ c. hot milk or cream (or a mixture)

Apple Filling:

1 lb apples (3)
4 T. sugar
½ t. cinnamon
1 T. lemon juice
lemon zest

Poppy Seed Filling:

12 oz can prepared poppy seed filling
lemon juice

(Or use my recipe to prepare your own, here.)

For the assembly:

1 package commercially prepared filo dough, defrosted overnight if frozen
1 stick butter, melted
1 c. heavy cream

fillings: walnut, farmer cheese, apple, poppy seed

First, prepare the fillings and set aside.

For cheese filling: Blend all ingredients well

For walnut filling: Mix finely-ground walnuts with sugar and cinnamon. Slowly add hot milk or cream (I used half of each) until mixture is a thick but spreadable paste.

For apple filling: Peel apples and cut into thin slices. Mix cinnamon and sugar and add to apples, along with lemon juice to taste.

For poppy seed filling:  The prepared filling I used (Solo) was quite thick and sweet. I mixed it with the juice of a lemon and a little milk/cream until it was spreadable.

shortcrust layer
Next, prepare the shortcrust pastry, which will be the bottom layer:

Mix salt into flour. Cut in butter. Add beaten egg and combine. You should have a crumbly mixture. Butter a deep ceramic dish or spring form pan and press the mixture onto the bottom of the pan.

Now, the assembly:

Cut sheets of filo into pieces that are approximately the size of the dish or pan you are using. Keep covered with a towel during the assembly.

Put the first sheet of filo onto the shortcrust layer you have pressed into the bottom of the dish. (If necessary, fold in corners of the filo to make it fit.) Brush filo with melted butter and spread with a layer of poppy seed filling. Add a second sheet of filo, spread with butter, and then add a layer of cheese filling. Add a third sheet of filo, spread with butter, and then a layer of walnut filling. Add fourth sheet of filo, spread with butter, then a layer of apple filling. Repeat in the same order (poppy seed, cheese, walnut, and apple) for a total of 8 layers of filling.

For the final layer of filo, use two sheets. Spread with melted butter. Then pour about ½ cup of cream over the top of the gibanica. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. Cover with foil if it starts to become too brown.

Let cool and serve at room temperature.  Refrigerate leftovers.  It is also good cold.

prekmurska  gibanica, out of the oven

A Few Tips:

In trying to create this dish, I had a few mishaps.

Even though I was careful to defrost the filo overnight, it was tempermental. It seemed dry and crumbly and it kept sticking and shattering.  But I was still able to piece it together. So treat filo carefully, but don't worry too much. As I noted earlier, a dish like this is forgiving. (And no, I am not tempted to make filo from scratch, although there are recipes available.)

One of the recipes I consulted called for a full cup of warm milk in the walnut filling. I made the mistake of adding it all at once and ended up with a milky walnut soup! I had to grind up more walnuts and add them, along with some sugar, to get the right texture. So follow the revised quantities I suggest above, and add the milk slowly.

The next time I attempt this, I will make my own poppy seed filling. (Update: Here it is, an easy homemade poppy seed filling recipe. All it takes is a coffee grinder!)

Since I had leftover filling, especially the walnut, I decided to make a second, smaller gibanica. Unfortunately, I forgot to pour the cream on top before baking that one. So it had a crunchier top, as you can see on the right hand side of the photo below. Without the cream,  the inside was drier and it lacked the pudding-like quality I recall from the version we tasted in Slovenia. But it was still tasty.

Oops! I forgot the cream topping on the right hand version


  1. Beautiful. I made it only once... A lot of work, but result is delicious :).

    1. I will have to check out your recipe. Did you make your own phyllo dough? I did it just once, for strudel, but not for the gibanica. This could be my very favorite Slovenian dessert so far! (That apple-pumpkin crumble recipe you just posted looks delicious!)