Licitar hearts and other licitar goods are popular souvenirs for visitors to Croatia. They can be found at holiday fairs, in souvenir shops, and decorating trees as a part of Croatia's Christmas traditions.
A licitar is an intricately decorated edible gift found in Croatia. Made of honey dough, it is often confused with gingerbread. But recipes for licitar dough differ from recipes for gingerbread and have been passed down through the generations.
Licitar is colorfully decorated cake made of honey dough. From the distant past the secrecy of licitar making has been preserved within the family of gingerbread crafts from the central and lowland of Croatia. Although entirely made of edible ingredients, at first it brings joy for eyes and soul. Traditionally it is of bright red color and produced in various shapes and sizes. Small size licitars (heart, cherry, doll, small bird, mushroom, horse-shoe, small wreath, horse) are favorite decoration of Christmas trees in Croatian homes, whereas the large size licitars are created for giving as a gift to the loved ones at special occasions.
A young man giving a heart shaped licitars to his girlfriend to express this love and devotion to her is a custom deeply rooted in the Croatian traditional heritage. The St. Valentine’s Day, the largest holiday of those in love, is a special occasion for such sign of attention. This custom has been portrayed in the famous baler “Licitar heart” by Krešimir Baranović performed on stages throughout the world.
Licitars come in various shapes and sizes. The most common size is that of a cookie or Christmas ornament. The most common shape is that of a heart. However, licitars can be made larger – in the size of a cake – and can be made in various folkloric shapes, like mushrooms and birds.
Licitars are used for decoration, sold as souvenirs, and given as gifts on special occasions like weddings, Valentine's Day, and other holidays. Licitars are often decorated with a mirror in the center, representing the presence of the receiver in the Licitar-giver's heart.
The tradition of making and giving licitars dates back to the Middle Ages. Licitars came to Croatia, and then from other parts of Europe. They were originally baked in wooden moulds; today, cookie cutters may be used to shape licitars.
The tradition of licitar making dates back to the Middle Ages, especially to the 16th and 17th century when cakes in richly decorated wooden moulds were made in many European convents. In the Easter Alps region, such tradition of cake making soon grew into a craft, which was gradually spreading to the other Central European regions, when it also came to the Pannonian parts of Croatia. In the 18th and 19th Century, in the towns of Zagreb, Karlovac, Koprivnica, Samobor, Varaždin and elsewhere, licitar makers were reputable craftsmen, and their products favorite among members of all social classes.
Here, craftsmen were making dough and wax products such as licitars, gingerbread cakes, candles, wax votive gifts and drinks such as “gvirc” and mead. Since their early days, these products have been sold at fairs and parish fairs related to church festivals. Thanks to licitars producers, the stalls with gingerbread and mead products provided picturesqueness and special atmosphere.
Licitars take a long time to prepare. After each step in the preparation process – making the dough, baking the dough, coloring the dough, and decorating the cookies – the dough is left to dry. Each licitar is hand-decorated in colorful, traditional designs.
The fact that the beauty of licitars may lend nobility to some premises, and that giving or receiving them as a present may provide large satisfaction is self-understandable. But, the attempt to make your own licitars may provide large satisfaction, too. In its beauty they probably may not compete with licitars made by skilled hands of masters, trained for that for years, but they offer endless possibilities to express creativity and personality. One may achieve nice results even with some easily available replacement items. Therefore, lets work!
At first, with the addition of licitars yeast, knead dough of flour and water with melted sugar. Roll out dough flat and make licitars with moulds, i.e. form them with sheet metal licitar moulds for cutting. Place shaped dough into a baking sheet, and bake it in the oven until it gets light yellow color.