ANE & THE IMOTSKI TORTA
Waking up full of peka bread, ajvar, and wild boar stew from the previous day, we are shocked at how quickly our time has passed in Imotski. Has it really been 6 days?
Yesterday, I received a message from Matea, our Sutivan Sister, urging us to find and record the Imotski Torta recipe. After some googling of the torta, we knew we had to learn the recipe!! Our plan was to spend our last day in Imotski traveling from bakery to bakery in search of the prized torta. Well…that was the plan until, over coffee yesterday, we asked Marija and Maritza if they have heard of the torta. Upon being asked the question, they began going back and forth in rapid Croatian. We felt badly because we didn't want a simple question to turn into a demand, as it sometimes does when there are language barriers.
Next thing we know, Marija is on the phone with a friend who owns a bakery, Slastičarna Kod Ane, in town. Her energy and tone, brought me back to the days of the trading floor and I was reminded of a broker trying to make a deal on Wall Street. She paced, sat down, and smiled while not seeming to take no for an answer. She hung up the phone, looked at us, and said, "tomorrow we going to my friend Ane and she will be learning the Imotska Torta for you." Translation: “We have the recipe!”
It is 5 PM when we hear the telephone ring. Marija grabs her coat and tells us that Ane is ready to bake the torta and that it is time to leave.
I hear the bell ring above us as we open the bakery door. Upon entering, a burst of warmth envelopes me and I smell the sweet aroma of baked goods, apple pies, and sugary sweets. We follow Marija to the back of the bakery where Ane stands smiling, her apron covered in flour, awaiting our introduction. Ane is a powerful, stoic woman, in her mid-fifties, with the years of kneading worn well upon her brawny shoulders and forearms.
Ane begins roasting the almonds, as she recounts her youth growing up in Bosnia. Ane’s fondest memories were those of aiding her grandmother and mother in the kitchen. When she became old enough to go onto college, Ane decided to attend culinary school at Josip Juraj Strossmayer University in Croatia. After completing her culinary degree, Ane headed back to Bosnia for a year’s apprenticeship at a bakery with Bosnian Muslim women. During this era in history, there was a lot of strife between religious groups in former Yugoslavia. Even though Ane is Christian, she had no qualms working amongst Muslim women and attests that a lot of the skills and knowledge she acquired during this year were because of her new friends. To this day, Ane still keeps in contact with her Muslim women bakery friends.
And how did Ane end up as a small-town baker in Imotski, Croatia? After meeting her husband on the dance floor at her cousins wedding, Ane moved to her husband’s hometown, Imotski, where she learned how to perfect the region’s famous Imotski Torta. Four children later, the bakery has been a saving grace; allowing Ane to single handedly pay for her children’s college tuitions.
Ane finishes laying the cake's checker board design, places the peeled almonds atop the cross sections, and forms a brim of tiny triangles around the edges.
We place the cake in the oven and she excuses herself as she begins on a wedding order. It’s 8 pm when we returned to see the finished cake. We purchase the cake as a gift for Marija for all the hospitality and kindness she has shown us as our host mom in Imotski. We ask Ane if she needs help cleaning up so that she can go home, but she says she has only just started baking for the night. She has three more cakes to bake including a wedding cake!
With all of Ane’s responsibility as a working mother, she can’t turn away any customers, even if it means working 20 hour days. She is so dedicated to her job, she keeps her personal cell phone posted on the door in case anyone ever needs her after hours. We feel humbled and honored to have met such a dedicated mother and individual, using her love for baking in a way to support her children and their dreams. Seeing that we gave the Imotska torta to Marija, Ane gave us a whole box of her delicious baked items including some mini Imotska torta that she had made for us the day prior. Whether Bosnian, Croatian, or Imostkan in origin, each and every one of Ane's pastries I tasted were baked with Love.