My friends at Pasticceria Penso had invited me to watch them bake presnitz the next morning, so I headed over there around 8:30am. This was one of the days I had been looking forward to the most! When I arrived, Lorenzo Stoppar was preparing a giant batch of puff pastry. As he fed the dough through the massive dough rolling machine, he explained that each batch contained four kilos (8.8 pounds) of butter! This being my first and only experience behind the scenes in a bakery, I was continually fascinated by the huge scale of everything—especially the oven, which was the size of a walk-in closet.
As Lorenzo prepared the dough, his brother Antonello made the presnitz filling. While he worked, I jotted down ingredients (he later gave me their full recipe): walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, raisins, candied orange peel, crushed biscotti, sugar, honey, cinnamon, lemon zest, rum, and Marsala. When the dough and filling were ready, I watched as Uncle Giovanni wrapped a large rectangle of dough around a log of filling and deftly rolled it into a long rope. After forming the rope into a spiral on the baking sheet, he let me brush it with egg wash. As the family stood around me, watching intently—no doubt holding their collective breath and praying that I wouldn’t ruin it—I got the impression that they were somewhat surprised that I actually did a good job!
Though I could have stayed another hour, I left just before noon, so that I would have time to find my destination restaurant for lunch. I took a bus up into the hills above Trieste to what some have professed to be the city’s best restaurant, Antica Trattoria Suban. In business since 1865, Suban specializes in the unique blend of Friulian and Slovenian cuisine that is typical in the Carso.
I started with the palacinke alla mandriera, a crêpe filled with pesto, drizzled with a little cream and broth, and baked with a topping of cheese. For my main course, I was hoping to try their stinco di vitello (braised veal shank), but it was not available at lunchtime. To my delight, the owner, Mario Suban, offered to make up a tasting plate with samples of four different dishes: gulasch (Hungarian beef stew) with polenta, pork loin with bell pepper sauce and a fried potato “chip,” sausage with patate in tecia (coarsely mashed potatoes), and baked ham.
After ordering, I spoke at length with Mario about my book project and San Francisco. He apparently was acquainted with the chef at the San Francisco restaurant Acquarello and asked me to say ciao to him if I were ever to visit. (As it happened, several years later, my husband’s boss gave us a gift certificate to Acquarello, and I made good on Mario’s request.)
When I first arrived, Suban was practically empty, but by the time I had finished my meal, the restaurant was packed with customers. After requesting the check, I waited for over half an hour, watching people who had arrived after me leave, before I was finally able to pay. I caught my bus back down to Trieste’s city center and spent the rest of the afternoon writing in my apartment.
Here is my version of presnitz, adapted from the recipe given to me by Pasticceria Penso.
1 cup dried currants
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup Marsala wine
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup hazelnuts, skinned and toasted*
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
3/4 cup finely crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies
1/3 cup diced candied orange peel
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1. Place the currants in a large bowl; add the rum and Marsala wine and let soak for 30 minutes.
2. Finely grind the walnuts, toasted hazelnuts, and almonds in a food processor; add to the bowl of currants. Stir in the crushed biscotti, candied orange peel, melted butter, pine nuts, sugar, honey, cinnamon, lemon peel, and egg.
3. On a sheet of waxed paper, form the filling into a 12-inch log. Wrap securely in the waxed paper and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.
* To skin and toast hazelnuts: Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Add the hazelnuts and 1 tablespoon baking soda; cook for 5 minutes. Remove the hazelnuts and place in a colander under cold running water; rub off and discard the skins. Transfer the skinned hazelnuts to a baking dish; toast until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.
Puff pastry dough:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided and softened
1/4 cup cold water
1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Cut 2 tablespoons butter into cubes; blend into the flour mixture. Add 1/4 cup cold water; mix until crumbly. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Flatten the dough to a 1/2-inch-thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface; roll to a 7-inch square. Roll the corners of the square away from the center to form four flaps, leaving a 3-inch square in the center at the original thickness. Beat the remaining 6 tablespoons butter with a rolling pin to form a 3-inch square; place in the center of the dough. Fold the flaps over to enclose the butter; turn the dough folded-side down. Roll to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds (like a letter). Rotate the dough 90°. Roll again to a 6- by 9-inch rectangle; fold in thirds again. (This completes two “turns.”) Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two more turns. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat rolling and folding the dough for two final turns. (This completes a total of six turns.) Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
1 egg, beaten to blend
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry dough to a 10- by 13-inch rectangle. Unwrap the filling and place along the center of the dough. Wrap the dough around the filling, tightly sealing all seams. Gently roll and stretch the dough into a rope 2-1/2 feet long. Coil into a loose spiral and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
2. Brush the surface of the dough with beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, about 25–30 minutes.