Rustic bubbly Croatian Lepinja Bread, an absolute perfect sandwich bread!
We’ve all experienced that moment when you bite into a special loaf of bread, and our body responds accordingly. Our shoulders slump in relaxed ecstasy and our eyes roll back. We chew very slowly, as to take in every second of this carby religious experience.
Only certain kinds of bread can initiate this sort of reaction.
Last year I spent a couple weeks in Croatia with a friend. We encountered many new and inviting things. Yet it’s the Croatian bread that has stuck firmly in my mind.
I can’t get over the mouth-feel of Croatian Lepinja bread, with it’s soft bubbly texture, and chewy pull. It’s a cross between the best ciabatta bread and middle eastern flatbread varieties… On steroids.
It has become the benchmark by which I measure all other breads.
What’s so crazy about Croatian Lepinja Bread is that it’s not much different than other bread recipes, as far as the ingredients go…. Bread flour, yeast, a little salt, and little sugar.
However it’s the proofing and baking method that make all the difference.
How to Make Croatian Lepinja Bread
To make proper Croatian Lepinja Bread, you need to “proof” or allow the bread dough to rise three times. This creates the gaping bubbles that make it so wonderful for stuffing with sandwich fillings.
This process could take an entire day. Although if you set your oven at a low temperature, and proof the dough in the oven, you can easily reduce the proofing time by half.
Croatian Lepinja Bread dough is very sticky. Therefore try to do most the kneading with your stand mixer. You can knead the dough, then place the entire mixing bowl in the oven to proof, without ever touching it.
Repeat the kneading-rise process twice, then dump the dough out on a well-floured work surface and cut it into twelve equal pieces.
Roll the edges under to form circles and press them flat. Then proof the dough again one last time.
Other than the 3-step proofing process, the secret to amazing Croatian Lepinja Bread is to bake it at a very high temperature, with a pan of water underneath to create steam.
This keeps the bread ultra moist on the inside, while still creating an alluring external crust.
If you’ve never given bread-making a go, our Croatian Lepinja Bread is the place to start.
You can totally do this. Just don’t skimp on any of the listed kneading or proofing times in the recipe below, and you will experience the most tantalizing pillowy bread you’ve ever tasted.
PS – What I’m calling “Croatian Lepinja Bread” is a regional bread that crosses government boarders… Proving good food has no boundaries.
It is found in Bosnia, Slovenia, and Serbia as well, and is often serve with Bosnian Cevapi!
Croatian Lepinja Bread
- Preheat the oven to the "proof" setting. If your oven does not have this setting, set it to the lowest temperature possible, around 160-175 degrees F. Move the oven rack to the lowest position the make room for a mixing bowl.
- Warm the milk until it's just barely above body temperature. Pour the milk and sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer and sprinkle the dry active yeast over the top. Allow the yeast to "sponge" or foam for 5-10 minutes. (If the liquid ingredients are too hot they will kill the yeast, instead of activating it.)
- Once the yeast is foamy, pour in the salt and lukewarm water. Using a bread hook attachment, turn the mixer on low and start adding the flour, 1 cup at a time. Let the mixer run for 6-8 minutes, kneading the dough. The dough will be very sticky.
- Cover the mixing bowl with plastic and set it in the warm oven for 1 hour.
After an hour, flour your hands and punch down the dough. Fold it over a couple times in the bowl. (You can also "knead" the dough again with the mixer to avoid touching it. ) Cover again and place it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Flour a work surface with ample flour. Dump the dough onto the surface and cut into 12 equal pieces. Knead each piece and roll the edges under to create round mounds. Press the mounds flat with your hand, and set them on baking sheets. It's ok if the flattened dough has finger marks in it.
- Place the baking sheets back in the proofing oven for 20 minutes. Then take them out and adjust the oven racks, one at the bottom and one in the center. Place a large baking dish of water on the lower rack to create steam. Then reset the oven temperature to 550 degrees F.
- Once the oven is fully preheated, bake one sheet of rolls at a time for 6 minutes, then turn the oven on broil so the heat source is above. Broil for 1-2 minutes to create color on the rolls. Reset the oven to 550 degrees F, and repeat the process with the second sheet. Cool and enjoy!