Friday, January 9, 2009

Dan i Noć (Day and Night Serbian bar cookies)

I've always loved the name of these cookies – "Dan i Noć" (pro nounced "DAHN ee NOCH,") translates as "Day and Night." They show their sense in such a forthright way. Day and night: a light layer and a dark layer. What could be more sensible? The layer of apricot jam between the day and the night makes sense, too: a shimmering sunset – or perhaps a sunrise – of transluscent orange.

These cookies – or little cakes, as you might consider them – are generous and rich. The recipe includes a pound of butter, a dozen eggs, darn close to a half pound of chocolate, a whole jar of apricot preserves. Speaking of which, I recommend spending the extra couple of bucks to get really good apricot preserves. Look for apricots as the first ingredient, and real sugar as opposed to high-fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners. (Fruit-only sweetened is good, too.) If you buy more than one jar and do a side-by-side taste test at home, you will see how big a difference it really makes.

I remember having these at the home of my aunt and uncle when we would visit around Christmastime. it was one of the sitni kolaći (little cookies) specialties of my Grandaunt Naka (b. 1913), whom I shared more about here. Like Naka's Vanil Grancle, these feature apricots, that grow so well around her native town of Kikinda.

My cousin tells me Naka got the the recipe from her best friend, also from Kikinda. The best friend's family helped Naka's family in some way during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia, but I don't know the story beyond that.

Here's Ulysses in January 2008 (nearly four years old in this picture) enjoying a piece of Dan i Noć.

Shortly after this photo was taken, that laptop stopped working. Turned out it was plugged up with cookie crumbs.

I'm posting this today as a hat tip to my niece, Anne (she is the daughter of my cousin, and by the Serbian way of looking at family relations, that makes her more of a niece to me than anything else), 7. She loves Dan i Noć, and was sad to discover there wasn't any at the family get-together in Baltimore this year. My cousin wrote, "She was really, really bummed when she heard that no one made dan i noc. I remembered telling her to choose either gitar [another exceptional sitni kolacic in the family, I'll post that recipe too] or dan i noc as her favorite and she chose gitar so that's what i made but it seems i may have forgotten to tell her why i was asking. she got tears in her eyes, made me so sad!

"so this weekend we're making dan i noc. that works because i wouldn't have had time to make it with her before Bozic [Serbian Christmas] this time and making it together is just as important as having it for Bozic!"

Here's Anne last year (she was Annie then) enjoying the Dan i Noć she made with her mother for Božić 2008.

Recipe: Dan i Noć

1 jar apricot preserves

Noć (Night)
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
6 medium eggs (or 5 large)
6 squares (or 6 ounces chips) semisweet baking chocolate (each square is one ounce)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Dan (Day)
Same ingredients as the Noć, but without the chocolate:
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
6 medium eggs (or 5 large)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

1. Melt chocolate
Melt the chocolate. Use low heat and stir often, so the chocolate won't seize or scorch. Use a heavy-bottomed pan, a flame tamer, or a double boiler if you have one. By the time you add the chocolate to other ingredients, it should be liquidy, but cool enough that it won't cause the eggs to cook on contact.

2. Soft-bake the Noć
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in the chocolate and vanilla.

Whisk together flour and baking powder. Mix these dry ingredients into the wet mixture. This will make a soupy batter.

Line a rectangular baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. No greasing is needed. Pour in the batter. Shake sideways, or rap the pan sharply against your counter, to knock out extra air bubbles. You can see in my photos that I missed this step – see what happen?

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. It needs to be firm enough that you can spread jam over it, but not baked through, That is, at this point a toothpick inserted in it will not come out anywhere near clean.

3. Prep the Dan
While the Noć is in the oven, prepare the batter for the Dan. Cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs one at a time, beat in vanilla, whisk together flour and baking powder, stir dry mix into wet mix.

4. Apply the jam layer
Remove from oven. Spread the apricot preserves evenly over the dark Noć layer while still warm.

5. Add the Dan layer
Carefully pour the light batter evenly overtop the contents of the pan.

6. Final bake
Put the pan back in the oven for another 30 minutes, or until a knife (or cake pick) inserted in the center comes out clean. The instructions I received say to check the Dan, but I found that the Noć took longer to bake through, so make sure your Dan and your Noć are baked throughout.

The Dan will be beautifully golden brown on top. If the Dan is as browned as it needs to be, but the cake inside still needs more baking, cover the pan tightly with foil (or place a cookie sheet over it) so the top won't overbake.

7. Cool and cut
Let cool. Carefully lift the whole cake from the pan and transfer to a large cutting surface. Slice into rectangular pieces about the width and length of your index finger. Cut carefully and methodically so that your pieces are evenly sized, with straight sides and square corners. I used the patterns on my wooden cutting board as my guides.

The finger-sized pieces are lovely and make hearty portions of this rich dessert. However, after a while I cut some of them into thirds, and found this size makes a wonderful bite-sized treat.


  1. Great post - especially the photos. I've found the tastiest preserves are 'Fra Den Ganle Fabrik' from Denmark which are carried in specialty stores and also Christmas Tree Shops in the USA. The extreme taste comes from cold-processing, they do not boil the preserves. We buy by the case when we find them!

    My question is - I'm married to a Serb who emigrated to the US just a few years ago. Today is his family Slava. I want to fix the Slava cake which he says has boiled barley in it, but do not have a recipe. Would love to know if you know this one, so perhaps I can fix for future Slavas. Thanks!

  2. Rosemary, hi, Srecna Slava!

    Thanks for posting, and especially for following! You can find everything I've ever posted about Slava food by entering "slava" in the search box at the top left of the page, or by using this URL:

    I never heard of a Slava cake with boiled barley, but if you find out more, please tell me! Meantime I'll do some investigation on my side. What area is his family from, and what is the patron saint for his Slava? These might turn out to be helpful clues.

  3. His family is from Lika in Croatia, but he became observant when he lived in Sombor Serbia which is in Vojvodina. His neighbor's wife there would make the Slava cake on St John the Baptist's Slava which is today. Thanks!

  4. My father was also from Lika! He came from a little town called Gospic. I'm told it was one mountain over from where Nikola Tesla hailed.

    I will tell you what I can find out.

  5. That was my dad's (and my) slava too, so srecna belated slava! We always make zhito for slava. (PS, my christmas zhito did not turn out as nicely as I'd hoped, but I'm going to give it another try, this time with white wheat). And Vesna, no, I did not follow your recipe exactly I am ashamed to say! But I soaked the wheat for 48 hours before boiling it 7 times and it was the softest it's ever been for me. Then after a day in the fridge, the texture turned rubbery:(

  6. Rosemary, I haven't been able to find out anything about the Slava cake with barley yet, but I'm not giving up!

    Mira, welcome to my blog, thanks so much for visiting! Was your Slava St. John the Baptist, or Sveti Kuzman i Damian? Mine is Sveti K i D, in November; Rosemary's is St. John the Baptist. Srecna belated Slava to you, too!

    No shame in not following my recipe, I'm not the koljivo queen! :) I don't know whether my koljivo would get rubbery in the fridge, because I packed it in a container and put it straight into the freezer when the Slava festivities were done on the evening that we celebrated in November. Then I took it out on Bozic, put it in a pretty dish, added new almonds, and served it again! It was none the worse for wear after a few months in the freezer. I did the same with the ajvar!

    I wonder if the soaking made it go rubbery, or if that's just a property of cooked wheat. I suspect it's the latter.