Guest article by Kate Adams.
Like in most European cuisines, the majority of Serbian desserts are made with eggs or dairy products, or both. But wait, vegans, don’t click away just yet!
There are a few popular Serbian desserts that are naturally vegan. For the most part, these vegan desserts were introduced to Serbia through Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines. Since Serbia is located at a crossroads between the East and the West, its culinary traditions combine elements of many different cooking styles.
But vegans are not limited to just these Eastern-influenced desserts. Thanks to the fasting tradition of the Serbian Orthodox Church, practically ANY Serbian dessert also comes in a vegan form!
There are many days of the year when Orthodox believers do not eat any dairy or eggs. In fact, they also avoid meat and almost all other animal products on these days, with just a couple of exceptions.
The main fasting period in Serbia is Lent, or the 40 days leading up to Orthodox Easter. If you want to taste lots of traditional Serbian food in a vegan version, consider trying to time your visit to coincide with Lent. You can read here about some of the savory plant-based Serbian dishes that you can expect to find at that time of year.
But when you’ve finished your main dish … what about dessert? That’s what this article is all about.
Luckily for vegans (and cows and chickens), many traditional Serbian desserts are made in a completely plant-based version for people who are fasting. While these are most common during Lent, you can also sometimes find them at other times of the year.
And there is a magic word that will help you locate these vegan Serbian treats. If you learn only one word in Serbian, make it this one: posno. This is the Serbian word for fasting, and if you see a sweet treat labeled as posno you can be sure that it contains no milk products or eggs.
The one ingredient you might still need to check on is honey, if that’s something you don’t eat. Unlike eggs and dairy, honey is not prohibited during the Orthodox fast. The Serbian word for honey is med, so you can ask if your posno dessert contains med to be sure it’s totally vegan.
Here are some of the most amazing posno sweets you can find in Serbian homes, restaurants and bakeries, especially during Lent and other fasting periods.
1. Posne Vanilice (Butterball Cookies)
These cookies can be found at almost all Serbian celebrations. They are made out of margarine, sugar, flour, lemon, walnuts and vanilla. All these ingredients are mixed thoroughly until they form a thick dough that is cut into small circles with a shot glass.
The circles are then baked and taken out of the oven before they turn brown. Two by two, they are stuck together with a layer of homemade jam and rolled in powdered sugar.
2. Posne Oblande
Oblande are another Serbian classic. While the usual oblande is not a Lent dessert, there is a posno or fasting version that’s eaten during Lent and other fasting periods. The wafers are bought premade, and the whole secret to this tasty treat is in the filling that goes in between the wafer layers. Posno versions usually have a chocolate or caramelized sugar filling. Either one is delicious.
The filling is made out of sugar, margarine, vanilla and crushed posno biscuits. The wafers are placed in layers one on top of the other with the filling between them. Then the whole thing is pressed with a heavy object so the layers stick together as they cool. Finally, the entire cake is cut into bars or small, bite-sized pieces.
3. Posne Zerbo Kocke
These little layered cakes are the pride of every person in Serbia who knows how to make them right. It’s a real skill and takes lots of practice to make these from scratch. They are prepared with a bit of yeast, mineral water, sugar, oil and flour.
Once again, the secret is in the filling. In this case, it’s usually homemade peach jam, although some people use plum jam instead. Mixed into the jam are ground walnuts and sugar.
4. Posna Pita s Jabukama (Apple Pie)
While some of the desserts in this list are festive sweets that are eaten only during holidays, this one can be found in Serbian homes and bakeries throughout the year. A Serbian pita is not a sandwich, but rather a handheld sweet pie or pastry, and it’s a very common baked good in the country. You can often find vegan versions in local bakeries; just look for the word posno in the name of the item.
To make this apple version of pita, shredded apples are wrapped up inside thin layers of phyllo dough. The apples are sometimes mixed with walnuts and cinnamon. After wrapping, the pita is baked, cut into pieces and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
5. Posna Reforma Torta
Serbian reform torte (or “reforma torta” as it’s known locally) is a multi-layered chocolate cream cake that is often eaten during Easter and Christmas celebrations. The cake itself is a walnut sponge cake, and this is layered with a rich chocolate cream.
While the usual recipe for this Serbian cake calls for eggs and butter, there are posna versions of the recipe that replace these ingredients with oil, margarine and/or plant-based cream. Sometimes honey is added as a sweetener, though, so you might want to check.
These nut rolls are common in many Slavic and Eastern European countries. In Hungary they are known as kolachi, but in Serbia they call it štrudla.
The usual recipe calls for butter, milk and eggs, and some cooks even add sour cream to the dough. None of these animal products are necessary for making a delicious štrudla, though. In posna versions, the dough is made with either oil or margarine. Some cooks do add honey to the walnut filling, while others use sugar instead.
7. Posne Baklave
You’ve probably heard about the baklava that is so popular in Turkey and Greece. Well, Serbian people love this amazing treat too! The most common variety in Serbia is the walnut baklava, and there is also a version with added poppy seeds. A truly unique one, though, is cherry baklava, which you simply must try if you ever have the chance.
Most Serbian recipes for baklava call for butter. But, when making a posno version of this amazing sweet, Serbian bakers edit the recipe by replacing the butter with margarine or oil.
8. Posne Tufahije
This is another oriental treat that has found its place in Serbian cuisine. It found its way to Serbia via neighboring Bosnia. Tufahije are apples that have been boiled and then stuffed with a decadent cream filling.
The middle is carved out of the apples, which need to be of a firmer sort so they don’t fall apart while boiling. In place of dairy cream, the posno filling is made out of blended bananas, walnuts, almonds, sugar and lemon juice.
And I bet you thought banana nice cream was a recent trend! The result is a beautiful and tasty treat that melts in your mouth.
While many of the other desserts in this list are posno versions of traditional desserts that normally contain eggs and/or dairy, this one is naturally vegan all year round, not just at fasting times.
It’s an almost forgotten treat that was introduced to both Serbian and Croatian cuisines from the North. More precisely, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This sweet is predominantly made in the autonomous province of Vojvodina in northern Serbia, but nowadays there are only a few home cooks who still make it.
However, there will always be someone in every house who remembers the taste of Granny’s kitnikez.
Kitnikez can be described as quince jelly. In English, it’s sometimes referred to as “quince cheese”, and in fact the Serbian name “kitnikez” is derived from the German "Quittenkäse" (quince cheese).
But this is confusing, as it does not contain any cheese or other dairy products. The only ingredients are quinces, sugar and lemons, which are boiled and cooked until the desired thickness is achieved. The mixture is then cooled and cut into squares or other shapes.
Sounds easy, right? The secret is in the exact amount of lemon and the sweetness of the quince. Also, how long should it boil? How long does is need to cool down? These are the secrets that are handed down in family recipes. This jelly is tasty just as it is, but some cooks also mix in crushed walnuts for extra texture.
Turkey isn’t the only place where you can enjoy Turkish Delight. This powdery treat is also popular in other countries of the region, but of course it goes by a different name. In fact, even the Turks don’t call it Turkish Delight! They know it as lokum, while in Greece it’s called loukoumi, and in Serbia they call it ratluk.
These jellied sweets come in a variety of colors and flavors. Often, the color gives a clue as to the flavor. Pink ratluk is probably flavored with rosewater, for example, while black ratluk is likely to taste of licorice.
Whichever variation you choose, the traditional ratluk is made with cornstarch as a thickening agent, not gelatin, so it’s a naturally vegan sweet that you can enjoy throughout the year.
Halva is popular in many countries throughout the world, and Serbia is no exception. It seems to have lost its “H” somewhere on its journey to Serbia. Apart from the spelling, though, this sesame-based treat is very familiar.
It’s a typical sweet that’s often eaten at local church fairs throughout the country. In addition to the type made from sesame or tahini, there’s also a semolina-based version called ćetena alva.
The latter is a semolina pudding that is sometimes mixed with oranges, cinnamon or raisins. Honey is sometimes added, but apart from that this sweet is always vegan, so don’t worry about looking for a posno version.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of restaurants that offer vegan options in Serbia, including sweets and desserts. Of the vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Belgrade that I've tried, Radost and Mayka were my favorites.
There are even a couple of fully vegan bakeries in Belgrade! Zdrawo Slatko and Ćao Šećeru both specialize in raw vegan desserts and are definitely worth checking out.
And you can often find baked goods marked as posno even outside of fasting periods. Tazé, for example, is a bakery chain with several locations in Belgrade that sells different varieties of posno pita, including apple, cherry and poppyseed versions.
Also, if you are visiting somebody’s home and are really feeling adventurous, ask them about pekmez. This is the Serbian word for jam, and most people in Serbia either make their own or have a Granny or a mother who makes it for them. A lot of Serbian people grew up eating pekmez spread on a piece of bread for breakfast.
If you express interest in it, you will see your host’s eyes light up with joy and pride. They will be happy to show off their handmade delight, and you will taste a treat that you will remember long after you leave Serbia.
About the Author
While growing up in Europe, Kate Adams grew to love writing, food, and especially coffee. Her mother is from Serbia, and she spent a lot of her childhood there. She loves to combine her passions for writing and healthy living in a way that can help others.