If you ever visited the Balkans, you probably know that pastries and bakeries play an important role in local cuisines. Every country in the Balkans has its own unique pastry that it takes pride in and in Serbia’s case, that’s gibanica. In this post, we’ll share the traditional gibanica recipe and teach you everything there is to know about this savory, addicting pastry, including its origin, history, variations, and much more!
But let’s start from the beginning…
What is Gibanica?
Gibanica is a Serbian pastry that can be described as a filo dough pie most commonly filled with white cheese (sirene) but there are also some sweet variations of the gibanica recipe. Today, this pastry is popular all over the Balkans and similar variations can be found in some other Slavic countries too. Throughout history, Serbia under Ottoman and Habsburg rule and many food connoisseurs refer to gibanica as a mix of Turkish and Austrian influences. At a glance, the pastry looks like a mix of strudel and burek. And since we started speaking of gibanica’s origins…
Linking the origins of the gibanica recipe to a specific period in history has proven to be challenging but it’s clear that people in Serbia and the Balkans have been making this recipe in their homes for centuries. The first official mention of gibanica is in Vuk Stefanović Karadžić’s Serbian Dictionary of 1818 but the fact that gibanica is mentioned in some Serbian proverbs makes it clear that this delicious pastry has been around for longer than that.
As for its name, the word ‘gibanica’ likely originates from the Slavic word “giba”, meaning “to move/fold/sway”, likely referring to the way the dough is moved while preparing the pastry. Another theory also links the pastry with the Arabic word “gban” used to describe white/cottage cheese. It’s possible that the Ottomans started referring to the pastry as gibanica based on this word as Arabic was widely spoken across the empire in the pre-Tanzimat era.
History & Facts
As we previously mentioned, the origins of gibanica can’t be matched with an exact period but it also can’t be matched with an exact place. Every region of Serbia (and to an extent, parts of neighboring Croatia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria) has its own slightly different variation of gibanica. A Serbian cookbook from 1913 features 17 different recipes for gibanica.
Traditionally, gibanica is served at the dining table for Easter, Slava, and other big holidays but today, it’s consumed throughout the year and you can find gibanica in many bakeries in the Balkans. There are even many festivals (not only in Serbia but in Slovenia and Croatia too) dedicated to Gibanica. The most famous one is probably the Days of Banica that takes place every year in the town of Bela Palanka (since 2005).
Fun fact: the biggest gibanica was made in Mionica (Serbia) in 2007. The pastry weighed slightly more than one tonne (1,000 kg). Its preparation required 330 kg of phyllo, 330 kg of cheese, more than 3,000 eggs, 500 packets of baking powder, 110 liters of mineral water, and 30 liters of oil. This particular gibanica even made it to the Guinness Book of Records.
Today, local variations of the gibanica recipe can be found in most countries on the Balkan, including Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece, and even Turkey. However, similar pastries can also be found in the cuisines of Anatolia, Syria, and Lebanon where this dish is known as Shabiyat.
Some of the most popular regional variations on the Balkans are
Prekmurska gibanica (Slovenia) which resembles a multi-layered pie and is usually served for dessert;
Medimurska gibanica (Croatia) which is a less formal version of gibanica with for layers of filling, including cheese, poppy seeds, apple, and walnuts);
Cetnicka gibanica (Serbia) which is a thicker and greaser version of the regular gibanica;
Banitsa (Bulgaria), which has a slightly different shape but it’s prepared in a similar way;
Sweet gibanica, which resembles a walnut roll (it has a spiral shape filled with walnut paste).
Using Phyllo When Making Gibanica
If you never used phyllo before, you should know that once it’s exposed to air, it dries out very easily. That’s why you should work very quickly once you start working and try to keep the phyllo covered in the process.
When opening the package, gently unroll the stack of sheets and immediately place a clean towel over it. When taking off the top sheet, be very cautious and treat it like delicate tissue paper. Gently pull out the top sheet and cover the remaining phyllo sheets until you need to start working on the next one.
Don’t leave the phyllo uncovered even for a moment unless you need to take dough sheets out of the pocket, don’t underestimate this statement, it’s very important for the recipe.
If you like phyllo recipes, you may also want to check out our zelnik recipe; it’s a delicious Macedonian phyllo pie-like pastry.
Gibanica is usually served for breakfast with some yogurt or ayran or as an appetizer or a snack. It’s also not uncommon to eat it for dinner but personally, I’d recommend staying away from pastries late in the night. Gibanica is always tastier when consumed hot but some people like it cold too. As a snack, gibanica goes great with some ajvar or pindjur on the side. This pastry can be reheated in the oven before eating (if you don’t want to eat it cold) and it can be safely stored in the fridge for several days before eating.
A Few Things You May Need
- 750 Grams Phyllo Dough (or Yufka Dough)
- 350 Grams White Cheese
- 190 grams Feta Cheese
- 2 Cups Milk
- 3/4 Cup of Sour Cream
- 3/4 Cup of Mineral Water
- 5 Eggs
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil (or Sunflower Oil)
- 2 Sticks Butter (melted)
- Salt (according to your taste)
1. Add the cheese to a large bowl and mash it.
2. Pour the beaten eggs, milk, sour cream, and salt into the bowl and mix everything.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to your baking dish and preheat the oven to 340 F (170 C).
4. Open the phyllo, take out two dough sheets, keep the rest covered, and try to work as quickly as possible.
5. Add the first dough sheet in the baking dish with its edges hanging over the dish. Brush a little bit of butter on top and then place the second dough sheet above it.
6. Keep repeating this process until you have used one-third of all dough sheets.
7. After that, add ½ of the filling atop the dough sheets by spreading it around evenly.
8. Then, add another third of the phyllo dough, spread out the remaining filling evenly.
9. Close the pastry with the last one-third of the dough sheets by folding the overlapping sheets of dough over the pastry.
10. Mix together 1 egg, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, a little bit of salt, and 1 tablespoon of hot water and brush the top of the pastry with this mixture.
11. Add the baking dish to the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes. In the end, the pastry should have a golden-brown color.
12. Serve with some yogurt or ayran and enjoy!
If you can’t get phyllo dough, you can use yufka dough or
strudel dough which shouldn’t be too hard to find.
You can also use sunflower oil instead of olive oil.
If you have leftover dough sheets, make sure you cover them and pack them well if you want to use them again.
Serving Size:1 Piece (150 grams)
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 370Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 171mgSodium: 965mgCarbohydrates: 18gNet Carbohydrates: 18gFiber: 1.5gSugar: 2.5gProtein: 19g
Did you ever try gibanica? How did you like our gibanica recipe? If you tried it at home, don’t forget to leave us a rating and if you have any questions/feedback, feel free to share it in the comments below!
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