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Coca de Sant Joan

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Coca de Sant Joan, or St. John’s Cake, is a traditional pastry made for La Revetlla de Sant Joan, or St. John’s Eve in Catalonia. Coca is a flat pastry typical of Catalonia that comes in many flavors and preparations. It can be savory or sweet. The coca made for Sant Joan is a sweet pastry, very similar to a brioche, decorated with pastry cream and candied fruits.

Sant Joan in Barcelona

When I lived in Barcelona, Sant Joan was, for me, a bittersweet time. I studied at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, and Sant Joan usually fell during finals week. Usually only a few days before I’d head back to Maine to visit family and friends and work until school started again in September. It was always a confusing and stressful week: the summer heat and humidity, stressed about exams, eager to finish class, excited to see my family and friends in Maine, and sad to say goodbye to my friends in Barcelona.

Sant Joan is a feast day that celebrates the birth of St. John, who was, according to the  Gospel of Luke, born 6 months before Jesus. The day coincides closely with Midsummer and is celebrated in many places, but especially along the Mediterranean coast.

La Revetlla de Sant Joan in Barcelona is a wild night of parties, fireworks and celebrations at the beach. In the weeks leading up to St. John’s eve, people stock up on fireworks. You usually know Sant Joan is approaching because of the loud cracks of petards every night. On the evening of June 23rd, people descend upon the beaches, loaded with cava, tinto de verano or aïgua de València and find a place to settle on the sand. People play loud music, dance and set off fireworks, firecrackers and sparklers and party until sunrise.

For almost every major festival in Catalonia, there is a specific type of coca. For Sant Joan, all of the pastisseries display their Coca de Sant Joan. The brightly colored candied fruits make them as colorful as the revetlla’s fireworks. They’re usually adorned with candied orange slices, glacé cherries, and bright green candied melon. Each pastry shop will have their own recipe and decorations that they’ve made for generations.

Tips for Making Coca de Sant Joan

The base for this recipe is essentially a brioche dough. It’s very similar to the dough made for the Kolaches or for Brunsviger. I suggest using some ground aniseed for a slightly liquorice flavor in the dough. The pastry shops in Barcelona would use sweet anisette. If you have some you can spray the coca with anisette when it comes out of the oven.

I prefer to make the pastry cream the day before baking the coca so it has time to set, but you can also make it while the brioche dough rises.

Candied oranges, cherries and melon are the most tradtional, but you could use your favorite candied fruit. 

slice of coca de sant joan
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100ml whole milk, 40-46°C
14g active dry yeast (2 packets)

50g granulated sugar
1 large egg

250g plain flour
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground anise (optional)

30g lard or butter
1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 Tablespoons whole milk, 105-115°F
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg

2 cups all-purpose flour
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground anise (optional)

2 Tablespoons lard or butter

Pastry Cream:

4 large egg yolks
100g granulated sugar
40g cornstarch

500ml whole milk
1 cinnamon stick
Peel from 1 lemon
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch

2 cups plus 2 Tablespoons whole milk
1 cinnamon stick
Peel from 1 lemon

To Brush the Top:

1 large egg white
30g icing sugar
30g almond flour
1 large egg white
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup almond flour

To Decorate:

Candied orange slices
Glacé cherries
Pine nuts
Granulated sugar

tray of candied orange slices
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Pastry Cream

Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornstarch:

Combine the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a heat-proof bowl.

Infuse the milk:

Pour the milk into a saucepan and set on medium heat. Add the cinnamon stick and lemon peel and bring to a boil.

Pour the milk into the yolks:

When the milk comes to a boil, remove the lemon peel and cinnamon stick and slowly pour the milk into the yolk mixture. Whisk the mixture as you pour to combine without cooking the yolks.

Bring the pastry cream to a boil:

Pour the pastry cream back into the saucepan. Turn the heat back onto medium and whisk the cream constantly. As soon as the cream starts to thicken, take the pan off the heat and continue to whisk until uniformly thick, about 30 seconds.

Cool the pastry cream:

Pour the pastry cream into a clean heat-proof bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream so it doesn’t develop a skin. Place the bowl in an ice bath to cool the cream quickly. Once cool, reserve in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Brioche Dough

Bloom the yeast:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the yeast and warm milk together and set aside while weighing the other ingredients. The yeast should start to foam after a few minutes, otherwise the yeast might be dead.

Combine the dry ingredients:

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, orange and lemon zest, salt, cinnamon and anise.

Mix the wet ingredients:

Add the sugar and egg to the milk and yeast mixture. Set the mixer to medium for a few seconds to combine.

Add in the flour:

Pour in the flour mixture, and slowly work the mixer up to medium speed. Knead until everything combines, forming a dough.

Slowly add the lard:

With the mixer still running at medium speed, slowly add the lard (or butter), one bit at a time. 

Knead the dough:

Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, approximately 6 minutes.

Let the dough rest:

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and set in a warm place to rest for 30 minutes.

bowl of brioche dough
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Shape the dough:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat. Carefully stretch the dough and shape it into a long oval. Place on the lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel. Let the dough rise for one hour.

shape the coca
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Preheat the oven:

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

Decorate the Coca

decorate the coca
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Brush the top of the brioche:

In a small bowl, combine the egg white, icing sugar and almond flour. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the top of the brioche.

Pipe the pastry cream:

Transfer the pastry cream to a piping bag and pipe in a criss-cross pattern across the top of the dough.

Decorate the coca:

Decorate the coca with the candied orange slices, glacé cherries and pine nuts. Sprinkle the top with granulated sugar.

decorate the coca de sant joan
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coca de sant joan ready to bake
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Bake the Coca

Bake the coca in the oven at 190°C (375°F) for until the top is toasted and golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

freshly baked coca de sant joan
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