Monday, December 24, 2007

Walnut Potica

Let's start with how to pronounce this. Accent is second syllable, po - TEETS - sa. This version is the walnut potica. In our family this is the biggy that signifies 3 major holidays, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. Pretty much any thinly rolled dough, yeast or strudel with a filling is called a potica. I have no idea why, it's what those slovene's do. Being 3/4 Slovene heritage I have quite a few things I do that can be traced back to my great-great or great-grandparents depending on which side of the family tree you look at it. I point this out as potica has as many variations as there are slovene great-grandmothers, each claiming to be the best. You can trust me on this, all the old Slovene ladies in Ely, MN where my grandmothers lived always debated who made the best potica in town.

Slovenia is a tiny little country in eastern Europe, first of the bits of the old Yugoslav republic that split apart with the falling apart of the USSR and communists. It is the one that move to capitalism without any civil warfare and was the first to join the EU. It's cooking styles is based on ages of occupation going to BC times by Greeks, Romans, later Austria-Hungary. The potica reflects this multicultural occupation. The bread is rich and yeasty like a Austrian sweet dough, the filling rich with honey and nuts almost like a baklava.

This variation can be traced back to my great-grandmother when she arrived in this country a bit after the turn of the last century. A few tweaks were made along the way, more specific measurements, rather than handfuls and pinches. People say my Mom makes the best potica ever and they say I am close.

Enough of the history lesson and on to the recipe:
Walnut Potica

2 Cups Milk
2 Eggs
1 Cake Yeast (1 Oz)
1 tsp salt
3/4 Cup Sugar \

1/2 c (1 stick) butter - not margarine
6 Cups Flour

Method: Scald milk, add butter & allow to cool in mixing bowl.
Add sugar & yeast when bowl is only warm to the touch, mix well.
Proof 5 - 10 minutes until thick and foamy.
Beat eggs and salt, mix well & add to milk mixture.
Add half of the flour, beat well.
Add remaining flour & knead until soft and pliable.
Let rise until double in bulk.
Roll out and pull to 1/4" thickness or less
Spread on filling and roll (like in a jelly roll)
Let rest 1 Hour in well greased deep pan.
Bake 1-1/2 Hour in moderate oven

FILLING: 1 1/4 Lb. Ground walnuts
2 1/2 Cups Honey
1 tsp Vanilla
1/3 Cup Butter
4 Eggs
Mix first 4 ingredients, cook slowly to low boil, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat cool slowly 10 minutes
Mix in well the slightly beaten eggs, and cool

Now you have the recipe now for some tips. When proofing the dough I'll warm the oven to 150 or so with a pan of water on the bottom shelf. I'll warm the proofing bowl with hot water and dry it off well before oiling it. The dough is put into the warmed bowl, a clean towel over it. When the oven is to temperature I shut it off and let the dough just sit in the warm moist environment to rise.

First off this is a very sticky dough make sure your hands are very dry and dusted with a bit of flour. Spread a clean sheet over your table and flour it well. When you think you have enough, add a bit more or you will have major problems when it comes time to roll and stretch out the dough then roll it up jelly roll style.

I for the life of me cannot use just my hands to stretch and pull the dough out. My Mom can actually pull the dough so there are edges are hanging off the table and you could read a newspaper through the dough as it is that thin. I start with my hands to pull and shape it to about 1/2 the size you see in the pic. After that I switch to a rolling pin to keep from tearing big holes in the dough.
After its pulled you can spread the room temperature filling onto the dough to within a 1/2 inch or so of the edges. Do have a dough scraper handy as you will run into the odd spot that will stick to the cloth. Grab the end of your cloth on the narrow side of the dough and slowly roll it jelly roll fashion until you reach the other end. Gently fold the ends over and under to seal and prevent the filling from leaking out. Roll it carefully, adding additional flour as needed under it so can coil and lift it easily.

The giant dough snake will need to be coiled gently in thirds to make a large loaf. IT will be heavy (something like 5 pounds) and very delicate. Put a large pan (I use a 12 X 17 non-stick roaster) next to your dough. Lightly spray the pan with cooking oil or butter it. Flour you arms a bit. Reach under the dough with both arms as if pulling a newborn baby out of its first bath. Gently set the dough into the pan. Cover the dough with a towel and allow it to rise 1 hour until double in bulk in the warm moist oven.

When ready to bake pull the dough and water pan from the oven. Preheat to 350. If you have a convection oven use that feature as it really does a terrific job of evenly baking and browning. The final bit, and I don't know why you do it, but when you first pull it out of the oven rub about 2T butter over the surface of the warm potica.

There you go. It is labor intensive but worth the result. If you are short on time or energy you can always order one on line for Zup's Market in Ely and get it done faster. Their version is pretty tasty, you just won't get the fresh from the oven goodness as you do with your own.


Technology Integration in the Classroom said...

Thank you for sharing this receipt. I am the last one in my family that makes it from scratch. I am now teaching my 16 year old son how to make Potica. My Grandmother comes from Austria and she would only make it on Easter along with sticky buns (klotchs). On good Friday she would make hot cross buns with the same bread receipt. P.S. your loaf did look very nice.

Di said...

Interesting to see your post on potica. Yours caught my attention when I search for potica images and it was the only one showing potica made in a cake pan.

We just finished making our potica for the holiday season tonight. We make it in a pan like yours however our recipe is slightly different. We use sour cream in the filling. I've also heard of recipes using peanut butter (which sounds totally wrong to me:-).

Our family's recipe is from my husband's mother's side. Interestingly, they are Slovenians that originally lived in northern Minnesota, also at the turn of the century. Family lore tells the story that they moved here to Milwaukee when one of them ran into trouble with the law. Obviously, they brought their potica recipe with them!

Blair K. said...

Trying again! Loved running into this recipe as well as the family history. I bet we are distant cousins! My great-grandparents emigrated from Slovenia to Ely in 1898-99 and my potica-making grandma was born there. They were miners, and moved on after a few years to another mining community in PA. Eventually ended up in Cleveland. There are now 4 generations of potica makers in my family, including one of my sons. Like the previous commenter, we use sour cream in the dough, which is refrigerated. Filling is uncooked honey nut, but in the last years (when I've been doing a "Slovenian roots" cooking project) I have branched out to other fillings: poppy seed, chocolate.

frank zgonc said...

Blair, its always possible somewhere along the line our families have crossed path's as Slovenia is so small. My parents are in touch with distant cousins back there still!