It is probable that many of you have moved on from holiday baked goods and are already full-tilt into your New Year’s lettuce and juice fasts, but I hope you will still humor me through this post.  I wanted to post this several days ago, but we were stuck in a Nebraska time vortex due to some bad weather, so I am running a bit behind.  You can always file this away for your really ambitious baking project of the year–perhaps if you are stuck in a blizzard too, but with access to an actual stove.  Having Povitica on hand made our sequester in the Holiday Inn considerably more pleasant, I can assure you.

Povitica is a Central European nut bread that goes by a number of different names–you may have seen it as Potica, for instance.  It is made with a sweet yeast dough that is stretched out thin and then filled with a sweetened nut filling (sometimes poppy seeds).  It is a time consuming baking project and the recipe at the end makes six to seven loaves.  It is meant to be made and shared, and we were fortunate enough to spend some time with our friends Stephen and Dan, who were indulgent enough to let me participate in the process (truth be told, I primarily “participated” by snapping photos and eating the end results).  I am going to walk you through the visuals, with the full recipe at the end.  We started by grinding up two pounds of walnuts through a small hand grinder.  Stephen insists that this produces a more even texture, but I will more than forgive you (and will not question your sanity) if you use a food processor to speed this up.

This only took about five hours.

Stephen also washes the walnuts and lets them dry out overnight.  This removes some of the bitter skins, but is optional (he would disagree, but hey, it’s my blog).

The sweet yeast dough is started with a mixer but is then transferred to a floured board to incorporate the last flour by hand.  You knead the dough until it is “smooth and satiny,” which will take a bit of muscle and some time.

This is then set to rise, either for 2-3 hours at room temperature, or for a faster rise in a oven that you preheat to 200 degrees and then turn off five minutes before putting the dough in to rise.  That will speed your rise time by half.  While it is rising, you cook the filling.  You want the filling warm but not too hot when you spread it over the stretched dough.

Now comes the fun/scary part.  To stretch out the dough you will need a large table that you have covered with a floured cloth.  The cloth will help you roll up the dough in the end.  Stephen performed some high level engineering to secure the floured cloth under the table (clothes pins), and then the process began.  Start by rolling out the dough into an oblong.

From here, you need at least two sets of hands to coax the dough into a thin oblong.  You want this as thin as you can get it, which means stretching and pulling out from the center.

You will end up with some rips and tears, but that won’t matter much when it is rolled up.  When you have it as thin as you can achieve, spread the filling over in a thin layer.

Now you get to remove those clothes pins and roll the whole thing up:


To this:
Gravity is awesome.

At this point you want to cut the rolled dough into six or seven equal pieces, each of which will go into a buttered loaf pan for a last rise before baking.  Stephen used the edge of a plate to do this, as it helps to seal the ends.

Let them rise and then bake until golden.  All seven of these baked at the same time, with a mid-bake switch to keep the heat a bit more even.

I am eating some of the last of this as I type, and it is freakin’ delicious.  Really worth it, especially if all you have to do it take the photos.  Here is the recipe, supplied by Ann Murvich of the Calumet-Laurium Ingot Club, with some translations for the modern baker:

Yeast Dough:
1 oblong household fresh yeast (we went with two packages of standard dry yeast)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water, 110 degrees (ish)
1 pint milk (that is two cups)
1/2 cup butter (unsalted)
1/4 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 to 3 cups spooned flour
2 large eggs
10 cups spooned flour

Note: “spooning” flour is meant to create an accurate measure (dipping the measuring cup in will result in a lower yield), but since this is approximate you should base the amount on the end texture of the dough, which should be nice and smooth.

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in a small bowl, and let proof until bubbly.  Scald the milk and butter (bring to just a boil) and transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Add sugars and salt and mix until dissolved.  Add two or three cups of flour and mix until incorporated.  Add eggs, one at a time, and then stir in the yeast mixture.  Add remaining flour a cup at at time, and mix until it is too stiff to continue.  Transfer the dough to a floured board and add in additional flour with your hands.  Knead the dough, adding additional flour as needed, for about twenty minutes, or until smooth and pliable.  Place dough in an oiled bowl, turning to oil the top, and let rise until doubled in volume.

Walnut Filling:
3 sticks butter (yep, really–but remember this is for seven loaves)
2 pounds ground walnuts
1 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 pint cream (1 cup whipping cream)
1 cup milk
1 small bottle honey (we translated this to one cup, which worked)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (Dan increased this and used a strong variety of cinnamon, and I would at least double it)
2 eggs

Melt butter in a large pan and add the nuts, sugars, cream and milk.  Add the cinnamon and honey and cook over low heat until sugars are melted.  Add more milk if needed (you want the end product thick, however).  Cook until bubbly and then remove from heat and whisk in the eggs.  (I was dubious about this but Dan said it worked and it thickened the filling–I would still temper the eggs by beating them first and stirring in some of the hot mixture before adding to the pan).

To rise and bake:
When the dough is rolled and filled, let the loaves rise for a half hour.  Bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden.  Remove and cool on wire racks.  Share with friends and neighbors.

Thanks for reading,

-Angela

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3 Comments

  1. Awesome post. This is the type of recipe that I find most interesting of all. Handcrafted "real" food … nothing better. I hope you had a great trip and a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

  2. I absolutely ADORE that stuff!!! I used to buy it at a bake sale run by a Russian Orthodox church outside of town, where all the little old bubbes still made things the old-fashioned way; but I don't think they hold the sale anymore … 🙁 I have neither the time nor the patience to emulate your friends, but am in awe of their passionate devotion to their craft.

  3. It is definitely a labor of love, particularly using that grinder 🙂 It was great fun to document, and to eat.

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