You may know potica by another name (i.e., “nut roll.”). You also may have expected it to be spelled quite differently… more like “pateetza,” (which is how you pronounce it) or, I don’t know, “pzczytcza.” If you live in Northeast Ohio, you have probably been served this bread at a holiday party or a funeral gathering (the menus for these are often interchangeable). If you do not live in Northeast Ohio or are not native to this region, you may never have heard of it. I, however, have always known that potica was hard to make, was something a few of the women in my family had actually taken a class to learn, and had entire chapters devoted to it in all of the Slovenian cookbooks I’ve ever looked at.
Fast forward to 2016, when I asked my aunt (a graduate of the aforementioned class) if she had any recipes she could share. I’d spent some time leafing through cookbooks… and seriously, if you ever had a notion that getting a recipe printed in Pots and Pans was somehow a competitive, selective thing, the Potica chapter will convince you otherwise. I have at my fingertips a solid 30 recipes for the stuff and I didn’t even look online! The differences between recipes — for both dough and filling — were both incredibly subtle (1/2 cup sour cream vs. 3/4 cup sour cream) and seemingly insane (1 teaspoon orange peel OR 3 Tablespoons of rum?). Some recipes included things that seemed like cheating — crushed vanilla wafers, I’m looking at you; many recipes, when read in their entirety, were lacking very important instructions (i.e., the one that clearly listed 1 cup of butter in the ingredients and NEVER mentions adding it to anything). I needed something that had been made and eaten by someone I actually know. Fortunately, my aunt came through, and we spent about five hours one Saturday making potica.
My aunt had two recipes for potica dough that she wanted to try, each with their own history. The first was from a recent issue of Zarja, the bimonthly publication of the Slovenian Union of America. It was chosen as the year’s winning potica recipe and therefore worthy of a try. The second dough recipe was part of a well-worn Xeroxed pamphlet from a class she and my grandmother had taken in the 1990s from a man named John Stuchal. I don’t know anything about Mr. Stuchal’s current whereabouts, and Google didn’t really help, but I found a little profile of him online in a 1999 issue of Cleveland’s Scene magazine advertising one of his upcoming classes that makes me wish he was still teaching!
…It’s taught by the industrious John Stuchal, a former chef with a repertoire of 150 classes–including “Strudel in Five Minutes,” “Soups of the World,” and four different portobello mushroom courses. Stuchal spends part of each year in the Caribbean, where he teaches pierogi classes to Jamaicans, who aren’t unfamiliar with the Eastern European pockets, already knowing their way around a ravioli.
We decided that we would try both dough recipes and compare. That established, we moved on to fillings. We were each going to make one, and I had a very single-minded focus while looking through recipes: no raisins. I don’t hate raisins with the same vehemence I did as a kid, but they are definitely not one of my favorite foods, and I especially hate being surprised by them in baked goods. My aunt, having gained some intel that raisins soaked in rum were the secret to moist potica, opted for a recipe containing both.
We each made our fillings the night before (mine pecan, hers walnut-raisin), and from start (making the dough) to finish (slicing two loaves before they were nowhere near cool because we were hungry and impatient) it was just about five hours. We initially thought we had a clear winner in the dough category — the recipe from Zarja was incredibly soft, rose beautifully, and was very easy to work with. However, the cooking time listed was far too long and that batch ended up a little too dark on top, and a lot too dark on the bottom. Delicious, but kind of burnt. Initially, John Stuchal’s dough — which was a little more dense and slower to rise but baked up beautifully — was our winner. However, the Zarja dough (though overbaked) remained tasty longer (not that potica is really meant to sit around for 5 days, but 5 days later, that one tasted better).
The fillings were probably a tie. I will concede that the walnut-raisin filling was significantly more moist, even days later. But I still don’t like the sneaky chewiness of those raisins! The pecan filling was just different enough to be interesting, and had enough egg white, milk and butter to keep it from totally drying out. The process for all 7 loaves was exactly the same. Pans were prepared with butter and parchment. Each ball of dough (we got 3 from John’s batch, 4 from Zarja’s) was rolled to a 1/4″ thickness. The dough was spread with filling (we went heavy as this is our preference). Each loaf was rolled up like a jelly roll, placed seam side down in a pan, and baked at 350 degrees.
If you’re planning to try potica, a word of caution: it really will take about 5 hours. A lot of that is sitting-around-waiting-for-dough-to-rise time, but you should plan this for a day when you will be home for that long of a stretch.
Read on if you’d like to see the recipes we used…
I’ve credited both of these recipes as “adapted from” because I’ve made a few edits and additions. Some of this is for clarity – I think often these “classic” recipes are written assuming the baker has more knowledge about the finished product than they actually do, and I wanted to include details that I needed as a newbie – and some of this is to reflect the ingredients we actually used (i.e., the original may have included a choice between milk and half & half, and we chose milk). Neither of them has been altered significantly enough to constitute a new recipe.
FOR BOTH RECIPES:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Potica is best baked in a long skinny pan… also known as a “potica pan.” You can see them in picture 2 above. I have 2 pans from Ikea that are almost identical in dimension to my aunt’s potica pans and they worked perfectly (the item name is DRÖMMAR and can be found here).
We did have to make 2 potica in regular old loaf pans (which you can see in the back left corner of Picture 4, above), which were okay, we just had to get a little creative with twisting and squeezing them into the pan. Some people make their potica free-form on a baking sheet, but this was not part of our experiment.
To prepare the pans, grease them with butter. Then cut strips of parchment that are as wide as the pan bottom. You will use these to line the bottom of the pan, but want them long enough to hang over the edges. This overhang works as a “handle” to later remove the potica from the pan for cooling.
1) Basic Potica Dough
(adapted from John Stuchel’s “Culinary Happenings,” c. 1990-something.)
*note: the original calls for kneading by hand, but we were quite successful using a Kitchen-aid stand mixer and dough hook attachment
- 1/2 cup milk, warm
- 1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 2 packages yeast
- 6 cups flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 pound butter, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
Make the dough:
In the mixing bowl for a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Add 1 Tablespoon of sugar. Stir well and let stand in a warm place until foamy (about 10 minutes).
Add the beaten eggs, sugar, salt, and sour cream and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon. Using your stand mixer’s dough hook and low speed, add in some of the flour until a soft dough is formed. Knead in the softened butter and then add the additional flour until a soft, pliable dough is formed (about 10 minutes). Place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover and let rest until doubled in bulk (about 30 minutes).
2) Potica Recipe
adapted from the recipe that won 1st Place at SUA’s National Convention, contributed by Helen Coffelt Forhna and her mother Mici Coffelt.
(I’ve edited this for clarity and reflecting the ingredients I used)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- 2 packages dry yeast
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup warm milk
Empty yeast into a small bowl. Add sugar and war, milk. Mix together, cover; set in warm place for 10 minutes or until frothy.
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 egg yolks* (reserve the whites to use in your filling or for brushing tops of potica before baking)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 Tablespoons rum
- 6-7 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
In a saucepan, place milk, butter, and sugar. Heat until butter melts. Set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks and stir in sour cream and rum.
Add the sour cream mixture to the milk & butter mixture. Then add the yeast mixture (so you have now combined all of your liquid ingredients in one bowl).
In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine 3 cups flour and salt. Make a well in the flour and slowly add your liquid mixture. Mix first with a wooden spoon, and then with the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer. Add remaining flour as needed (I used close to 7 cups). Turn onto a clean surface and continue kneading until fingers do not stick to dough.
Place in a bowl and cover tightly. Let rise until doubled in size (at least 1 hour).
FOR BOTH RECIPES:
Form the potica:
Divide the dough into 3 parts and cover. On a lightly floured cloth roll out the dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. Spread the dough with the filling of your choice, leaving about 2 inches of dough at the opposite end without filling. This is done to form a better top crust.
Roll as a jelly roll starting with the end that has the filling. Apply a small amount of water with your fingertip to seal the end. Place in prepared loaf pan, seam side down. Cover with wax paper and a towel and set aside to rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes, until almost doubled in size.
Brush the top of each potica with egg whites.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Check the potica at this time (recipe #2 was already browned at this point). You want them to be light golden brown. If not, you may bake them for up to an hour total but I’d recommend checking at 5- or 10-minute intervals. Leave them to cool in their pans for about 15 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
My personal favorite filling was a twist on the traditional walnut-raisin. The texture was similar to the “usual” filling but perfect for raisin-haters like me. Though I have no personal objection to walnuts, I made this with pecans instead and it resulted in a slightly sweeter variation. Even without raisins it did not get dry when baked! See? WE DON’T NEED RAISINS.
Nut filling (Orehov nadev)
- 1-1/2 pounds ground pecans (I purchased whole nuts and ground them in the food processor)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 egg whites, beaten stiff
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Place ground nuts in a large mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, scald milk over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and add butter; stir until melted. Pour milk mixture over nuts. Add sugar and vanilla extract and mix. Fold in the egg whites. Filling can be used immediately or covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. Remove from refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to spreading on potica.