When I went back to work full time over ten years ago, I had the good fortune to meet my wonderful friend Jill, who is a fellow foodie and as crazy in the kitchen as I am. No menu is too difficult, and no recipe is too challenging for us to take on. The kitchen becomes a magical place when the two of us get to cook together, and we have more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
Several years ago, Jill’s supervisor, knowing how much Jill loves to cook, asked her if she would mind catering a dinner for our company’s global HR employees who were flying in from several different countries, not to mention continents. She said “sure” as long as I could help her. Well, that meal will forever stand out in my mind. We got carried away and planned the fussiest menu you could possibly imagine. Nothing was ordinary from the appetizers (marinated cheese, watermelon cubes with a balsamic reduction, drunken olives, and skewered Caprese appetizer) to the soup (roasted red pepper and tomato gazpacho) to the salad (arugula and frisée with a Dijon dressing and topped off with a baked goat cheese bruschetta which was drizzled with an apricot glaze) to the entrees (both a seafood and vegetarian entrée) to the side dish (julienned zucchini & summer squash bundles tied with wilted green onions) to the dessert (miniature lemon custards with a fruit compote including star fruit—so pretty—and a triangle of puff pastry artfully arranged at an angle on top of the custard and fruit) to the specialty coffees with whipped cream. It ended up being a sit-down plated meal for 15 people seated in both the kitchen and separate dining room; and—to add to the craziness—Jill’s supervisor insisted that we sit down and eat with the group. We were like two Jack-in-the-boxes, jumping up and down between courses to plate and serve the next course. We had a blast!
A couple of years ago, Jill gave me some of her homemade potica (pronounced po-teet’-sa) to try. Potica is a traditional Slovenian nut roll made with a sweet yeast dough and filled with a paste made from ground nuts, honey and spices. Jill’s mom used to make it twice a year during the Easter and Christmas holidays. One bite and I was hooked. I immediately added potica to my recipe bucket list.
Last weekend, Jill and I spent a very enjoyable day making potica—8 loaves! I was so glad to have her there to show me all the creative ways to form the rolls. When I told Jill that I didn’t have more than five loaf pans, she told me not to worry. You can form shapes to fit into any pans you have, and although we didn’t I’m sure you could form a loaf and bake it on a cookie sheet. We ended up using three 9×5 pans, two 8½ x 4½ pans, one 9×13 pan (containing two U-shaped loaves, and one round Corning casserole.
In addition to all the pans, I needed two really large bowls. I ended up using one of my large pans for the filling in order to easily mix the 3 pounds of nuts and pound of honey the recipe called for as well as the other ingredients.
I cleared my kitchen counters, shooed Roger out of the kitchen, and Jill and I got out the rolling pins and went to work (I had made the dough the night before and refrigerated it). The dough was exceptionally easy to work with, and that was a very good thing since there was so much of it! If you’re good at math, you can scale it down; but I’m glad we made the whole batch. I sent Jill home with some, brought a loaf to work, froze some for the kids to enjoy when they visit over the Christmas break; and, of course, Roger and I enjoyed potica every day this past week.
I used my grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer to grind the nuts using the larger of the two discs (the smaller-holed disc would make nut butter); but, otherwise, you can use your food processor to finely chop them.
Diamond nuts offers a finely ground walnut that should work. Buying my walnuts at Costco and grinding them myself was a less expensive way to go for me. If you look online, you’ll find potica selling for anywhere from $20 to $30 a loaf plus shipping; and I have no doubt that the potica won’t taste anywhere near as good as homemade.
If you’ve never tasted potica, it is difficult to overstate just how good it is. I could eat the nut filling with a spoon—and actually did! Jill’s mom’s instructions said to taste the filling to be sure it is really, really sweet. Since it contains raw eggs, I used pasteurized eggs so that I could taste test. After baking, the filling’s sweetness is tempered a little bit. Tasting is important because the honey you use can vary in sweetness. Jill said that before you bake it the filling should taste almost too sweet. When we both tasted the filling, we both thought it was just right. And that meant that we needed to add more sugar! I was happy we did because the sweetness did indeed “bake off” or lessen a little after baking.
Well, here I’ve crossed off the traditional Slovenian Christmas bread off my bucket list, and I still have the traditional Italian Christmas panettone on my list! Must rectify that…
Ingredients for Dough
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tbl. granulated sugar
- 4 tsp. salt
- 12 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3 cups warm milk (105o – 115o F)
- 3 pkgs. dry yeast mixed with:
3/4 cup warm water (105o – 115o F) and
2 tsp. granulated sugar
- 6 egg yolks, beaten lightly
Directions for Dough
Sift flour with sugar and salt. Cut in butter. Mix yeast, 2 tsp. sugar and 3/4 cup warm water now. Combine egg yolks and warmed milk. Make a dent in flour and add egg/milk mixture and stir; then add yeast. Knead until smooth but slightly sticky. Grease very large bowl; place dough in bowl; then turn over to coat with grease. Cover with slightly damp towel and let rise until doubled, about 90 minutes or so. Punch down and let rest 15 minutes.
Ingredients for Filling
- 3 lbs. finely chopped walnuts
- 1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
- 3 whole eggs, slightly beaten
- 4 egg whites, stiffly beaten
- 1 1/2 cups scalded milk (reserve 1/2 cup of this milk because you may need only 1 cup)
- 4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 to 1 1/4 cups brown sugar (I added 1 1/4 cups)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1-lb. jar of honey
- 1 tbl. vanilla
Directions for Filling
Set aside 1/2 cup scalded milk—you may or may not need it. Add butter to remaining 1 cup scalded milk and stir until it’s melted. In a very large bowl, mix walnuts, milk/butter mixture, whole eggs, sugars, cinnamon, honey, and vanilla.
Stir until well combined. Fold in egg whites.
The filling should be quite sweet to taste and thick, but easily spreadable. If too thick, add some of the reserved milk a little at a time until you have a thick but spreadable consistency.
To Make Loaves
Grease a large number and variety (can use loaf pans, round cake pans, 9×13 pans, etc.) and set aside.
Grab a heaping handful of dough (10 to 12 oz.) and roll out on lightly floured surface (give yourself plenty of room for this process).
The size of your baking pan will be dependent on the amount of dough you grab. Roll out dough to about 3/8” thickness or less; then spread a thin layer of filling to within 1” of edges.
Roll up jelly roll fashion and pinch ends and edge to seal in filling. If you roll a rectangle, it will fit in loaf pans nicely. If you roll a very long rectangle, you can wind the log of potica into a round cake pan in a coil shape or in a long u-shape. We rolled from the short end to fit the loaf pans and from the long end to make the coiled and U-shapes. Don’t worry about irregular edges because they will be tucked in and smoothed out.
Let rise again in pans for about an hour; then bake at 350o F on middle rack of oven for about 40 minutes. Loaves should be a deep, golden brown. Remove from pans and let cool on wire racks.
When completely cooled, wrap and keep refrigerated or freeze. Keeps for a long time, up to six months in freezer, well-wrapped.
The potica will obviously taste the same no matter what shape you choose to bake. I thought the coiled loaf looked the prettiest when cut.
Also, you will most likely have some leftover filling. I used it to make some potica tassies and some ruglach.
Source: My good friend and fellow foodie, Jill