Were you aware that Croatia is still a real country? I was not, but then again, geography is not one of my stronger suits. Ask my 9th grade geography teacher, Mr. Hermann, about that. I am quite good at back-sassing, note-passing, and pointing out which countries look kind of like wieners. You can ask Mr. Hermann about that, too. He probably has plenty of free time for interviews now that his afternoons aren’t busy presiding over my detentions.
The reason I have been re-alerted to Croatia’s existence is as follows: I was leafing through the Wolferman’s catalog, trying to decide what kind of english muffins I wanted to eat. What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a loaf of intricate, swirly bread. It jumped off of the page, incredibly beautiful and complicated. And since it was 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, and since I have too much time on my hands, I decided to research it instead of buying it.
The bread is called “povitica” or sometimes just “potica.” It’s a Croatian yeast bread, made for special occasions, that is rolled out painfully thin, slathered with some type of nut filling (usually), and then rolled up into a loaf and baked. The end result is a labyrinth of nutty goodness, with traces of sweet, yeasty bread just barely holding it together. It looks…really cool. And I feel like you should know how to make it too, just in case you get invited to a Christmas party potluck, and need to win. Or you meet some hot Croatian guy–they’re actually called “croats”–and he’s resisting your advances with an iron fist. You just say “hold on!” run to the kitchen, throw together a loaf of povitica, bring it back to him, and he’ll get all melty and be like “Oh, this is just like my Baka (Croat for “granny”) used to bake.” Then BAM. Pants-off-dance-off.
*Note: This method also works if you’re a dude and trying to get your multi-cultural freak on with a lovely Croatian female. If she’s being coy, just run into the kitchen, grab a loaf of povitica, and come back saying “my Baka made this for me. We’re really close.” Whammo.
So as you can see, it’s important that you give this a shot and get really good at it. You never know when it’s going to come in handy. I adapted this recipe from several that I found at allrecipes.com and about.com. I like to think it takes the strength of several recipes, but leaves the weaknesses.
Almond and Pecan Povitica (or “potica”)
-For the bread dough
1 stick (4 oz) butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
1 C warm milk
1.5 t active dry yeast
3 egg yolks
4 C AP flour (plus more if needed)
1 t salt
-For the filling
1 C milk, hot
1 C sugar
3 egg whites
1 lb ground almonds
.5 lb ground pecans (this can be done in your food processor
.5 C honey
Preparing the dough
-Layer your ingredients in the order provided in a bread machine on the “basic dough” setting. OR in a Kitchenaid with the dough hook
-Knead until the dough is soft and elastic, with slightly less firmness than you would use in a regular bread. It should be soft and pliable, but not at all sticky. Add more flour or water if you have to to achieve this.
-Allow to rise for two hours, or until doubled. This takes longer to rise than most bread.
-Divide dough into three segments and place on a large, floured surface (like a clean kitchen island or table)
Preparing the filling
-mix all ingredients together, adding more nuts or honey as necessary to make a mixture that has the approximate viscosity of corn syrup.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Assembling the bread
-Working on one segment at a time, roll the dough out into the largest rectangle you can, then stretch gently with your hands to make it even thinner. It should be as uniform in thickness as you can get it, and you should be able to read a word through the dough.
-Spread 1/3 of the filling over the dough, being careful not to let your nuts tear through the delicate pastry. Heh.
-roll tightly like you would a cinnamon roll, and squeeze/tuck like a burrito to make it the size of a large loaf pan. Place it seam-side down into a loaf pan and set it aside.
-repeat with the other two segments of dough
Feel free to substitute any filling you like that is a similar consistency. You can use cream cheese and jam, different nuts, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff (I’m so doing that, and I hereby declare that it’s my invention). The sky’s the limit. Actually, as you can see from the pictures, my bread experienced some slight tearing when it was being cut, mostly because it was still hot and the nuts were tearing through the delicate layers of bread. Hot nuts cause all kinds of damage. Let that be a lesson to you kids. So the other kinds of less-crunchy filling may make it easier to slice.