|Cranberry Walnut Potica, with Scottish Shortbread|
(photo by Blair Kilpatrick)
Potica (puh-teet’-za) is Slovenia’s most famous dish. For American families with roots in that small, beautiful Alpine country, the rich yeast pastry is a beloved Christmas tradition. It is also a traditional Easter dish.
In my family, potica served as the bread of memory, because it was the only Slovenian tradition my mother maintained. So we took it very seriously and didn't allow for much experimentation. At most, we might substitute pecans for walnuts. In recent years, we began to grind the nuts in a food processor and melt the butter in the microwave. But that was the extent of our innovations. We wanted our potica to taste just like my grandmother's.
Last year, I took a bold step. I added a sprinkle of dried cranberries to the family recipe. It seemed to fit with the Christmas spirit. Besides, many traditional recipes call for adding raisins.
My family actually liked the cranberry version. If I try it again this way, I'll use a lighter hand with the honey.
A word about this treasured family recipe: It came from my mother, who learned to make potica from her mother. But my grandmother wasn't the source of the written instructions.
My grandmother, like so many traditional ethnic cooks, didn't use recipes herself, and she never offered written directions. So my mother turned to an old high school friend, who got a recipe from her mother. Here's an odd twist: her friend's family came from Serbia, another country in the former Yugoslavia. But my mother insists that this was the method her Slovenian American mother followed.
And we all agree: It tastes just like our memory of Grandma's potica.
The recipe that follows is copied from the battered notecard my mother wrote out for me, with a few added comments of my own. Clearly, it is one of those minimalist recipes that is intended for someone who is already familiar with a dish, knows how to prepare it, and just needs guidelines about quantities.
In a future post, I will offer step-by-step instructions, along with photos. But for now, here is my family's traditional recipe for potica. Good luck!
About the photo: Are you wondering why that Slovenian potica is sharing space with Scottish shortbread? Take a look at one of my early blog posts, Holiday Baking: A Bittersweet Taste of My Ethnic Roots.
Potica (Slovenian Nut Roll)
2 ¾ sticks butter, melted and cooled
1 c. sugar
6 egg yolks
1 ½ c. sour cream
2 packages yeast
¾ c. warm milk
1 t. sugar
6 c. flour
1 t. salt
Mix first four ingredients together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, proof yeast in warm milk and sugar. Add yeast to the first mixture and mix well.
Mix flour and salt. Add to the above and mix to make a soft, sticky dough.
Knead dough. Divide in 4 parts. Wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate overnight.
2 lb. ground walnuts or pecans (6 1/2 c.)
1 c. sugar
2 t. cinnamon
dash of salt
Melted butter, about ½ c
Honey to taste
(Optional: dried cranberries)
Roll and stretch each portion of dough into a rectangle, a little thicker than pie crust. (Important note: This should be: "a little thinner than pie crust," at least in my family. The dough should be thinner than pie crust, but thicker than strudel or phyllo.)
Spread each portion with about 2 T. melted butter and ¼ of the nut/sugar mixture. Drizzle with honey. Sprinkle with dried cranberries, if desired. Roll up (from the long end) pinch seam and ends closed. Place seam side down on baking sheet, greased or lined with parchment paper. Let rise 1 ¼ hours. (Note: Loaves don't rise much.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, if necessary for 10 minutes more at 325 degrees. Let cool before slicing. Makes 4 loaves.