Belokranjska pogača is one of Slovenia's official EU-protected specialty foods. Although the name means "pogača from Bela Krajina," it is often translated as "caraway flatbread" or "salted cake."
When I first spotted this delicacy on the official Slovenian tourist website, here, I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about.Yeast-raised flatbread is hardly unique to Slovenia. Many Balkan countries have their own versions of pogača (poe-gotch'-a). So do Italians, who call it by a more familiar name: Focaccia.
But then it came up again, in my Slovenian language class. In the spring, we were studying the food traditions of the Dolenjska region, a rural area south of the capital that was the original home of my own ancestors, along with many other Slovenian immigrants in the early 1900s. And there it was again, on a list of regional food specialties. (Bela Krajina, the "official" source of the bread, is a smaller region that borders Dolenjska.)
Now I was intrigued. I decided to give this Slovenian-style focaccia a try.
What makes Belokranjska pogača unique? The yeast dough itself is straightforward: flour, salt, yeast and water, with a touch of oil and sugar. But there are very precise specifications for the formation of the loaf.
Here's the official word from the Slovenian government:
Bela krajina flat bread
Belokranjska pogača is a type of flat bread and is produced according to a unique recipe. It is round with a diameter of approximately 30 cm. In the centre it is 3 to 4 cm thick, thinning to 1–2 cm at the edges. With oblique lines, it is incised into squares with an approximate distance of 4 cm, coated with a whisked egg and topped with cumin seeds and coarse salt crystals. When baked it is broken along the incised angled lines rather than being cut and is best served warm.
from Slovenian Protected Agricultural Products and Foodstuffs, a government publication
There are a number of recipes available on the Internet, with just a few small differences among them. Should the yeast be proofed before the dough is mixed? Should the topping be limited to coarse salt, or is it better to add caraway seeds? Or cumin seeds?
For my first attempt, I opted for proofing the yeast before making the dough. I sprinkled the entire loaf with coarse salt, and then I added some cumin seed on one side. Unfortunately, because of a small miscalculation, I made the circle of dough too small--just half the specified diameter!
The result was a round, high loaf that looked beautiful. Inside, the bread was moist and tasty, with a coarse grain. But it certainly wasn't a flatbread. It was too thick to break, so I had to slice it.
It was a lovely country-style loaf of white bread. But not up to European Union standards for Belokranjska pogača.
For my second attempt, I made the dough with the much faster "all in one bowl" method. I was careful to follow precise measurements, so I ended up with a thin, large circle of dough that was exactly 30 centimeters across. For the topping, I used a mixture of coarse salt and caraway seed over the entire loaf.
This second pogača came out just right. Pretty enough, I thought, to appear on one of those official government websites. It broke into squares easily and made a tasty accompaniment to a nice bowl of mineštra.
The verdict? I enjoyed the lightness of the first loaf, even it wasn't quite the flatbread I was expecting. Partly it was the rounder shape, but I think proofing the yeast made a difference. I liked all three toppings, although cumin was certainly the most unusual.
I will certainly make this again. I will stick to proofing the yeast, even though it adds an extra step.
I might also aim for an in-between thickness. A compromise between my first two loaves.
I realize this might be breaking with tradition. But I doubt the EU pogača police will bother me in California.
500 g flour (about 4-1/4 c)
1 T salt
1-1/2 t. sugar
1 package dry yeast
1 T oil
350 ml lukewarm water (just under 1-1/2 c)
For topping: 1 egg, coarse salt, cumin or caraway seed
First, prepare the dough.
The easy way: Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, add the oil and water. Mix until you have a soft dough that is not too sticky to be kneaded.
The better way: Warm a little of the water (about 50 ml) in a small bowl and stir in part of the sugar. Add the yeast and allow it to proof. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture and the oil. Mix into a soft dough as above.
After mixing the dough, knead until it is smooth and not sticky. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for thirty minutes.
After rising, punch down dough and place on an oiled baking sheet or other flat surface. Pat and stretch it into a circle that is about 30 cm (12 inches) across. It should be 1-2 cm thick in the middle and a little thinner at the edges. Slice the dough into squares, using diagonal lines that are about 4 cm apart. Brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt and cumin seed or caraway seed. If desired, let rise briefly again before baking.
Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 400 degrees F (200/220 degrees C) for 25 to 40 minutes. Let cool. To serve, break into squares. Best served warm.