Potica, Bread of Memory





I belong to an online writing community called Red Room.

In December of 2011, we were asked to consider this question: What is the secret ingredient in your holiday traditions?

I wrote about potica, the rich yeast bread that is probably Slovenia's most well known dish.  My family's version is more pastry than bread.  It's like the love child of brioche and baklava.

The secret ingredients are:

a refrigerated yeast dough made with sour cream
a simple, uncooked nut filling
a heavy hand with the honey
love, memory, and family
ambivalence

To see the complete essay, including a simple version of my family potica recipe, follow this link:

Potica, Bread of Memory | Blair Kilpatrick | Blog Post | Red Room

For my most recent, step-by-step photo guide to potica, please go to my December 2012 blog post,
here.

15 comments:

  1. Hi,
    Love your site, but potica is a cake/walnut roll not a bread as such.
    Again, love your site, and best of luck in your search for your roots. There's nothing that says special holidays as does potica ..... memories of baking with my grandmother.......

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Adriana! Where did you grow up?

      I certainly agree that the sweet versions of potica are a dessert, and much more like a pastry than bread. Especially my family's version of walnut potica, which is almost like baklava! But it is a yeast dough and there are many versions with savory fillings that are not meant as sweets. So "bread" (at least for English readers) seemed like the best choice and the term that is often used.

      Also, I like the symbolic meaning of bread. "Bread of life" and so on. For us, it certainly was that, since potica is the one thing that sustained the ethic identity of my family.

      I hope you will visit and comment again!

      All the best,

      Blair

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  2. I haven't had a slice of potica in almost 30 years! I have a memory of potica since I was a little girl. My mom is Italian and my Dad is Austrian. I was never sure what family tradition it came from. I started thinking about the potica since seeing the bread in a catalog, but my mom hasn't made it in years, and she wouldn't be able to find the recipe due to her age. It makes sense that it was from my dad's family because we would have it at his brothers house too around the holidays. I have asked my uncle to look for my aunts recipe but have yet to hear from him. They are all up there in age! I do remember my mom using filo dough, and of all the recipes I've seen so far haven't really mentioned that. I remember watching her make it and always requested her to put more cinnamon in it. She rolled it and shaped it into a circle...not sure what pan...I sure hope my uncle comes thru with the recipe before Christmas. It would make my dad and siblings so happy to see it back on our menu!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Judi! Potica is Slovenian in origin, but there is definitely an Italian connection. I recently made something called putizza di noci (and will post it soon.) It is a style of potica that became popular in Trieste and the surrounding areas, on the border between Italy and Slovenia. It is also a traditional dish for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I hope you find your family recipe!

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  3. I too always thought Potica was Slovenian in origin, but now I see comments online that it is Croatian or Serbian. So I wonder really where it started. (I'm Slovenian, so I'm hoping for Slovenia, but I'm really not sure.)

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    2. Thank you for commenting, D Furar!

      Yes, I have seen similar claims about our beloved potica. And, much as it pains me to admit it, other Central and Eastern European countries do have similar rolled, filled yeast breads. Hungary, Poland, Croatia and Serbia all have breads that are in the same family.

      A few years ago, I was amazed to discover potica (or so I thought) in Israel, in the dining room of a kibbutz tourist resort on the Sea of Galilee. When I asked a server what it was called, she just shrugged and said it was "cinnamon bread." She seemed surprised at my excitement. Turns out the kibbutz had been founded in the 1930s by refugees from Czechoslovakia.

      There is a funny story about the source of our family recipe. I've told it before, but here it is again: My grandmother, like so many ethnic cooks, didn't use recipes. Although my mother watched and learned from her, for written directions she turned to a Serbian American friend, who got a potica recipe from her mother. But it's the same technique as my grandmother's. And, most important: it tastes just like hers!

      As to where potica originated, who knows? But I still believe that the Slovenian version is special. And only Slovenia has raised potica to an art form :-)

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    3. Just to be clear: The name "potica" is definitely Slovenian! The other countries with similar breads have different names. Povitica in Croatia, beigli in Hungary, and so on. Wikipedia has a good entry about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nut_roll

      In the United States, the Slovenian name seems to have become the most widely known, along with the generic term "nut roll." So you might find a perfectly fine potica for sale, made by a baker who uses the old family recipe from Croatia or Czechoslovakia.

      But it's all good, as the saying goes!

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    4. My Grandmother was Croatian and she made it.

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    5. One of the best "commercial" brands is made by a Croatians-run bakery in Kansas City!

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  4. I just returned from Slovenia and enjoyed lots of good Slovenian food including potica which I remember from all my life.. especially Easter and Christmas time. I had also had a delicious potica with 3 herbs in it.. tarragon and two others...(melissa(lemon balm) and maybe mint or rosemary). Anyone got a good recipe for that? There were bags of little potica bakery.. both the walnut and the tarragon at the local Mercator grocery store.. wish I could buy them here..

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  5. Thanks for stopping by! I too was shocked at the idea of a sweet tarragon filling. But in recent years I have tasted it and also made a sweet cheese filling with tarragon for struklji. Unusual for Americans, but it has a sort of licorice taste. Was the herb potica sweet and/or with cheese?

    Blair

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  6. PS: My struklji with a sweet cheese-tarragon filling is here:

    http://slovenianroots.blogspot.com/2012/10/slovenian-dinner-week-33-buckwheat.html

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    1. The herb potica was mildly sweet and, as you noted, a mild licorice flavor and it looked like a fine layer of white cheese of some sort.. farmers, or cottage cheese. It begged me to eat more until it was gone. My Mom used to make struklji but I didn't like it because she put lots of pepper in it. I didn't pay a lot of attention to how she prepared it, tho I remember her frying it or something for it in butter. Also remember it boiling in water. She'd make it for her little brother, my Uncle Norbie when he and my Dad would go hunting. He would come over at 4 or 5 in the morning while it was still dark and I would get up to get in on the excitement before the chase. The heavily peppered Struklji was strong smelling for my young senses.
      The boiled pasta I did enjoy was her boiled plum dumplings which she also fried in bread crumbs and butter..(I think she did that to the struklji also) She was a great pastry cook. Her apple strudel was heavenly., you could see her hands through the strudel dough as she streched over the whole expanded dining room table..she did put walnuts in it, but put them on the dough on the other side of the roll from the apple since she found out that putting them in with the apples turned them purple when baked. She also made flancite (sp?) which I liked. Not much zganjce (sp?) tho because she confided that she did not like it.. but described it very well and I recognised it when our Slovenian hostess placed a large pot of it on the table for breakfast complete with pork cracklings in it. (I must say I did like it pretty well.. great for travellers digestive system and filling too, though I can see that one might get tired of it when served on a continual and regular basis)

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