Thursday, April 14, 2022

Just in Time for Easter: No-Knead Artisan-Style Potica (+ dairy-free, with an apricot twist)

Just in time for Easter, here it is: The long overdue recipe for the new potica variant I baked and froze in December, in anticipation of the out-of-town Christmas gathering that never happened. 

For the past five years, I have supplemented the annual family Christmas potica with a dairy-free alternative. This year was no exception. But the bigger news is that I also figured out a way to successfully apply the no-knead "Artisan Bread in Five" approach to this traditional holiday dish. 

I had tried once before to adapt my standard potica dough (which already calls for overnight refrigeration)  by adding the initial two hour rise at room temperature, as the artisan approach specifies. Unfortunately, that extra step seemed to exhaust the yeast, perhaps because my dough is so dairy- rich. 

So this time, I decided go straight to the source. I found a number of variants of brioche dough in the large collection of cookbooks and websites devoted to this popular approach to yeast breads. The most promising was a relatively light brioche dough from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Authors Hertzberg and François suggest using it to make a rolled pastry bread with an apple-nut filling they call Apple Strudel Bread (which sounds very potica-like!) 

I used their brioche recipe as a foundation, with some significant adaptations: I skipped the whole grains in favor of all-purpose flour, and I used sugar rather than honey. I ended up using a slightly higher proportion of eggs, since I made a half recipe. As you will see in the recipe below, the dairy substitutes I used happened to be coconut-based. 

In keeping with my usual practice, I added a little twist to the filling. After drizzling honey on the walnut-sugar layer, I added some dollops of apricot jam.

For whatever reason, this combination was a winner. Although the dough was slightly less rich than the family version, the end product was much the same. It tasted delicious--and it was better the next day. And better still after freezing. In some respects, it was even superior to the traditional batch this year. And it was definitely easier, since no kneading was required!  


No-Knead Artisan-Style Potica (the dairy-free version)


3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut cream, lukewarm
6 tablespoons coconut-based vegan spread, melted and cooled
6 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs

For Filling

3+ cups finely ground walnuts, combined with:
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

4 tablespoons melted non-dairy vegan spread
4 tablespoons honey, or to taste
(optional: apricot jam)

(Note: For more background on the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day approach, go here.  And for my master recipe, see Potica, A Step-by-Step Guide to Slovenian Nut Roll.) 

Combine flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl or plastic dough container and whisk together. In separate bowl, beat the remaining ingredients together and stir into the dry ingredients, mixing well with a spoon. Cover loosely and let rest for 2 hours and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Remove dough from fridge, divide in two parts, and form each into a ball. Refrigerate the one you are not using. Roll first portion out thinly into a 15-26 inch rectangle. Spread with melted non-dairy spread. Sprinkle with half the nut mixture. Drizzle with honey. Top with dollops of apricot jam, if desired. Roll up from wide end and seal. Repeat with second portion of dough. Let loaves rise for 90 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let cool well before slicing. Makes 2 loaves. 

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Traditional Potica for Pust (with a few twists!)


I felt fortunate indeed to attend not one but two in-person Pust celebrations this year. The first one was a small at-home gathering I hosted for a couple of friends (and spouses) from Slovenian class. My contribution was the Mardi Gras King Cake "pustica" hybrid I had created for my husband's recent birthday. 

The second was a large outdoor gathering sponsored by the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco. It was a festive affair at a lovely private home in the Oakland Hills, with live music (we were happy to join in) and plenty of food. For that one I contributed the last of the Christmas potica I had stored in the freezer, after the planned trip to gather with family in New York never materialized, thanks to Covid. 

In December, I had baked two varieties of my mostly-traditional holiday potica. My standard walnut-honey potica followed the family recipe with just one small change. I used my KitchenAid stand mixer to make the dough and had not been completely happy with the results. The dough rose even less than usual and the layers seemed a little dense and damp after baking. But the potica seemed to have improved after freezing. I was particularly happy with the way the final loaf (on the left in the top photo, and also below) had turned out. On a whim, I had decided to bake the last loaf in the batch as a double roll in a bread pan, instead of doing my usual free form single roll.

The second version  (in the top right photo) was definitely an innovation. It was my first successful attempt at using the artisan-style method of cold bulk fermentation to make potica. It was dairy-free. And I added a little apricot to the walnut filling. Recipe to follow! 

Monday, February 28, 2022

New Orleans King Cake + Potica Filling = Pustica, or Mardi Gras Potica!


What happens when a dedicated potica baker decides to make her first-ever New Orleans Mardi Gras king cake for her husband's birthday? And then he suggests that she take advantage of the leftover walnut potica filling in the freezer.  

Here's what happened last year at our house: We seem to have created the world's first Mardi Gras Potica! One of my friends from Slovenian language class even gave it a new name: Pustica! (To learn more about Pust, the Slovenian version of Mardi Gras, you can read my Mardi Gras, Slovenian Style post, from the early days of this blog.)

For many years in my family, we have celebrated a cluster of February birthdays with Mardi Gras king cakes from Louisiana. Last year, because of pandemic shipping challenges, I decided it was time to try a homemade version. I never intended to do something transgressive, although it did occur to me that poticas and king cakes both use what is technically a brioche dough. Once I decided to use the same walnut-sugar cinnamon filling we use in my family's version of potica, I imagined that this homemade king cake might taste a bit like Slovenia's most famous dish.

But I never imagined how closely that slice of king cake would resemble potica. A rather strange and gaudy potica, with those bands of gold, green, and purple sugar. And with thicker layers of dough than I would normally make. And who ever heard of a potica with confectioners' sugar icing?

with marzipan filling 
with walnut filling 

But it was good, no doubt about it. So good that I repeated it again this year. This time, at my husband's urging, I tried a marzipan filling. Although it tasted wonderful, it was too thick to spread easily, so for now I would recommend the tried-and-true walnut version. 

One other twist to this unplanned hybrid: For the dough,  I wanted to use the artisan bread approach I discovered just before lockdown and have been using ever since. I was happy to discover that a blogger named Cynthia had already adapted a challah recipe from the newest edition of  "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" to prepare a very authentic-looking king cake.

For details, see the recipe below. Or use your own favorite potica recipe and see what happens if you add all those special New Orleans touches. And don't forgot to add that little figure of a baby. Whoever finds it is supposed to bring the king cake to the next party!

New Orleans King Cake + Potica Filling: Pustica! 

The artisan-style dough I used is adapted from a king cake recipe in Cynthia's blog What a Girl Eats.  She describes it as an adaptation of one of the brioche varieties (actually a challah recipe) in the new edition of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The walnut-honey filling is from my family's potica recipe

1 cup milk, lukewarm
1 package yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons salt  
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, melted
3-1/2 cups all purpose flour 

2 cups finely ground walnuts
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of salt 
2 tablespoons melted butter
2-3 tablespoons honey

confectioners' sugar
warm water 

purple, green and gold sugar
King Cake baby (or substitute an almond) 

For the dough: Combine all ingredients except flour in a large bowl or lidded container and mix until well blended. Gradually add flour, mixing by hand until dough forms a soft ball. (Note that dough is not kneaded in this "artisan" approach.) Cover loosely and let rise for 2 hours or until dough doubles in size and then flattens out. Dough can be used right away but will be better if refrigerated for a few hours (or as long as 5 days) before rolling out and filling.

To roll out: Roll the chilled dough into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. If you use all the dough, you will have a 12 x 18 inch rectangle--and a very large king cake. The first time I made this, I set aside about a quarter of the dough and rolled the rest into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle. (The remaining dough can be used to make small brioche rolls.) 

To fill and shape: Follow the method described in my family potica recipe: Combine the walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Brush the rectangle of dough with melted butter. Sprinkle the walnut mixture on the dough and drizzle with a little honey. Roll up the dough from one of the long sides of the rectangle. Shape the long roll into a circle and join the ends together. Place the round (seam side down) on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Let cool.

To decorate: When cake is completely cool. spread/drizzle it with a thin confectioners sugar icing and decorate with alternating bands of green, gold and purple sugar. (You can purchase sanding sugar in Mardi Gras colors or make your own with food coloring.)   

For the final traditional touch: After baking, slip a small plastic or ceramic figure of a baby into the cake. Whoever finds the baby is supposed to supply the king cake for the next Mardi Gras party! 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

No-Knead Slovenian Rye Bread, Artisan style

This feels like a good time to share this overdue rye bread recipe. Thanks to my procrastination, it now coincides with an important cooking anniversary. Two years ago at this time, I discovered a popular artisan bread-making method that quickly became a pandemic mainstay and eventually crept into my Slovenian baking, including this recipe.  

It was December 2019, during our last pre-pandemic holiday season. I wandered into a Christmas market sponsored by a local senior center and left with an intriguing cookbook called "Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day." This was my introduction to the popular "Artisan Bread in 5" approach developed by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François in their ever-expanding collection of cookbooks and websites. Their master recipe for bread is a good place to start for anyone unfamiliar with their approach, which is based on bulk cold fermentation of a very soft dough that does not require kneading. 

The recipe below is something of a hybrid. The foundation is a recipe from the 1950s cookbook published by the Progressive Slovene Women of America, who called it Quick Rye Bread--or rženi kruh na hitro, which translates as "rye bread in a hurry."  

That vintage recipe felt surprisingly contemporary. For one thing, it called for a mix of rye, whole wheat and white flour, with the whole grains predominating. And the proportions in the recipe, including the flour/liquid balance, seemed identical to the new artisan breads I had been making. The only real difference (aside from the use of cake yeast in the older recipe) is that the artisan method recommends refrigerating the dough for at least two hours, and sometimes as long as two weeks, before baking. Along with the convenience of always having a supply of yeast dough on hand, the extended cold storage encourages the development of a more complex, fermented dough that comes to resemble sourdough.

So I decided to apply the artisan method to that older Slovenian American recipe. I refrigerated the dough for the minimum time suggested by the artisan people, because I wanted to have the bread ready by dinnertime. In theory, the dough could have been refrigerated for up to five days. Without whole grains, refrigerated dough can be safely stored for as long as two weeks, according to Hertzberg and François, so long as it is free of eggs or dairy products.

The bread was a success. It was flavorful and a little spongy, with none of the dense heaviness that whole grain breads sometimes have. It also made excellent toast. The next time, I might save half the dough for later to see how the flavor changes with longer storage. A sprinkle of caraway seeds would also add a nice touch.   

No-Knead Slovenian Rye Bread

2 cups milk, warmed 
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon yeast
2 tablespoons sugar (I used brown)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons  salt 
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups rye flour 

Combine yeast, salt and sugar in a large bowl or container. Heat milk and butter and cool to lukewarm. Add to the large container and stir well. Combine the flours, add to the liquid ingredients, and stir until blended into a loose dough. Cover loosely and let rise for 2 hours at room temperature. Although the dough can be used at this point, it is easier to handle (and more flavorful) if it is refrigerated for at least 2 hours. When ready to bake, divide the dough into two small oiled loaf pans. (Or, if you prefer, save half the dough for up to five days and bake later.) Let the dough rise until doubled and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from pan(s) and let cool before slicing.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

No More Mushy Buckwheat! (The secret is oven-toasting)

Before moving on to the Slovenian rye bread I promised in my last post, I wanted to present this somewhat overdue public service announcement that kasha lovers will appreciate.

I have discovered the key to perfectly textured buckwheat: Oven-toasting.

Avoiding mushiness is especially important when you are using it in a salad. Like kasha mediterranean, the Slovenian-style adaptation of a popular warm-weather salad that I learned to make from a friend.

Unfortunately, my first pandemic attempt at making this familiar favorite was disappointing, because the kasha was extremely mushy.  I had found an online bulk source and wondered if I should have toasted it in a skillet first, as I had sometimes done in the past.  Or perhaps I needed to use a different  proportion of water. Or a different cooking method.

So I did a little online research before my next attempt and I came up with a method that always seems to work. I also discovered that oven-toasted buckwheat has more uses than I realized. Those crunchy little kernels are almost like popcorn! They can be added to granola or used as an ice cream topping.   

Oven-Toasted Buckwheat

Rinse whole buckwheat kernels well in water and drain. Mix with a little oil (about a tablespoon per cup)  and spread out in a thin layer on a parchment-lined pan with sides. Bake at 350 degrees for a half hour. Let cool. 

To cook:  Use a 2:1 ratio of water to buckwheat. Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot and slowly add toasted buckwheat. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Let simmer for about 15 minutes and check for doneness. When done, drain off any excess water and let the buckwheat cool uncovered. If using cold (ie, in a salad) remove to a large shallow bowl and spread out to completely cool before adding other ingredients.