Wednesday, July 3, 2024

A Long Overdue Sourdough Potica Update


Where have I been? 

Not to make excuses, but I've been lost in the world of sourdough baking ever since February of 2023, when I created my "Mother" starter. But most of my subsequent sourdough adventure are not Slovenian in origin. 

Except for this one, which is long overdue. 

This past Christmas, I decided that I would make another attempt at sourdough potica, with my previous recipe (which was adapted from Anita Šumer) as the foundation. Not as a replacement for the beloved family potica--that is a given at Christmas. This would be my "alternative" Christmas offering. In recent years, it has usually been a dairy-free version, to accomodate the dietary needs of a visiting family member. So this one would be two variations in one. 

I made a few additional changes to to the earlier sourdough version. beyond the easy substitution of plant-based milk and cream. I decided to make the nut filling a little sweeter and I added a dash of salt. Luckily, I had plenty of walnuts this time. As before, I opted to add a teaspoon of yeast to the dough. 

But I really wanted to revisit that sweet stiff starter. I had never made one before, and I had found it so stiff I could barely knead it. And it rose very little.   

So I did some online searching and found a few other recipes with slightly different proportions of flour and water--including one that purported to be faster rising--in a recipe for milk bread.

Here is the revised version of that crucial first step:

Sweet Stiff Starter #2.

115 g active sourdough starter 
115 g bread flour 
45 g water
26 g sugar

Mix all ingredients into a stiff dough. Cover and let rise until doubled.

(I actually made half this amount, which was still more than the 80 grams I needed for the recipe.) 

This starter formula had a higher water-to-flour ratio than the the previous one. So it was no surprise that it was much easier to  knead. And just as the new recipe promised, it tripled in 4-6 hours.

Nonetheless, the final potica dough remained hard to knead, even with the KitchenAid mixer. I added a little extra liquid--which turned out to be too much. So I had to add a little more flour. Finally, I ended up with something resembling the familiar brioche-type dough. 

The final result was tasty enough. But I remain unconvinced that a sweet stiff starter is always preferable in sweeter yeast breads. I see some further experiments in my future!  

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

A New Twist: Sourdough Potica

The first time I read about sourdough potica, I thought it must be some kind of crazy gimmick. Probably dreamed up by an American who imagined it would be an interesting twist on San Francisco's iconic sourdough bread. And even though I was a regular bread baker, I never had much interest in the sourdough approach.

But then I caught the sourdough bug. It happened by accident, early this year, when my husband gave me a wonderful rye bread cookbook for my birthday. It turned out that half the recipes called for a rye sour starter. So I relented and tried to make my own sourdough starter, using the directions in that book. It worked! That original starter (often called the Mother) became fully active and ready for baking on a fortuitous day in February: the birthday of our first child, which seemed somehow fitting. 

So, after four months of steady sourdough baking, I decided to take another look at that sourdough potica recipe. And I discovered that the source was a successful young baker in Slovenia named Anita Šumer. She has created an ever-expanding Sourdough Mania world that includes an award-winning cookbook, videos, online classes, an online presence--and a generous number of free recipes. Including two recipes for a sourdough version of traditional walnut potica. 

The recipe below follow's Anita Šumer's original one very closely, as you can see if you follow the link. 

I did make a few small changes. The biggest one: I opted to include a small amount of standard commercial yeast, as many sourdough bakers do when they are concerned about getting enough rise. I'll admit it: I was worried about that stiff sweet starter, a special variant that is supposed to be preferred for sweet breads and pastries. It seemed very dense and it barely doubled. So I wasn't taking any chances. 

The other change was in the filling. Since we were low on walnuts, I supplemented with ground almonds--and I added some almond extract. And one final change: Instead of the traditional round potica mold the recipe calls for,  I followed my family's style of long, somewhat flat, free-standing rolls.

The dough was challenging to mix, and it would have been even more difficult if I hadn't taken Anita's suggestion to use my stand mixer. But it was easy to work with, although I seemed to have difficulty dividing the dough and the filling into two even portions :-) 

I didn't know what to expect from this recipe. I considered it an experiment. It was so different from my beloved family potica. Less rich. No honey in the filling. Closer to the bread end of the bread-pastry continuum than the potica i grew up with.

But guess what? We really liked this! The differences were intriguing. The mild sweetness seemed much more in the European spirit. And those thick ribbons of filling were appealing, although I am not sure my mother would have approved. 

Even my brother liked it, when I served sourdough potica for dessert for his after-birthday dinner. I was a little concerned that it might not be sweet enough to be a good birthday cake substitute. But my husband had the perfect solution: Just drizzle the slices with a bit of melted apricot jam and serve with my homemade frozen strawberry yogurt.  

I will definitely make this again!   

UPDATE:  I revisited this recipe the following Christmas, with one change: A new version of the sweet stiff starter. See the the long overdue next post for details! 


Sourdough Potica  

--adapted from Anita Šumer  @sourdough_mania

Sweet stiff starter

10 g active sourdough starter 
40 g all purpose flour 
15 g water
15 g sugar

Mix all ingredients into a stiff dough. Cover and let rise until doubled.

Final dough

Combine the following in bowl of stand mixer, using dough hook:

80 g sweet starter (as above), doubled
450 g all purpose flour.
1 teaspoon yeast (my addition, optional)

Now add the following mixture: 

3 egg yolks
170 g milk
20 g rum
80 g sugar
6 g salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon

When dough appears "well developed," beat in:

 70 g butter, room temperature 

Form dough into a ball, cover, and let rise for 3 or 4 hours. Dough should rise by about 30 %.

While the final dough is rising, if you have not already mixed the ingredients for the walnut filling, do it now. Add milk until mixture is a smooth, spreadable paste. Cover and let rest for at least 4 hours before using.

Walnut filling
 (needs to rest at least 4 hours before using)

500 g ground walnuts (I replaced 150 g of walnuts with ground almonds) 
50 g cream 
4 tablespoons of rum
1 egg
3 egg whites
60 g sugar
50 g milk, or as needed
1 teaspoon almond extract (my addition)

Shaping and Baking

Roll dough about 0.8-1cm thick, spread evenly with filling, and roll tightly.

The original recipe calls for baking the potica in the traditional round potica mold, which resembles a bundt pan. I opted for two long, flat rolls--the style I learned from my mother and grandmother.  

In the original recipe, rising time was reported to be 18 hours. Mine was shorter.  

Bake at 375 F for 20 minutes covered, then lower heat to 350 F and bake until done--an hour, according to the original recipe. My rolls took less time. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Bograč (Slovenian Goulash Soup), An Extra-tasty Tenth Anniversary Update


Yes, it has been a long time since my last post. And an even longer time since I have shared one of my Tenth Anniversary Updates, although I have continued to revisit my Year of Slovenian Cooking (which by now is eleven years ago!)

I'll skip the excuses and move on to my newest version of an old favorite: Bograč, sometimes known as Slovenian goulash soup. It was the featured dish for my Week 32 dinner in September of 2012. I wanted to make something special, since our younger son, who was working as a journalist in Kosovo, would be home for a family visit. We all liked the dish so much that I made it again four weeks later, with a few variations. 

Two days ago, my brother was scheduled to join us for a belated birthday dinner. I wanted to make something good but a little unusual, so I thought about bograč. I hadn't made it in awhile so i was eager to revisit it.

I had a busy day ahead of me and was feeling some time pressure. I knew bograč could be prepared in advance, or at least early in the day, so there would be no last minute rushing. That got me wondering about another way to make preparation easier: What if I put it in the oven to finish cooking? 

I turned to the Internet and got some surprises. A number of cooking authorities believe oven-cooking is always preferred for stews and similar dishes, because the flavor is better and the cooking time is shorter. In fact, that was the method used in one of the bograč recipes I had consulted (and cited) in my earlier post. I had completely forgotten about that detail. So I was on solid ground with the oven method.

I made just a few other other changes to my original recipe, as you'll see below.  I used all beef stew meat, instead of the traditional mix of meats. I added a pinch of cayenne and a couple of carrots--and on the second day, some sauteed mushrooms. And we added quite a bit of red wine.  (I say "we" because my husband had a hand in that part!) 

The result:  This was the best version of bograč I have made. The beef was tender and the sauce was particularly rich and luscious. And it required an easy and relatively fast one-day preparation to get to that point, instead of waiting till the second day, when stews and similar dishes always seem to taste their best. 

We served the bograč (which was more like a stew than a soup) with polenta and a green salad. And for dessert, my latest experiment:  sourdough potica! Watch for an upcoming post about that. 

Bograč (Slovenian Goulash Soup), A Tasty Update

1.5 pounds beef stew meat, cubed
1 large onion, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 green or yellow pepper, sliced  
1 t. caraway seed
1 T. paprika (half hot, half smoked)
½ t. marjoram
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper 
½ c. crushed tomatoes
1 lb. potatoes, cut in chunks
2 carrots, sliced 
mushrooms, sliced and sauteed before adding (optional)
water to cover
red wine (1/2 cup or so, optional)
olive oil 

If you plan to use the oven method (which I now recommend): Preheat oven to 350 degrees F before you begin the first part of the preparation on the stove, as described below. 

Brown onion in olive oil, using a large pot or Dutch oven. Add garlic and continue to brown. Remove to another bowl. Add meat to oil left in pot and brown. Add green pepper and spices and continue to brown. Return onion and garlic to the pot. Add crushed tomatoes and enough water (with some red wine if using) to cover and bring to a simmer. 

If you are using the oven method, cover the pot and place in the oven. If you are continuing on the stove, cover the pot and adjust heat so the mixture continues to simmer. 

Simmer until meat is tender and almost done. If you are using the oven method, start checking after an hour of cooking, although it may take longer. Add potatoes and mushrooms if using and simmer another hour. 

Note that the oven method may be faster. For me, it took about 3 hours.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve garnished with parsley, accompanied by polenta (my favorite) or noodles. Enjoy! 


Sunday, January 1, 2023

Srečno novo leto! Happy New Year!


We returned home to California with happy memories, Christmas gifts, and a single loaf of potica from the stash I had taken with me. The rest was happily consumed or given away during our week in New York.

The surviving loaf was all that remained of the dairy-free artisan batch I baked and froze in mid-December. It defrosted in my luggage on December 20th and ten days later we are still eating it.

Last night, we toasted the new year with the three family traditions I grew up with:  a few slices from that well-traveled loaf of potica,  homemade Scottish shortbread, and eggnog. 

The potica still tastes good. It remains surprisingly moist, although a little toasting this  morning seemed to perk it up. 

Potica has staying power, in more ways than one.

And there is plenty more left in the freezer, from the other batch I made, using the traditional family recipe. 

Happy New Year! 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Vesel božič iz New Yorka! Merry Christmas from New York! (And a potica update)


Greetings from chilly New York City, where we have gathered with our children to celebrate Christmas. Last year, thanks to Covid, we had to cancel the trip and isolate at home in California. So I am grateful to be here, despite the wind and rain and yesterday's 40 degree temperature drop. We even had a little snow. 

I may not have brought enough warm clothing, but I had plenty of potica stowed in my luggage. Multiple loaves and two different kinds: the tried-and-true family recipe--and my latest experiment.

That new one is actually a double variant. It's a meet-up of dairy-free and the popular Artisan Bread in Five no-knead approach. I tried it for the first time last December, in preparation for the New York trip that never happened. It turned out quite well. Unfortunately. the person for whom it was intended--the girlfriend of the son who lives in New York--never tasted it. 

I posted that recipe earlier this year, here, as No-Knead Artisan-Style Potica. 

This time around, I decided to make one change, to get a little closer my family recipe. Instead of the coconut cream of last year, I used a plant-based sour cream. And I skipped the apricot jam I had added to the filling last year, as a sort of marker for identifying the dairy-free loaves. (Instead, I just shaped the loaves a little differently.) 

I am happy to report that the latest variant was quite a hit with our sons--and the dairy-free girlfriend. My husband had already given his seal of approval, when we tried it at home. Everyone agreed that it was hard to tell the difference between the original family recipe and this one. 

No-knead Artisan-Style Potica (dairy-free)



Thursday, October 20, 2022

Caraway Cheese Tart with Buckwheat Crust (a !0th Anniversary Update)


This original version of this dish was the featured entree for the Week Five Dinner  of my 2012 year of Slovenian cooking. 

It was based on a recipe in Woman's Glory: The Kitchen, the mid-century cookbook published by the Slovenian Union of America that inspired my year-long cooking adventure. At the time, I thought it would be just another American-style French quiche. But it turned out to be something different and more complex: Denser than the usual quiche, and with the flavor of Central Europe, thanks to the caraway seasoning. 

For this 10th anniversary remake, I made a few changes, both planned and unplanned.

The biggest change: I made a buckwheat crust. I also made a little more of it this time and pre-baked it before filling. 

With the filling, the changes were subtle, but they made the dish even tastier. Instead of the original onion and bacon, I used shallot and pancetta, because we had them on hand. Originally, I had substituted fat-free Greek yogurt for sour cream, which made the tart a little dense and chewy. This time, I tried light labne, a cultured Middle Eastern dairy product that is probably the equivalent of light sour cream.

The result:  Even better than the first version, with even more of a Slovenian tang because of the buckwheat! 

Caraway Cheese Tart with Buckwheat Crust

For Filling:

6 thin slices pancetta, chopped
4 tablespoons minced shallot (or onion)
6 eggs
6 tablespoons light labne (or sour cream)
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1 teaspoon caraway seed, divided
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated

For Crust: 

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup milk

Easy Press-In Buckwheat Crust:  In the bottom of a 10-inch pie or tart pan, mix together the all-purpose flour, buckwheat flour and salt. In a cup, beat the oil and and milk with a fork and stir the mixture into the flour. Mix with fingers into crumbs. Press into pan. Cover with foil or pie weights and pre-bake for 10-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Let cool.  

For the filling:  Brown pancetta and shallot (or onion) together, let cool. Beat eggs, labne (or sour cream) and seasonings, using half the caraway seed.  Stir in the cheese and pancetta-onion mixture.  Spread filling in pre-baked crust. Sprinkle with remainder of caraway seeds.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until firm.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Beli Kruh (aka white bread), a 10th Anniversary Update success


Back in March, I started to revisit my year of weekly Slovenian dinners. I have now reached the halfway point. Many of those dishes from 2012 were familiar, since they had become favorites over the past decade. Others had fallen by the wayside, so it was a chance to rediscover them.

Sometimes the most rewarding recipes were the ones that didn't quite work the first time. This bread recipe was one of them, probably because it had to meet an impossibly high standard: my memories of my grandmother's bread. I was determined to recreate it. She served it every time we visited, when it was still warm from the oven. 

I remembered a high-rising homestyle loaf with a texture that was light and tender, but also hearty. My brother (also a baker) describes a somewhat coarse crumb. My husband wonders if it was cake-like. My grandmother never used recipes. I have no idea how she worked her magic. But I figured there might be a hint in my collection of vintage Slovenian American cookbooks.

The Progressive Slovene Women of America caught my eye with a recipe they called by two names: white bread or beli kruh (which I initially misunderstood as a reference to the bread's beauty rather than its color!).The ingredients were ordinary enough, but the method was more elaborate than similar recipes, because it called for an initial sponge and then three more risings.

The first time I made this recipe, the bread looked beautiful (see below) and the flavor and texture were pretty good. But it was nothing out of the ordinary. Not worth the extra time and effort. So I went on to try other recipes. Potato bread, after my mother recalled that her mother might have used potato water. A special braided bread similar to challah that was lovely, but not like my grandma's delectable everyday bread. 

And then my 2022 Anniversary Update brought me back to the original bread recipe I had tried. And I saw the problem. I had used bread flour, which absorbs more liquid, rather than the standard all purpose flour that mid-century bakers would have used. And I had compounded the problem by either ignoring or misunderstanding the implications of "6 cups sifted flour." By measuring before (or without) sifting, I would have ended up with 20-30 percent more flour than the recipe called for. No wonder I had trouble kneading it all in! 

So made the necessary adjustments and tried to make the bread again, following the recipe closely. And then I made it one more time, just to be sure I had it right.

Prepared correctly, this recipe turned into a winner! It is very close to the bread I remember savoring in my grandparents' small bungalow in Cleveland, all those decades ago. In the recipe that follows, you do not have to sift the flour. But I have tried it both ways, and I think sifting may improve the texture. So why not try it the old-fashioned way, at least once? 

White Bread or Beli Kruh (adapted from The Progressive Slovene Women of America)

1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
113 g all purpose flour (= 1 cup sifted or about 3/4 cup unsifted)
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar

678 g all purpose flour (= 6 cups sifted or about 4.5 cups unsifted)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup lukewarm water
additional flour, as needed

(Note about sifting: It is probably optional if you measure by weight, but I think sifting improves the texture.)

First make the sponge: Combine the first five ingredients. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Add remaining ingredients to the sponge, using enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Mix well and knead until smooth.

Put dough in an oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Punch down and let rise for a second time until doubled. 

Form dough into two loaves and put in oiled bread pans. Let rise for the third time until not quite doubled. (Or make one large loaf and one smaller flatbread, about 1/2 inch thick. Or make two free-form round artisan-style loaves.)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes for a standard loaf, less time for flatbread. Brush with melted butter during baking if you wish. Let cool before eating. Enjoy!