Monday, July 4, 2016

The Poor Man's Potica: Pisani Kruh

Does the photo above look like potica? It should. But it's not.

That dark spiral could pass for one of the familiar sweet fillings--walnut, poppy seed, or even chocolate. But it's really a moist, tangy layer of buckwheat yeast bread. The lighter spiral is actually two different layers of yeast bread: yellow corn bread and white wheat bread.

The Slovenian name for this unusual fool-the-eye creation is pisani kruh or multicolored bread, sometimes translated as motley bread or tricolor bread. It is also called revna (poor) potica--or, in English, poor man's potica.

This was a dish for hard times, when butter, eggs, nuts, sugar, and honey were scarce. I first read about it last spring, when I was researching the food traditions of Dolenjska, the rural region where my ancestors were born, for my Slovenian language class.

On the Slovenian government's tourist website, I discovered an interview with noted ethnographer and cooking authority Dr. Janez Bogataj, who had recently published a cookbook about potica, Slovenia's most famous dish. He described a mock-potica dish called pisani kruh, or layered whole grain bread, that was popular in Dolenjska and other poor regions as a way of creating an air of "festive abundance" from simple ingredients.

I was intrigued. I had never heard of this dish, but it seemed like the sort of adaptation my humble ancestors might have tried. I knew that my great-grandfather Adamič was the son and grandson of millers. I had even visited the old mill house (see below) so it was safe to assume that flour was the one ingredient that was always available.

Here is a photo of the old Adamič mill house in Ponikve, a small village in the Dolenjska region:

It was hard to find a recipe for pisani kruh. Finally, I found a few examples on the Slovene cooking site Kulinarika. Some used two contrasting layers of dough. I liked the one with three layers--wheat, corn, and buckwheat--contributed by a woman named Marta, who offered a version for the bread machine and another made the standard way.

The recipe was challenging to adapt--and not just because of the translation issues or the metric conversions. The method was an unusual one, since the corn and buckwheat doughs began with a sort of mush. It was hard to be precise about the amount of water to use, or how much flour to knead in. Marta herself seemed to have made changes as she went along. She also mixed the yeast directly into the flour instead of proofing it.

I have made pisani kruh four times, using that Kulinarika recipe as the foundation. Each time, the measures of water and flour come out a little differently. Once, I mixed the dry yeast directly into the flour. It worked just fine, but I still prefer to do an initial proofing. I have made free-form round loaves but I prefer to use rectangular bread pans.

Below is the current version of the recipe for pisani kruh that has evolved over the past year of experimenting. It may sound challenging, but it turns out to be a forgiving recipe. It has worked out every time. The end product is a moist, slightly spongy loaf with a distinctive tang from the buckwheat. It keeps well and freezes beautifully. It makes tasty toast. And it always looks beautiful!

I like to think my resourceful Dolenjska ancestors would be proud.

Pisani Kruh (Multicolored Bread, Tricolor Bread)

(A translation and adaptation of this recipe by Marta from the Slovenian cooking site Kulinarika)  

For buckwheat dough:

200 g buckwheat flour (1-1/2 cups)
360  ml boiling water (1-/1/2 cups + 2 T)
200 g white (wheat) flour (1-2/3 cups)
1 package yeast, dissolved in 2 T warm water and sprinkle of sugar
3/4 t salt
1 t sugar
40 ml oil (3 T)

For corn dough: 

200 g corn flour (1-1/2 cup)
310 ml boiling watet (1-1/4 cup +3 T)
200 g white (wheat) flour (1-2/3 cups)
1 package yeast, dissolved in 2 T warm water and sprinkle of sugar
3/4 t salt
1 t sugar
40 ml oil (3 T)

For wheat dough:

400 g white (wheat) flour (3-1/3 cups)
1 package yeast, dissolved in 2 T warm water and sprinkle of sugar
3/4 t salt
1 t sugar
350 ml lukewarm milk (1-1/2 cups + 1 T)
40 ml oil (3 T)

To prepare the buckwheat dough: Add enough boiling water to the buckwheat flour to make a soft but stiff mush and allow to cool. (You may need to add more water.) Proof yeast in warm water and sugar. Stir the yeast, oil and salt into cooled buckwheat mush. Then knead in white flour as needed. Knead until smooth. Form into ball and place in oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled.

To prepare the corn dough: Follow the same directions as above, preparing corn mush, cooling, and then adding white flour. Note that this recipe calls for corn flour, or finely ground corn meal. I used Bob's Mills brand.

To prepare the white wheat dough: Stir salt into flour. Proof yeast in warm water and sugar. Add yeast, oil and most of the milk to flour. Add the rest of milk as needed. Knead until dough is smooth. Form into ball and place in oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled.

To form loaves: Roll the wheat dough into a rectangle on a floured surface. Roll out buckwheat dough into a rectangle of similar size and place on top. Repeat with corn dough. Press the three layers of dough together. Roll up the rectangle from the short edge and seal the ends.

Cut the roll into two or three pieces and seal ends. Place in oiled loaf pans (preferred) or shape into free-form rounds. Top with melted butter. Let rise till double. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until done. Let cool. Enjoy!


  1. I am going to try this.

    1. Sorry I am seeing this so late! Thanks for commenting! Did you try it?