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!