Sunday, January 17, 2010

Potica, or Slovenian Nut Roll (Heh. Nut roll.)

There are a lot of things I enjoy about the holidays: the stop-motion animation TV specials, the tacit acceptability of binge drinking, and of course, the food. The piles and piles of food. And dudes, I start training right at Thanksgiving and I do not stop until New Years', by which my stomach is stretched enough to accommodate a Pontiac Aztec, if I could just unhinge my jaw.

Last Christmas, my brother-in-law's fiancee introduced the concept of the "cookie annex", a separate compartment in one's stomach that develops during the holidays and allows one to continue to force down more sweets even after a huge turkey dinner with extra mashed potatoes. This concept really resonated with me, except that my cookie annex doesn't shrivel back up in January, partly because we're still working our way through the holiday baking I did in December. Our bare, dried-out tree is out with the trash but we still have a freezer full of buttery merriment that should keep until Valentine's Day.

I'm referring, of course, to Potica, a Slovenian pastry consisting of a sweet yeast dough and nut paste rolled up into a log and baked. Mr. Kat's family has been making it for the holidays as long as anyone can remember, but the recipe is so generous that you'll have enough to stick in the freezer and warm up throughout the winter. It's great as a dessert or for breakfast, and is exponentially improved by a few minutes in a toaster oven.

Pronounced "po-TEET-za". From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, adapted by A. Mavko and K. Carlson

DOUGH – makes 4 loaves

1 pound cold butter
3 cups white flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbs plus ¼ tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
2 packages dry yeast (not fast rising)
1 cup milk
6 egg yolks, slightly beaten

In a large bowl, toss butter cut into 1 tablespoon pieces with flour and 2 tbls sugar. Using your fingers, push the dry ingredients into the butter until the mixture looks like cornmeal. Heat milk to 100 – 110 degrees and add 1/4 tsp sugar & yeast and stir until dissolved. Once mostly dissolved, let the yeast proof (form bubbles and get foamy). Add salt, proofed yeast and egg yolks to flour/butter mixture. Mix with a spatula until just blended. Gather up into a ball or large brick, pat all over with flour, wrap in wax paper and chill overnight. Dough will expand so use 2 generous sheets of waxed paper and wrap loosely.

FILLING (make before rolling out the dough)

6 egg whites
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 cups finely ground walnuts

Beat whites till foamy, add sugar gradually and stir in the ground nuts. Set aside.


Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Butter 4 metal loaf pans, 4.5 x 8.5 inches each. Generously flour surface where dough will be rolled, using 1/2 to 1 cup of flour for both rollings. Divide dough in half. Keep one half chilled and roll out the other as thinly as possible into a large rectangle. The shorter edge of the rolled dough should correspond to the length of two loaf pans, approximately 18 inches. The long edge will be 24 inches or more.

Divide filling in half and spread in a thin layer over the dough. If filling does not easily spread, thin it with a little milk. Work quickly. Using a spatula, roll the dough starting at the shorter end of the rectangle. You will end with a large log - cut the log in half and trim the ends so that each smaller log will fit snugly in its pan. Set trimmed ends aside.

Place reserved trimmed ends in a shallow baking pan or small cookie sheet and smear top with some leftover filling. Let rise about 30 minutes, then bake for 25 minutes.

Place each log seam side down in a greased loaf pan. Repeat process with other half of dough and filling. Let the logs rise till doubled in bulk – approximately 45 minutes. Bake at 325°F for 45 minutes till golden. Cool 15 minutes before removing from pan and placing on a rack to cool completely. Wrap tightly in foil and store in freezer for up to 3 months.

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