Potica (po-TEET-sah) is a light and delicate Slovakian holiday bread stuffed with a brown sugar and nut filling. Making this bread does require a little bit of multi-tasking, but my first try turned out perfectly. That means it’s pretty easy to get right!
If you aren’t from the Midwest, you may not be familiar with Potica. Growing up in the hinterlands of New England meant that I had never heard of it before, but it sounded intriguing.
If you are from the Midwest where it is more commonly known, Potica-making stories may scare you off. I read several recipes that described covering your dining room table with a clean sheet and plenty of flour, and then stretching the dough to cover the table. I don’t know about you, but my dining room is plenty messy without flour all over the carpet. Turns out, most of those recipes harkened back to the days when grandma made 6 loaves of bread at a time. I didn’t want 6 loaves, and I bet you don’t either. Two loaves worked great for me; one to eat now, and one to save for Christmas morning brunch, and the dining room table stayed just as it was with no flour in sight.
Traditionally, Potica filling is made with ground and chopped walnuts, however pecans, hazelnuts, or almonds would work well too. For this version, I used ground hazelnuts (or hazelnut meal) and chopped walnuts.
Since this sweet dough is soft, it works best when made using a stand mixer. But, if you don’t have a stand mixer a hand mixer will work just as well. Just remember to grease your hands before handling the dough so it doesn’t stick.
Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form at the edges (this is called scalding the milk). Add butter and stir until melted. Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm.
In a large bowl, or the bowl to the stand mixer, stir together flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Add liquid mixture and eggs. Mix and knead until dough is smooth, adding more flour if necessary. Dough will be soft, but manageable. Form into a ball, place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise for about one hour or until doubled.
Heat butter and milk together in a medium saucepan until butter is melted. Add brown sugar and honey, stirring until combined. Set aside and let cool to lukewarm.
Quickly whisk in eggs, one at a time, followed by the ground and chopped nuts. Heat over medium-low until filling thickens. Cool to room temperature.
Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 14 x 14 inch square on a floured surface. Dough will be about ⅛ inch thick.
Spread half of the nut filling over each square of dough using the back of a wooden spoon or a butter knife.
Although many Potica recipes call for rolling the dough up jelly-roll style, I prefer to use this method from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion Cookbook:
Start rolling opposite sides of the dough until they meet in the middle. Fold the ends towards the middle, shaping into a loaf. Repeat with the other dough square.
Place dough, seams side down, into greased loaf pans ( 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch pans). Cover the loaves with greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake Potica for 40 – 50 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 195°F. Cool loaves in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely. It is tempting to cut the loaf immediately, but if you give in to temptation the loaf will fall apart! Bread must sit for at least 15 minutes before cutting to give the crumb time to set. Sitting for longer is even better.
I certainly will be adding Potica to my holiday bread baking repertoire. The dough is soft and not too sweet, and the filling has a satisfying nuts and brown sugar flavor. I do recommend using the best quality brown sugar and honey you can find. I personally prefer muscovado sugar as it lends a deep, molasses-like taste.
We gobbled up the first loaf in no time, and I froze the second loaf for Christmas morning. I hope you enjoy it too!