Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Decade in the Making: A Povateca Tutorial with Rita and Sarah

For a decade, I lived just down the road from one of my work colleagues, Rita, who is of Croatian descent. And for all of those years, they have been promising to have me over at some major holiday to teach me how to make a Eastern European dessert bread known as povateca (also spelled povitica, pronounced poh-vuh-TEET-zuh or even just potica/poh-TEET-zuh). We finally made plans to meet on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but we had a HUGE snowstorm overnight, and I couldn't even get out of the driveway the next day!

However, by some Christmas miracle, we were able to reschedule and get together today. I must say, I don't know when I've spent a more pleasant afternoon! It looks like Santa exploded at the Ward-Slater house, so there was a lovely ambiance. Rita made a yummy cheese and red pepper bisque that we enjoyed for lunch before donning our gay apparel (=festive holiday aprons) and getting down povateca-making business.

First, daughter (and my former student) Sarah mixed up the brown sugar, walnut and cinnamon filling for the povateca, and gave me the task of stirring and monitoring it as it cooked on the stovetop. Before I arrived, Rita had the dough started in the bread maker. She seemed a little sheepish about the short-cut method, but she says it works great and makes it so much easier.

However, when I peeked in the window at the top of the machine, I could tell something wasn't right. The dough was very dry and crumbly. Apparently, the base wasn't secured properly, so the dough hadn't mixed, and instead of rising, the flour mixture was just sitting there, drying out. So we secured the base, added a little water, and restarted the dough cycle, hoping for the best. In the meantime, we cooled the cooked filling out on the porch (the North Country walk-in...or would that be a walk-out?) while we watched a favorite Christmas movie, as Ward-Slater tradition dictates.

By the time we finished watching "Elf," the alert was sounding on the bread machine. When we went to check on it, the dough had risen so much, it had EXPLODED in the machine! OOPS! But we scraped it all out of there and soldiered on. Next, Sarah needed the very soft dough with a lot of bench flour, and then rolled it out to approximately two feet wide by three feet long.

Next, Rita poured the cooled filling and Sarah spread it evenly over the dough. Working together, they then began rolling it up, jellyroll style, just like you do with cinnamon rolls, pinching the seam closed.

But instead of slicing it, they folded it like snake curling into itself (actually, for you linguist nerds, it looked like a giant "schwa"). Then they carefully lifted it up (Sarah said it was like holding a big dough baby in your arms), and dumped it into a large baking dish lined with parchment--like a lasagna pan size (12x15?).

Then we let it rise for another half hour or so while the Ward-Slaters introduced me to my new favorite show, "Top Secret Recipes" on CMT. By the time I was done learning how to clone a Cinnabon, the povateca was ready to go in the oven. After it had baked, they let it cool in the pan, then turned it out, cut it into big square chunks, and put each piece into a Christmas treat bag for gift-giving. DELICIOUS!

TA-DAH! And yes, it tastes as good as it looks...maybe better. The dough is tender, and the filling is nutty, buttery, and sweet. A perfectly luscious holiday treat! (Hey, I made a Christmas rhyme!)

Povateca (A Croatian/Serbian/Slovenian Nut Roll)

3/4 cup milk, scalded and cooled
3/4 cup warm water
3 pkgs active dry yeast
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs (room temp)
3/4 cup softened butter
4 1/2 cups bread flour (up to 7 cups--you add more while kneading)

Dissolve yeast in water, and stir in warm milk. Add sugar, salt, eggs, butter and two cups flour. Beat until smooth. Mix in remaining 2 1/2 cups flour. (Or add all of the ingredients to the inner vessel of a bread machine and set to the dough cycle.) While dough is mixing and rising, prepare the filling.

4 1/2 cups ground walnuts
3/8 (6 T) cup cinnamon
1 1/2 cups ground graham crackers
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2 1/2 cups milk
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1 tablespoon vanilla

Add all of the filling ingredients to a large stock pot. Stir over medium-high heat to boiling point. Turn heat down to medium, then cook for several more minutes until it becomes difficult to stir. Cool while dough is rising.

Roll dough about 1/4 inch thick in a 2 x 3 ft. rectangle. Spread filling over dough to 1/2 inch from edges. Roll longer side in, then shape into large oblong cake pan lined with parchment.

Let rise 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes (or up to an hour). Remove foil and bake another 15-25 minutes (or just 10 minutes if it baked for an hour covered) until deep golden brown all over.

Let cool in the pan until the bottom is warm not hot. Turn out carefully, and cut into large squares to be packaged as gifts to share.

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