Povitica, as it is known in Croatia and Serbia, or potica, as it is called in Slovenia, has been around since at least 1575. The name is derived from the Slovenian word poviti, which means to “wrap in” or “envelop.” Some say this intricately rolled and filled loaf was developed in medieval monasteries, where it was either rolled into a spiral like a snail shell or made into a circle and baked in a Bundt-like pan. Over the years, it became a traditional holiday bread and every family had its own recipe, which was often passed from generation to generation.
At some point, someone figured out you could make povitica (pronounced poh-va-TEET-sa) in a loaf pan, but no matter what shape it’s baked in, the dough is first rolled out into a very thin rectangle and spread with a paste made of walnuts, chocolate and sugar — or any number of other fillings. Traditional poviticas are filled with ground walnuts sweetened with honey or sugar, which is why many people refer to them simply as nut rolls. But originally, the filling reflected the social status of the home where the bread was made, and only the wealthiest families could afford to use walnuts, while poorer families would often fill it with herbs or bits of fat. Today, almost anything goes when it comes to povitica fillings, including chocolate, cream cheese, fruit or even bacon.
You may recall from this episode of the Great British Bake Off that Chetna made povitica for her signature bake (a freeform fruit loaf) in the morning and then, to everyone’s surprise, the bakers were given the technical challenge of making povitica from Paul Hollywood’s recipe that afternoon. So clearly, Chetna had a distinct advantage, since most of the other contestants had never heard of it until they saw Chetna bake one.
The trickiest part about making povitica is rolling out the dough. Although it is made with an enriched yeast dough, it reminded me of the strudel I made from the 2012 season in that it must be rolled out so thin it’s practically see-through. The recipe recommends doing this on a clean bedsheet, but I used an old, clean tablecloth instead. After rolling it to about 20 inches by 12 inches, it says to brush the dough with melted butter and then to use the backs of your hands underneath the dough to stretch it further, from the center outward, until it reaches 40 by 24 inches. I was doing alright until the edges started tearing, so I tried to fix the holes by squishing the dough back together again. I was only partially successful at repairing the damage, but eventually I got it to roughly the required size, although the two ends were rather ragged at this point.
The other difficult part, at least from watching the bakers in the Great White Tent, is spreading the chocolate-and-walnut filling onto the stretched dough. I didn’t find this difficult as much as it was time-consuming. It just requires a bit of patience to spread it evenly over the entire sheet of dough. As Paul advises on the Masterclass episode of this bake, give yourself about 10 minutes to work at it, a little at a time, until the dough is covered with an even layer of filling.
Then comes the rolling up part. The recipe recommends using the sheet/tablecloth to help roll it up, but I found that just by folding over the first half inch or so, I was able to roll it up by hand into a long, tight roll. By stretching it a bit from the center outward, I had a long enough roll that I could cut off the ragged ends and still have enough to fold over on itself four times as I lay it in the loaf pan.
If you’re confused about how to fit this long sausage-looking thing into a loaf pan, don’t be. There are several different ways, based on various recipes I found on the internet. Paul’s recipe says to form a U shape with the dough, and then another U on top of that — basically an elongated spiral, as if a snake had coiled itself around the inside of the pan. Don’t worry if there’s a gap in the middle; it will fill itself in as the dough rises.
The rolling and folding are what give the povitica its distinctive tight spirals, alternating swirls of bread and filling. This also results in a cake-like texture and delicate crumb that falls apart easily and practically melts in your mouth. So don’t be intimidated by the amount of rolling and stretching or the time it takes to spread the filling. Give yourself an afternoon and an exercise in patience by trying this recipe. Then cut yourself a thick slice and sit down with a mug of coffee (or tea) for a well-deserved reward!
Paul Hollywood’s Povitica
For the dough:
For the filling:
- 4½ T. butter
- 4 T. whole milk
- 2 ¾ c. walnut pieces
- ½ vanilla bean, seeds only
- ½ c. superfine (baker’s) sugar
- 2 T. cocoa powder
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- 1 T. butter, melted
- 1 egg white, beaten
- ¾ c. powdered sugar
- 1-2 T. water
- To make the dough: Combine the flour and 3½ tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds, 2 tablespoons melted butter, egg and warm milk to the bowl and begin mixing on a slow speed. When the dough starts to come together, mix for another 5-8 minutes on medium speed until the dough is soft, smooth and stretchy.
- Tip the dough into a lightly oiled mixing bowl, flip once to coat with oil, then cover with a damp dish towel and leave to rise until at least doubled in size — about an hour. Butter an 8×4-inch loaf pan.
- To make the filling, place 4½ tablespoons butter and 4 tablespoons milk in a small saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat. Place the walnuts, vanilla seeds, sugar and cocoa powder into the bowl of a food processor and blend to a sandy powder. (If you only have a mini food processor, like me, chop the walnuts first, in small portions, then combine with vanilla seeds, sugar and cocoa powder and blend again, in small portions.) Pour into a bowl and stir in the egg yolk, milk and butter mixture until well-combined. Set aside.
- When the dough has risen, spread a clean bedsheet (or tablecloth) over a large work surface and dust with flour. Turn the risen dough out onto the cloth and roll out to a 20×12-inch rectangle. Brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter.
- Dust your hands with flour and ease them underneath the dough. Using the backs of your hands, stretch the dough out from the center until very thin and translucent (You should be able to see the cloth through the dough.), measuring approximately 40 by 24 inches.
- Taking care not to tear the dough, spread the filling over it until the dough is evenly covered. If the filling has been standing for a long time and is too thick, add a little warm milk to loosen it.
- Starting at one long edge of dough, lift the sheet and gently roll the dough up tightly, like a Swiss roll. (Alternatively, fold in about ½-inch of the dough on one long end, then begin to roll it up from there, making one long roll, like a sausage.)
- Trim the ends and carefully lift the dough, placing one end in the bottom corner of the greased loaf pan. Ease the roll into the base of the tin to form a long ‘U’ shape, then double back, laying the roll over the first ‘U’ shape to form a second ‘U’ shape on top.
- Cover the loaf pan with a damp dish towel and leave to rise for one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the top of the loaf with the beaten egg white and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and bake for another 45 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown. (Rotate pan and cover with foil if the top begins to darken too much.) The internal temperature should reach 190°F.
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Mix the powdered sugar with a tablespoon of cold water to make a runny icing. (If more water is needed, add 1 teaspoon at a time.) Drizzle the icing over the povitica. Slice and enjoy. The bread will keep for a few days in an airtight container (if it lasts that long!).