Welcome to The Storied Recipe, a podcast about food, culture, and love. This recipe for Cinnamon Walnut Povitica Bread comes from my podcast guest, Marlene Leap. Make sure you listen to Marlene's episode about her 7 decades tending a Montana farm while you make her authentic Povitica Walnut Roll.
Introducing one of the most beloved family recipes across Europe – Povitica!
Povitica Bread begins with a sweet bread dough, rolled very, very thinly. Marlene's Povitica recipe features the traditional filling of ground walnuts and cinnamon, along with rich butter, eggs, sugar and milk, which is spread all over the dough. Roll and shape the dough, then bake slowly.
The result is a warm, comforting bread. When cut, you'll see the characteristic look of a beautiful cinnamon swirl, as gorgeous as it is fragrant and delicious.
(P.S. If this seems like a little too much work, you can always go with the super simple award winning Cinnamon Brown Sugar Bread for Toast from a Minnesota farm house.)
Listen to Marlene's Story
Here's what Marlene's son, Scott, said about Marlene when he introduced me to her:
She makes a family traditional recipe for povitica that’s tremendous. She's also one of the last of her family and holding onto the family ranch with all of the pressures (none of the lethality) portrayed in Kevin Costner's series Yellowstone. (As an example, a week after my dad passed away she was bucking 100lb hay bales over her head to feed the cows and did it despite the fact that her shoulders were so sore she could hardly move. She's retired, but still shows up for volunteer work and is gradually restoring a '57 Chevy in her spare time. =) She's an inspiration in her faith community and she's the party planner/rabble rouser for her friend group who meet every week to lift each other's spirits and nurture community.
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- Prepare Potato Water:
- Wash and chop potatoes, boil until water is cloudy, and reserve one cup of potato water.
- Proof the Yeast:
- Warm milk, let it cool, sprinkle yeast on top.
- Make the Dough:
- Combine dry ingredients: flour, sugar, and salt.
- Melt butter, add it, along with eggs, warm water, and yeast mixture, to the flour.
- Knead for at least 10 minutes
- First rise: Let dough rise until doubled in size.
- Make Filling:
- Warm ingredients in a crockpot or saucepan.
- Roll the Dough:
- Divide dough into 4 portions OR prepare to roll out entire dough on a large sheet or tablecloth
- Roll out thinly on a floured surface, using Crisco if needed to pull the dough from the center out.
- Fill and Roll the Dough:
- Spread warm filling over dough.
- Start on a long edge, tightly roll, and place dough in a large roaster or greased loaf pan (4 loaf pans).
- Second Rise:
- Cover pans with a towel or plastic wrap. Place in a warm place and let rise until loaf doubles.
- Optionally: liberally brush top and sides with large egg mixed with water, then bake in preheated oven at 325°F for 90 minutes.
- Slice and enjoy at room temperature or slightly warmed with butter.
Top Povitica Tips and FAQ
My top tip: As Marlene shares in her episode, making povitica is an experience! Start early, take your time with each stage, and make a day of it, watching movies, sipping coffee, or doing other cooking.
How do you stretch the povitica dough SO thinly?
- Take your time. Will take a long time - little thinner and a little more one small step at a time.
- Prepare a lightly floured surface to roll dough.
- Flour from work surface will begin to dry the dough. Best way to moisten and keep flexible Add Crisco to top and to your fingers
- Be patient! Yeast dough will continue to bounce back a little bit, especially at first.
What does the potato water do?
- The starch from the potatoes helps the yeast rise.
How should I mix the dough?
This makes a LOT of dough, which gets heavy and difficult to mix. Marlene used to recruit her husband for this job. However, there are lots of good options:
- Add the ingredients to the bowl of a freestanding mixer and use a dough hook to mix until the dough comes together.
- Alternatively you can stir by hand with a big wooden spoon.
- (My favorite) Once the mixture gets too heavy to stir, ditch the spoon and just use your hands to mix. You're not quite kneading yet, more just clumping the dough together and continually incorporating in the flour that is still at the bottom of the bowl. This will naturally turn into a kneading motion as the dough comes together.
How long should I knead the Povitica dough?
- Shoot for a minimum of 10 minutes.
- You want the dough to be smooth and elastic. It should be very stretchy. Take a small part of the dough and pull it apart. If it tears before you stretch it thin enough to see light through, you need to keep kneading.
Should I make four povitica loaves or one big loaf?
- Although it takes more time, I recommend that daring bakers attempt the traditional way of making Potica - rolling into a massive 6' x 3' (or wider) sheet of dough. For me, it was a great experience that taught me a little more about the properties of dough and how to work with it. There's also a benefit of joining in the experience that so many women have shared over centuries of making this bread.
- However, frankly, for busier days where you don't have as much time to experiment, I personally recommend making 4 loaves, each in their own bread pan
- This way, you can freeze loaves in advance. The huge loaf makes a LOT of bread; more than a typical family can eat before it goes stale.
- The 2nd rise and baking times are less this way.
- With this method, each roll is smaller and lighter, so you can twist two to sit on top of the others, to make 4 swirls in each slice.
Can I make the dough a day in advance?
- If you're making one huge loaf, Marlene advises against this technique. It's important for the dough to be very warm when you begin to stretch it. Such a huge quantity of dough takes a very long time to change temperature. It will take hours for it to get back to a warm, stretchable temperature.
- If you're making multiple smaller loaves, I think this technique works great. In that case, I'd suggest letting the dough accomplish its first rise. Then, punch it down and store in the fridge up to 3 days, punching down again as necessary. Allow it to return to room temperature before working with it.
How to make a warm place for your dough?
- Rising is perhaps the most important step of making Povitica! Here are a few ideas:
- First of all, as always, give yourself lots of time to let the dough rise. Room temperature will work fine if you have enough time.
- Oven Method from Sally's Baking Addiction:
- Sally (and team) makes an important point: Humidity is as critical to rise as warmth.
- Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature for a few minutes (no more than 5 minutes).
- In the meantime, heat a 4 cup measuring cup of water to boiling in the microwave.
- Turn off the oven.
- Place the covered dough inside the turned-off oven to rise.
- Read more from Sally's team in her Baking with Yeast Guide.
- Warm Towel Method:
- Place the covered dough bowl in a larger bowl.
- Fill the larger bowl with warm water.
- Cover both bowls with a clean, damp kitchen towel.
- Yogurt Maker or Instant Pot Method:
- Some yogurt makers or Instant Pots have a low-temperature setting suitable for proofing dough.
- On Top of a Warm Appliance:
- Place the covered dough near a warm appliance, like a preheating oven or dishwasher.
How do you cool such a huge loaf of Povitica bread?
- Marlene recommends turning the loaf out of the roaster about an hour after baking. Her mother wrapped the Povitica in a tablecloth overnight.
- I left the loaf in the pan overnight while it slowly cooled and I had no issues whatsoever getting it out the next day.
- Once the bread is fully cool, cut it into loaf size, then slice generously into thick pieces.
Should I use an egg wash?
- This is personal preference.
- Marlene's recipe does not call for it, but I used it.
- Either way, watch for the dough getting too dark. If it does, just cover with foil.
- Walnuts (ground)
- Melted Butter
- Beaten Eggs
- Sweet Dough
- Bread flour: Bread flour has more protein than All Purpose Flour and the gluten will develop more effectively, which will help the dough stretch
- Salted or Unsalted Butter
- Hot milk (1 cup, heated to 180F - just below boiling)
Substitutions & Variations
- Povitica (Potica Bread) is a traditional Eastern European dessert bread made across many countries, with several options besides the Walnut Potica (traditional walnut filling) in the Austrian bread that Marlene is sharing here.
- Slovenian with Pecan or Tarragon/Ricotta Filling: Some sources (including Wikipedia) suggest that Povitica or Povita come from the Slovenian word poviti. Sources differ on what that word means - Wikipedia says "to roll" and others say "to wrap up". Here's a recipe from The Spruce Eats using evaporated milk and pecans. If Sweet Potica isn't your thing, here's a Savory Slovenian Potica recipe using tarragon and ricotta.
- Walnut or Poppy Seed Fillings: The Croatian Walnut Bread is called Orahnjača (click for the recipe) and the roll with poppy seeds filling is called Makovnjaca.
- You can make Cinnamon Rolls with this recipe! After you roll, simply cut across the roll every 1.5", revealing a beautiful spiral roll.
- Crockpot or Medium saucepan to warm the filling
- Stand mixer or really large bowl
- Clean sheet
- Rolling pin
- Roaster or 4 loaf tins
Freezing and Storage
- If you're making the large version, I wouldn't recommend freezing at any point in the process. You can freeze the sliced bread afterwards up to a month.
- You can make the filling in advance and freeze it.
- After the first rise, you can always put the dough in the fridge and it punch down when it grows beyond double. It will take the dough a very, very long time to rise to room temperature where it is easy enough to stretch large, so I'd suggest avoiding this if you'll be making the large loaf.
- If you make individual loaves, you can easily freeze them either before or after baking. If you freeze the loaves before baking, wrap very tightly in saran wrap and place in an airtight container before the second prove. Remove from the freezer and let it defrost and rise in a loaf tin until doubled.