The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat! I had never heard of povitica (pronounced po-va-teet-sa) before, but apparently it is a holiday bread that is like a striking cross between strudel and cinnamon rolls (or maybe cinnamon swirl bread on steroids!), each loaf weighing about 2.5 pounds and costing up to $25! I waited until the end of the month to make this so that my husband (who got to come visit us this week) could taste-test with us; then my parents went away for a few days and took the camera, and there was no way I was going to make a pastry like this without some photographic evidence along the way. So my apologies for the delay in posting!

This recipe is essentially a soft enriched yeast dough that gets stretched and pulled out thin like strudel after its first rise. As recommended, I used a flour-dusted cloth under my dough for the first loaf, but found that the cloth actually got in my way a little. For the second loaf, I ditched it and just rolled the dough right out on the counter; I didn’t have problems with sticking, but the slight tackiness of the dough actually helped give me some resistance as I stretched it and I was able to achieve a more uniform thinness without tears.

I made a half recipe, which is enough dough for two loaves, so I decided to try two traditional fillings: walnut and apple. Above you see the walnut filling, redolent with cinnamon and vanilla. I ground my walnuts in the food processor but wasn’t sure how finely I should chop them, and it turned out to be a challenge to spread all those lumpy little bits over top of a paper-thin sheet of dough, but I managed with just a few new holes.

This is the apple filling I improvised, using four small Black Jonathan apples, finely diced and sauteed with butter, rapadura, the usual apple pie spices, and a little slurry of cornstarch for body. As large as I was able to stretch the dough, I probably should have cooked up more apples, because I ended up having to spread them pretty thin and fill in the gaps with sprinkles of cinnamon sugar.

To achieve a povitica’s signature whorls, the filled dough is jelly-rolled and then coiled into a loaf pan. I gave mine an egg wash and a sprinkle of sugar as they went in the oven, and they came out puffed and golden and smelling irresistible. It was a good thing we had dinner about ready to eat, because the loaves had to spend some time cooling down in the pans before they could be sliced, and on an empty stomach I don’t know how we could have stood the wait!

The recipe recommended slicing upside down with a serrated knife, so here is a gratuitous shot of an apple povitica’s underbelly.

And the moment of truth: beautiful whorls of apple cinnamon filling and sweet fluffy bread emerging! All those airy layers were so much fun to eat, like monkey bread, or cotton candy even. 🙂

This recipe is one of the reasons I am so glad to be a member of the Daring Bakers. It was a unique, delicious, and stunningly beautiful challenge all at once, and I am marveling that our host Jenni developed the recipe herself! I will be keeping this recipe in my arsenal for years to come—so easy to make but incredibly impressive to behold. I could see doing mini versions coiled into muffin cups, and am hoping to try lots more filling options like pumpkin, cranberry, cream cheese, jam, and chocolate.

Walnut Povitica (makes 4 loaves; can be halved or quartered)

2 tsp sugar
1 tsp all-purpose flour
1/2 C warm water
2 T (2 sachets) dry yeast

2 C whole milk
¾ C sugar
3 tsp table salt
4 large eggs
1/2 C unsalted butter, melted
8 C all-purpose flour, measure first then sift, divided

Walnut Filling:
7 C ground English walnuts
1 C whole milk
1 C unsalted butter
2 whole eggs, beaten
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 C sugar
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 C cold STRONG coffee
2 T granulated sugar
Melted butter

Make the Dough: In a small bowl, stir 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon flour, and the yeast into ½ cup warm water and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 5 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk up to just below boiling (about 180°F/82°C), stirring constantly so that a film does not form on the top of the milk. You want it hot enough to scald you, but not boiling. Allow to cool slightly, until it is about 110°F/43°C.

In a large bowl, mix the scalded milk, 3/4 C sugar, and the salt until combined. Add the beaten eggs, yeast mixture, melted butter, and 2 C of flour. Blend thoroughly and slowly add remaining flour, mixing well until the dough starts to clean the bowl. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead, gradually adding flour a little at a time, until smooth and does not stick. Note: You may not need to use all 8 cups of flour.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (each weighing about 1.25 pounds/565 grams). Place dough in 4 lightly oiled bowls, cover loosely with a layer of plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel and let rise an hour and a half in a warm place, until doubled in size.

Filling: In a large bowl mix together the ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa. Heat the milk and butter to boiling. Pour the liquid over the nut/sugar mixture. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Allow to stand at room temperature until ready to be spread on the dough. If the mixture thickens, add a small amount of warm milk.

Roll and Assemble the Dough: Spread a clean sheet or cloth over your entire table so that it is covered; sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons to a handful of flour (use flour sparingly). Place the dough on the sheet and roll the dough out with a rolling pin, starting in the middle and working your way out, until it measures roughly 10-12 inches in diameter.

Spoon 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of melted butter on top. Using the tops of your hands, stretch dough out from the center until the dough is thin and uniformly opaque. You can also use your rolling pin, if you prefer. As you work, continually pick up the dough from the table, not only to help in stretching it out, but also to make sure that it isn’t sticking. When you think it the dough is thin enough, try to get it a little thinner. It should be so thin that you can see the color and perhaps the pattern of the sheet underneath.

Spoon filling (see below for recipe) evenly over dough until covered. Lift the edge of the cloth and gently roll the dough like a jelly roll. Once the dough is rolled up into a rope, gently lift it up and place it into a greased loaf pan in the shape of a “U”, with the ends meeting in the middle. You want to coil the dough around itself, as this will give the dough its characteristic look when sliced. Repeat with remaining three loaves, coiling each rope of dough in its own loaf pan.

Brush the top of each loaf with a mixture of ½ cup (120 ml) of cold STRONG coffee and 2 tablespoons of sugar. If you prefer, you can also use egg whites in place of this. Cover pans lightly will plastic wrap and allow to rest for approximately 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to moderate 350°F. Remove plastic wrap from dough and place into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Turn down the oven temperature to slow 300°F/150°C/gas mark 2 and bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until done. Remove bread from oven and brush with melted butter. Check the bread at 30 minutes to ensure that the bread is not getting too brown. You may cover the loaves with a sheet of aluminum foil if you need to.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes, still in the bread pan. Remember, the bread weighs about 2.5 and it needs to be able to hold its own weight, which is difficult when still warm and fresh out of the oven. Allowing it to cool in the pan helps the loaf to hold its shape. It is recommended that the best way to cut Povitica loaves into slices is by turning the loaf upside down and slicing with a serrated knife.

Update 11/19/11: I just baked 8 povitica loaves for my son’s preschool bake sale. I did two each of the walnut and apple fillings I had made before, and experimented with two cranberry and two chocolate loaves as well. The chocolate filling was the recipe here sprinkled with chocolate chips, and the cranberry one was based on this recipe, omitting the nuts and adding some chopped apple and a bit of orange zest and juice. Quite a project!

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, inducted in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

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