Over the weekend I listened to Christmas music and watched way too many made for TV Christmas-themed movies. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a good marathon. I can’t count all the times I’ve been pulled into watching hours of “NCIS” or “Criminal Minds,” despite them being repeats from three seasons ago.
Moving on. It is November, which means I’m already in holiday mode. I’ve made my list of people I plan to buy gifts for – and by “buy gifts” I mean “give cash/gift card.” If you like getting gifts, provide people with a list. Lists are lovely. They make the world a better place. The holidays are one time of year where I really wish I had psychic abilities. Choosing gifts for others is very hit-or-miss, at least for me. I know my friends and family, but I don’t see them on a daily, or even weekly, basis. So when I buy, say a salad spinner, I’m thinking, “Oh, they’ll have cleaner lettuce and it’ll be easier to wash.” I’m not thinking, “Do they have the cupboard space for this contraption? And will they be willing to wash a thing that’s meant to wash something else?” Answer to both questions: no. Salad spinners now, and probably will be forever, are a silly concept to me.
But for you, dear readers, I’m not giving you a salad spinner or cash. Sorry. Instead, I’m sharing an infinitely more valuable commodity, Aunt Mary’s Potica Recipe. I know it is a bit early for Christmas, but as I said I was listening to Christmas music, and you’ll want this potica at your next holiday gathering.
Potica (po-teet-sa) is a traditional Slovenian sweet nut roll. Now it may have other origins, but I’m sticking with Slovenian because well Aunt Mary was Slovenian, so deal with it. Either way, no holiday table or family gathering in my youth was complete without potica.
Aunt Mary is technically my Great-Aunt Mary. She married my grandmother’s brother, Joseph. The recipe was actually my great-grandmother Rose’s recipe. Great-grandma Rose brought the recipe over from Slovenia and eventually ended up teaching it to Aunt Mary. After the recipe was passed on, great-grandma Rose evidently stopped making potica, so it became Aunt Mary’s Potica. Which is just how recipes seem to travel in my family. You pass it on and then you don’t have to make it anymore. My grandmother pulled that one on me with the Thanksgiving gravy. I’m there whisking away and she’s over in the living room chatting and sipping wine. Very sly woman my grandmother.
A note to the pans used for the potica. I have a set of four pans that were custom-made for either great-grandma Rose or great-aunt Mary just for potica. They are about 16x4x4. This recipe makes four 16-inch long rolls, but it halves easily. If you’re making the full recipe or cutting it in half, you can probably get away with making the rolls smaller and use standard size loaf pans. So if you’re making the full recipe that equates to 8 loaf pans, and a half recipe would use 4 loaf pans.
Legend has it that great-aunt Mary would put in all the leaves in her large dining room table. Then she’d take the whole batch of dough and roll it out along the length of the table and make all four rolls at once. I like to say “legend” because, well, that’s a pretty amazing feat in my book. Plus I routinely inflate my family’s awesomeness. Again, deal with it.
Aunt Mary’s Potica, recipe from Mary Russ, makes 4, 16-inch rolls
7 or 8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 pound unsalted butter
3 whole eggs, beaten
3/4 cup white sugar
2 cups milk
2 cakes yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. white sugar
2 cups milk
2 cups white sugar
2 pounds nuts ground for filling, walnuts or pecans (my family is strictly a walnut family)
1/2 pound nuts ground for sprinkling
1/2 pound unsalted butter
white or golden raisins for sprinkling
8 oz jar of honey
3 eggs, separated
zest of one lemon
2 tsp. vanilla
Making the Dough:
1. Put 4 cups flour into a large bowl and add salt. Put milk in a saucepan and scald. Let the milk stand until it is lukewarm. Add the 1 tablespoon sugar and 2 cakes of yeast into the milk. Set milk/yeast mixture aside for about 10 minutes, until the yeast is awake and foamy.
2. In another saucepan, melt butter. Add 3/4 cup sugar and well beaten eggs. Beat this together well. Add butter mixture and milk mixtures to the flour. Beat about 10 minutes. Add more flour until the dough can be handled with your hands, probably the remaining 3 or 4 cups (I always end up using all 8 cups). Knead on well floured counter until dough does not stick to your hands.
3. Do not make the dough too hard, it should be pillowy. Grease a large bowl before placing the dough in it. Lightly flour the top. Cover and let rise until it doubles in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Making the Filling:
1. In a pan boil milk and sugar. When it comes to a full boil take off the heat and pour into butter so it melts. Add the 2 pounds of ground nuts, honey, zest, 3 egg yolks (well beaten) and vanilla. Beat the egg whites separately until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the filling.
2. Keep filling in a warm place so that it is easy to spread.
Putting it all together:
1. Divide dough into 4 pieces, making them into balls – cover. Roll dough one at a time until very thin, between 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch, or a nice pie crust.
2. Spread with filling, leaving about half-an-inch to an inch around the edge. Sprinkle with raisins and dry ground nuts. Roll like a jelly roll and fold the ends under.
3. Grease pans and line with parchment paper (I usually skip the greasing and just line with parchment). Place the roll in the pan seam side down. This is the tricky part. I usually start swearing now. When rolls are in the pans, cover and let rise for an 1 hour and 15 minutes.
4. Brush top of each roll with egg wash. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour and 10 minutes. I usually pull the rolls out after an hour.
Notes on the recipe:
Yes, potica uses a full pound of butter, 6 eggs, 4 cups of milk, nearly 3 cups of sugar and 8 cups of flour. Yes, you will probably use every single pan in your kitchen. Yes, the 2 1/2 pounds of nuts are expensive, but trust me, totally worth it. I’ve always skimped on the nuts, just buying as close as I could. Little did I know that by skimping on the nuts, I made my filling more watery and thus opened the door for leakage. I’ve had messes. I’ve sworn like a sailor. But the end result has always been potica. It can’t be that bad.