One of my earliest childhood memories involving food was the potica (poppy-seed bread) that Grandma always mailed to us at Easter. This is a traditional bread for Slovenians and other Europeans. Every Easter, along with the other traditional foods of ham, polish sausage, potato salad and colorful hard-boiled eggs, my family always had this sweet delightful bread. Yes, I know this meal sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen, but somehow we all escaped heart disease.
Potica, aka poppy-seed* bread, is a light, slightly sweet bread that we always ate with the meal, but could also be served as a dessert. Grandma made this bread every year, along with a nut-filled variety that never really caught on with us. Each year right before Easter we’d anxiously await the big cardboard box in the mail, filled with potica and assorted Easter candy. Sometimes the box would arrive partly open or semi-crushed but everything inside would still be a delight.
Finally, when Grandma was gone, we learned to make potica ourselves. Maybe there was a written recipe at one time, but none of us ever saw it. It wouldn’t have done us any good anyway, as it surely would have been written in Slovenian. This recipe is one my sister found long ago in Good Housekeeping magazine that we all agreed was as close to Grandma’s as we could ever get. I use Solo canned poppy-seed filling, but I’m sure Grandma made her own. Since this is a yeast bread, figure on staying nearby for three-four hours. Alternatively, one can make the dough one day, put it in the refrigerator to rise overnight, and finish it the next day. Or the best way? If you have a bread machine, use the dough cycle for the first part. It eliminates all the beating, stirring and kneading, and turns out just as good. If you don’t have a bread machine, you can probably pick one up at a local thrift store for under $20.
Potica (makes 2 loaves)
In a saucepan or microwave bowl, heat together
1 cup milk or soy milk
1/2 cup butter or margarine, until very warm, about 115 degrees Farenheit. (Butter does not need to completely melt.)
In a large bowl mix:
1/2 cup white sugar
1-2 teaspoons dried or fresh grated lemon peel (optional)
1 package dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour, then add the milk mixture.
With mixer on low speed, beat liquid into dry ingredients, just until mixed. Increase speed to medium, beating in
1 cup of flour or enough flour to make the dough thick. Beat 2 minutes more, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.
With spoon, stir in enough additional flour, about 1 to 1 1/2 cups, to make a soft dough.
Turn dough out onto a floured cloth and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball and place in a greased mixing bowl, cover and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour, or overnight in refrigerator.
(Alternatively, place all ingredients in a bread machine, wet ingredients first and yeast on top, and run the dough cycle. This replaces the mixing, kneading and first rising and is a lot less work!)
After rising, punch down dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured cloth. Cut dough in half, cover and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
While the dough is resting, grease two cookie sheets or cover with parchment paper and make the poppy-seed filling:
In a medium bowl, beat 1 egg white (save the egg yolk for later) until soft peaks form. Add
1 12-ounce can of Solo Poppy Seed Filling
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
On a floured cloth with a rolling pin, roll out half of the dough into a rectangle, about 12 inches by 18 inches. Dough may be difficult to roll out – be patient. Spread half the filling onto the dough. Starting with the long side, roll up the dough jelly roll fashion, and place on a cookie sheet. Pinch the ends shut. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Beat 1 or 2 egg yolks and spread over the loaves with a pastry brush. Bake loaves 25-30 minutes, until browned and sound hollow when tapped in the middle. Cool on wire racks.
Related link: Nut-filled Potica recipe
*This bread should not be eaten by anyone who might be needing to take a drug test within a few days, as poppy seeds can cause false-positive results.