Povitica (Croatian Walnut Bread)

Povitica- Croatian Walnut Bread

Is anyone else as obsessed with the Great British Bake Off as I am?  After finding it on Netflix, I tore through a season in about 3 days.  It has all the fun food information that any cooking show has (perhaps a bit more than some), with none of the catty nonsense of the American varieties.

In one episode, the contestants had to make povitica, a sweet, spiralled loaf of bread with walnut filling, with limited instructions.  Povitica or potica (pronounced “po-vi-TEET-sa or po-TEET-sa”) is a sweet bread of Croatian origin, with similar versions made throughout Eastern Europe.  (Interestingly, a few bakeries in Cleveland serve versions of this too.  Who knew?)  Like most of the contestants, I had never heard of this bread before.  That said, I was entranced by its awesome swirls of sweet, walnutty filling and paper-thin bread.  Since then, I’ve been obsessed with figuring out how to make it.

I found a few different versions, but I relied most heavily on this one from Saveur.  Their directions say to roll the dough out to only 10″ by 4″, but the suggestion in the comments that it should be 4′ instead made me feel a little better.  Mine ended up being about 16″ by 36″, though it probably could have been a tad bit thinner.  I added an egg wash to make the top nice and shiny (and because that’s how they did it on my new favorite show).  I also added some cocoa powder to the filling at the very last minute and made a quick icing for the top.  The whole process was a bit nerve wracking, but it actually wasn’t all that hard, just time-consuming.  I was pretty happy with all the swirls it yielded when all was said and done.

Povitica Swirls

I’m not sure I was entirely sold on the cocoa powder, but it still tasted good.  If I were to do it again, I might add a little more sugar to the filling because it turned out a tiny bit bitter (unsweetened cocoa powder has a tendency to do that).  I’m also looking forward to trying this with different types of fillings.  If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments!

You will need the following ingredients:

For the dough:

Povitica Dough Ingredients

  • ¾ cup milk, heated to 115°F
  • 4 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (I used fast-acting, but it doesn’t have to be)
  • 4 Tbsp. (½ stick) butter, melted
  • ½ Tbsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

Povitica Walnut Filling Ingredients

  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. milk
  • 4 Tbsp. (½ stick) butter
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (optional, not pictured)
  • 2 egg whites

For the topping:

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. milk

For baking ambiance:

  • I didn’t have anything on this time because the process is done in spurts over several hours and I was doing things all over the place in between, but had I listened to anything, it probably would have been Three Dog Night.  Mama Told Me (Not To Come) has been stuck in my head for days now, so that’s a sure sign that it’s been too long since I broke this one out.

On your mark…get set…BAKE!

First, you’ll need to toast your walnuts.  Spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake them for 5-10 minutes at 350°F, or until they turn slightly darker in color and start smelling nice and fragrant.  Set them aside to cool.

walnuts ready to toast    toasted walnuts

Next, heat your milk to approximately 115°F in a small saucepan.  I like to use a candy thermometer to ensure that the temperature is right, but if you don’t have one, just heat the milk until it is warm to the touch but not scalding, and definitely not boiling at all.

heating milk

Here’s my candy thermometer setup

Pour approximately half of the warm milk into a stand mixer bowl or other large bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the sugar until it is dissolved.  Sprinkle the yeast on top, and let it sit for 10 minutes, or until it looks foamy (mine took a little longer because it was probably a little old).

foamy yeast mixture

Add in the remaining milk and sugar, as well as the melted butter, Kosher salt, and egg, and beat the mixture until combined.

Povitica Dough Wet Ingredients

Add in the flour, ½ cup at a time, until you have a sticky ball.

sticky dough

I used the paddle attachment to get to this point, then switched to the dough hook to further work the dough until it was a smooth ball.  When you reach this stage, grease a large bowl and put the dough ball inside, turning it once to coat it.  Cover it with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and leave it in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

Povitica Dough Ball    Doubled Povitica Dough Ball

While your dough is doing its thing, prepare your filling.  Combine the walnuts, sugar, milk, butter, cinnamon, and cocoa powder in a food processor and process until it forms a paste.

walnut paste

Mmmm, nut paste

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  I was skeptical about this step when I first read about it, but it turns out that it is worthwhile because it makes your filling easier to spread.

beaten egg whites

Gently fold the walnut paste into the egg whites until well-combined.

povitica walnut filling

When your dough is ready, cover your work space with a clean sheet (not the polar fleece kind) and sprinkle the sheet lightly with flour.  I used my coffee table for this because my usual piece of counter was not big enough.  Whatever surface you use, keep in mind that the dough will need to be roughly 16″ wide by 36″ long when all is said and done.

floured sheet

Place the dough ball in the center of the sheet and lightly sprinkle the top with flour.  Roll out the dough until it is roughly 16″ wide by 36″ long.  If you can get it longer, that is even better, but this is as big as I could get mine to stretch.  Eventually, you will need to gently stretch the dough with your hands, being very careful to avoid tearing it.

povitica dough sheet

Ideally, the dough should be thin enough to see your hand through when at its full size.

translucent dough

Now that your dough looks like Cassandra from Doctor Who, Spread the filling evenly over the top of it using a pastry brush.  I decided at the last minute to add cocoa powder to mine, so I sprinkled that on top after spreading the filling, but that step is unnecessary since you should have already mixed it into your walnut paste by now.

Dough with Walnut Filling

Now comes the fun part, and the whole reason we used a sheet in the first place: turning this sheet of dough into a rope.  First, start the roll by hand by gently rolling the edge of the long side of the dough inward.  Once your roll is maintaining its position on its own (it will want to unroll itself in the very beginning), slowly lift the edge of the sheet to roll the dough the rest of the way.

rolling the dough rope

I was amazed at how well this worked.  Gravity did most of the work, and the sheet helped to keep the roll uniform, which is tricky for a roll of this length.

When your dough is fully transformed into a rope, use your hands to gently stretch it a bit longer.  Start from the middle and work your way outward.  This is also your chance to slightly tighten the coil if your roll turned out a little loose.

stretching the rope

Now grab your prepared loaf pan.  Place one end of the rope against one edge of the pan and carefully coil the the remainder next to and on top of it.  It’s ok to leave a little space around the edges, as the loaf will expand a bit.

coiled povitica loaf

Cover the loaf with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and leave it to rise in a warm place for about an hour, until you are satisfied with its size (I’d say “until doubled,” but mine didn’t quite double, so use your best judgement).  Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 350°F, since the heat from the oven will help the loaf to rise (just don’t put the pan in or on the oven).

risen povitica loaf

In a small bowl, beat one egg with with a little water (about a tablespoon) until foamy.  Brush the egg wash over the loaf using a pastry brush.

povitica loaf with egg wash

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature of your oven to 300°F and bake for 45 minutes more.  Start checking the loaf for doneness 5-10 minutes early.  An instant-read thermometer should read 190°-200°F when it’s done (just try to stick it in in an inconspicuous area).  Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to cool completely in the pan.  This is a very heavy hunk of bread, and it needs the extra structure to hold it up while it is cooling.

baked povitica loaf

When your povitica is cooled (or when you just can’t wait any longer like me), carefully lift it out of the pan by the parchment paper, then remove the paper.

baked povitica loaf

In a small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and milk until smooth.  Pipe or drizzle the icing on top in any design you choose.

frosted top

Now all that’s left to do is slice and enjoy the swirls!


You can download the printable PDF recipe here: Povitica

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