Tag Archives: recipe

How Potica could change your world

If a cinnamon roll and a loaf of brioche bread got together and had a love child while on honeymoon in Slovenia, it might result in this week’s culinary adventure.

Potica (pronounced po-TEET-sah).

In the Slovenian-American community, it is the go-to dessert/breakfast item for special occasions.

Christmas. Potica. Easter. Potica. Wedding. Potica. Anniversary. Potica. Birthday. Potica.

With good reason. This is the stuff of which addiction (and weight gain) is made.

In the version we are preparing for you today, Potica is an enriched yeast dough rolled as thin as the skills of the Slovenian baker allow; spread with butter and a mixture of English walnuts, cinnamon and sugar; drizzled with honey and rolled into a loaf.

potica_loavesIs it a pastry? A bread? A cake?

The web is awash in debate – at least among the American-born descendants of Slovenian immigrants who see it as their heritage/tie to the mother country.

Reknowned Slovenian ethnologist Dr. Janez Bogataj (You’ve heard of him haven’t you?) refers to it as a “cake.” And, while its tempting to let the man who wrote the seminal work on the “cake” – Potice iz Slovenije (Poticas of Slovenia) – have the final word, we feel like doing so would signify that we have given in to the European Union on its Monsanto-esque quest to control food commerce.

Say what? European Union? Monsanto? Culinary commerce control? Where did all of this come from?

I thought we were talking about a cinnamon roll/brioche love child that might be a bread…or a pastry…or a cake.

We are. We will. But nothing is that simple.

Let’s call it the Slavic butterfly effect.

A stuffed shirt in Slovenia flaps his gums about the need to define and protect Potica.

Potica is a cake. Potica dough must be made only with nine specific ingredients. There are only 40 recognized fillings. It must be cooked in a clay or metal cylindrical mold with a circular protrusion in the center. It should originate from a certain region.

We need laws. ‘Protect Potica,” is the rallying cry. Give Potica European Union protected food status.

Laws are passed. Time goes by. The United States begins recognizing international  trade  law. The owners of the Rocky Mountain Potica Company in Evergreen,  Colorado whose Slovenian family has been making Potica for hundreds of years get a cease and desist letter from the European Union telling them they cannot market their product as Potica because it is baked in loaf form and several of their products such as the “Elvis Wrap and Roll Potica” with its peanut butter, honey and banana filling don’t adhere to the EU’s 40 recognized filling standard.

The owners of the Potica company fight the lawsuit, which is joined by Elvis’ estate. Their multi-million empire (built on the food formerly known as Potica) is bankrupted. They reorganize and reopen under the name Rocky Mountain Nut Roll company but the company owners and their children remain more than a little bitter. And not just regarding the business. Their heritage – its preservation and evolution – has been impeached.

It sounds a bit ridiculous, but is it really that far-fetched?

Most people have become accustomed to making a distinction between “Champagne” and “Sparkling wine.”

Why? Litigious society.

Three European Union schemes of geographical indications and traditional specialities, known as protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI), and traditional specialities guaranteed (TSG), promote and protect names of quality agricultural products and foodstuffs. They are based on the legal framework provided by the EU Regulation No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs. This Regulation (enforced within the EU and being gradually expanded internationally via bilateral agreements between the EU and non-EU countries) ensures that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed to be identified as such in commerce. The legislation first came into force in 1992. The purpose of the law is to protect the reputation of the regional foods, promote rural and agricultural activity, help producers obtain a premium price for their authentic products, and eliminate the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour.

These laws protect the names of wines, cheeses, hamssausages, seafood, olivesolive oils, beers, Balsamic vinegar and even regional breads, fruits, raw meats and vegetables.

Foods such as GorgonzolaParmigiano-Reggiano, the Waterford Blaas,[4] Herve cheeseMelton Mowbray pork piesPiave cheeseAsiago cheeseCamembert, Herefordshire CiderCognacArmagnac and Champagne can only be labelled as such if they come from the designated region. To qualify as Roquefort, for example, cheese must be made from milk of a certain breed of sheep, and matured in the natural caves near the town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the Aveyron region of France, where it is colonized by the fungus Penicillium roqueforti that grows in these caves.(Wikipedia)

Do these measures protect food heritage? Corner the market on the food product’s commercialization? Both?

Who decides when a food item’s evolution stops or whether/when it is entitled to be called by a specific name? Courts and governing bodies?

In the case of Potica, we hope that the hundreds of thousands of Slovenian-Americans who have developed a food heritage over the last couple of hundred years and might not fit exactly into Bogataj’s metal or clay mold will be considered.

Regardless, we’ll continue to eat the Slovenian-American sweet and savory versions of Potica and call it by the name it earned at the hands of grandmothers who handed the food tradition down to subsequent generations.

The recipe that follows may or may not be Potica.

potica_detailPotica recipe
Ingredients
1.5t active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk, warmed
1 cup butter, softened
6 egg yolks
1.33 cups mil
5 cups flour
1t salt
Filling and coating
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup honey
6 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup sugar
1T cinnamon
dash of salt
1. In a mixing cup, dissolve yeast, 1t sugar and 3T flour in the warm milk. Mix and let stand 10 minutes
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with remaining sugar (beat 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy) on a medium setting on your mixer. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the reserved yeast mixture, remaining milk, 4 cups of your flour and the salt. Mix using a rubber spatula until there are no white flour spots and a dough begins to form. Add the remaining flour a half cup at a time. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes).
3. Lightly grease a large bowl. Place the dough inside. Cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise until doubled in volume (about 1 hour).
4. Make sure your walnuts are finely chopped (use a food processor) or they will tear the dough when rolled. Combine them with the sugar and cinnamon. Reserve.
4. Place parchment paper on two cookie sheets. Remove dough from bowl, divide into four equal pieces. Place one piece of dough onto a lightly floured pillowcase (or if you think you can keep it from sticking – a lightly floured countertop). Roll it out into a rectangle that is almost twice as long as it is wide and 1/4-inch or less thick.
5. Spread 2T of melted butter across the rectangle, making sure that it is well-covered. Use more if needed. Spread almost two cups of the filling across the dough. Drizzle the filling with 1/4 cup of warm honey. Begin rolling from width (not length) as you would a jelly roll. Every two turns prick the dough with a fork. Pinch the ends closed and place seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet.
6. Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown at 350-degrees fahrenheit. Internal temperature should be 180-200 degrees depending on how well done you like your dough.
7. Remove. If possible, allow to cool before eating/slicing. Some folks say day old Potica is the best because the filling has more opportunity to permeate the dough/bread/cake/pastry.

Alfajores. One dulce treat.

If we ever make our way back to Argentina, there are a handful of things we are going to gorge ourselves upon.
1. Grass-fed Argentine beef. We grew up around cattle operations and the beef industry, but the best beef we’ve ever put in our mouths was in Argentina. Hands down.
2. The garlic-butter sauteed calamari at Broccolino’s in Buenos Aires.
3. The honey-glazed medialunas (flaky, tiny croissants) at a hotel near Iguazu Falls.
4. Anything from Francis Mallman’s restaurants.
5. Mate – A hot beverage that is brewed much like tea using the leaves of yerba mate, is more prolific in its consumption than Starbuck’s and has a much more social element to it.
6. And last, but certainly not least, Alfajores. The subject of our recipe post today.

In Argentina, the alfajor (Pronunciation: All-fah-whore) is probably the most consumed sweet/confection and, like American barbecue, varies from region to region. The entire country seems to have been raised on them.

You’re born. You’re weened. An alfajor is shoved in one hand and a mate/guamba (the gourd/cup out of which one drinks mate) is placed in the other. A year or so later you eat your first kilo of medium-rare, grass-fed steak and you’re eligible for an Argentine passport.

The exact origin of the alfajor is unknown, but it likely dates back to Spain’s occupation by the Moors. The word is derived from the Arabic word al-fakhur or alaju.

The Spanish variant is different from those found in the Americas (which likely evolved after they were brought over in the hulls of ships as rations for Spanish soldiers post-1492). In Spain, it is usually cylindrical with a filling and is made from flour, almonds, honey and spices such as cinnamon. The Arab influence is obvious.

While there are several variations throughout Argentina (and South/Latin America in general), the most common may best be described as a layer of dulce de leche (gooey “milk candy”) that is sandwiched between two shortbread-esque cookies and coated in powder sugar.

Every baker, grandma and cookie company claims theirs is the best – or even the original. Like so many other dishes that are a matter of national pride, there are a million variations and ways of eating them – though most of the purists we know say they must have dulce de leche between the cookies and that they are best once the cookie has had enough time to absorb the filling.

Whether you get adventurous and roll them in coconut, coat them in chocolate, change the filling or otherwise set off on your own culinary journey, we’ll let you be the judge.

Alfajores: Argentina's best-known sweet. Dulce de leche ("Milk candy") sandwiched between a pair of shortbread cookies.

Alfajores: Argentina’s best-known sweet. Dulce de leche (“Milk candy”) sandwiched between a pair of shortbread cookies.

Alfajores recipe (adapted from chow.com)

1 cup cornstarch

3/4 cup flour

1t baking powder

1t baking soda

1/4t table salt

8T unsalted butter at room temperature

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 large egg yolks

1T Grand Marnier

1/2t vanilla extract

1 cup dulce de leche (recipe follows)

Powdered sugar for dusting

Dulce de leche recipe

1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop can of sweetened condensed milk in pot and make sure water covers it by a couple of inches. Boil it for 3 hours. Remove. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes. Remove lid (careful, hot liquid may ooze out). Remove contents to a container and reserve. Voila. Easy Dulce de leche.

2. Whisk all dry ingredients except sugar together and reserve.

3. Place butter and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment on it and mix on medium speed until it is light and fluffy. Stop and scrape sides down a couple of times during this process. (About 3 minutes)

4. Ad remainder of wet ingredients and mix until incorporated.

5. Turn your blender to “low” and gradually add/mix your dry ingredients until there are no dry white spots evident.

6. Turn dough onto plastic wrap, shape it into a disk, wrap and place in refrigerator until firm (1 hour or longer).

7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prep a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

8. Remove dough from freezer. Unwrap. Place it on a lightly floured surface. Lightly sprinkle the top with flour. Roll it to quarter-inch thickness and stamp out 24 “cookies” (rerolling dough as necessary until it is all used).

9. Place cookies on prepared baking sheets and bake 12-14 minutes until cookies are pale gold on the bottom (the tops shouldn’t brown).

Un alfajor.

Un alfajor.

10. Remove from oven. Allow to come to room temperature. Flip half your cookies upside down and spread 2t of room temperature dulce de leche to them. Put a top on them and dust with powdered sugar.