Povitica: Croatian Sweet Walnut Chocolate Bread

I've been waiting for a day like this. Lately VA has been getting slammed with heat and nearly skipped the transition from spring to summer. The changing of seasons always gets me hyped. It's nostalgic and exciting. The sun is dripping with warm rays yet the air is cool with a comforting breeze.  It makes me feel like I'm in high school all over again. Maybe because I'm listening to old pop punk like MXPX. Before b-girling... there were mosh pits, jnko pants, and tons of shows! It built character and taught that it's okay to push back, literally.

So please, enjoy the beautiful weather! Make some happy memories and don't spend all your time in the kitchen. It's time to go out and play! Baking is a bit of winter sport; ice cream and chilled lemon bars here we come. To make the jump, I slowed down the carb comforts with Povitica. Ever since I saw a photo of this bread, I've wanted to make it. 

The nut roll is an Eastern European tradition and Povitica is one of the many variations. Every region has their own twist, from Poland to Hungary. It's like cinnamon-raisin bread but with various filling styles. I am no expert on these kind of breads, but the distinguishing marker of the Croatian variety is the incorporation of walnuts. Since my friend's hubby is Croatian, I decided to give it a try and see if it passed authentic muster.

Truth be told, this is not a difficult bread to make. If you have made cinnamon buns before then this will be a walk in the park. The dough is surprisingly easy to work with and I was amazed by how much I got for so little. It's only 2 cups of flour to yield a single loaf with a scant 1 1/4 teaspoons of yeast- half a a standard issue packet. The second round of rising is only 15 minutes!

The trick to making it look cool is how much you roll it out. The thinner you roll, the more layers, the more swirls. I stuck with a basic horse shoe shape. Baby's bread's got back? I wanted to go for 4 swirls like Passionate About Baking's post but honestly I ran out out work space! This dough can really stretch out.


And who could forget the best part of this bread... the filling. Ground walnuts with sugar and unsweetened and cocoa. Divine! It was like eating crumbly nutella... minus the hazelnuts. This filling could be used as a spread on breakfast toast or an ice cream topping. We were very excited to sample it from the pan!

Needless to say, this golden beautiful bread did not last an afternoon in the office. Hell we didn't even make it to lunch time. This is a fun treat that's not overly sweet and goes AMAZING with a cup of coffee. Even my girlfriend's husband approved and was surprised to see a slice of his childhood.

I don't have a Theromix like Passionate About Baking, so below is a break down for the rest of us. 

Note: in the original recipe, strong coffee is used to brush over the bread before baking. I used recommended egg wash to help brown the top. If you're a coffee lover- go for it!

Povitica, Croatian Walnut Bread
from  Passionate About Baking

½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp all purpose flour
2 tbsp warm water
1½ tsp dry yeast

½ Cup (120 ml) 2% milk
3 tbsp (45 ml/43 gm/1½ oz) sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 vanilla bean,scraped
1 tbsp (30 ml/30 gm/¼ stick/1 oz) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups (480 ml/280 gm/10 oz/0.62 lb) all-purpose flour

1 egg white, beaten with fork
1½ tsp granulated, turbinado, or decorating sugar
1 tbsp melted butter

Filling Ingredients
1¾ cups (420 ml/280 gm/10 oz) walnuts, ground
¼ cup (60 ml) 2% milk
¼ Cup (60 ml/58 gm/½ stick/2 oz) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk, beaten with fork
½ vanilla bean, scraped
½ Cup (120 ml/115 gm/4 oz) sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

To Activate Yeast
In a small bowl, stir sugar, flour, and the yeast into warm water and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. 

To Make the Dough
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 mixer bowl with paddle attachment, mix the scalded milk, sugar, and the salt until combined. Add the beaten eggs, yeast mixture, melted butter, and 2 cups of flour. Blend thoroughly and slowly add remaining flour, mixing well for about a minute or two. Switch to the dough hook and mix at a medium speed for 6 minutes. Mix until the dough starts to clean the bowl. If it sticks to bottom, add just a touch more flour.  Keep adding flour until it no longer sticks to bottom of the bowl. Once it's done in the mixer, knead by hand for 2 minutes.

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, 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. I like to heat the oven to 200F, shut it off, and let the bread sit inside with the oven door slightly ajar. 

To Make the Filling
In a food processor, mix together the walnuts, sugar, vanilla bean, and cocoa.
Heat the milk and butter to boiling. Pour the liquid over the nut/sugar mixture. Add the egg yolk 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.

To 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 of 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. It should be so thin that you can see the color and perhaps the pattern of the sheet underneath. 

Spoon filling 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.

Brush the top of the loaf with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Cover pans lightly will plastic wrap and allow to rest for approximately 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to moderate 355F. Remove plastic wrap from dough and place into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Turn down the oven temperature to slow 300F and bake for an additional 40 minutes, or until done.

Remove bread from oven and brush with melted butter. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes, still in the bread pan.