See more recipes in the award-winning cookbook, Cook Eat Slovenia, available here
I must confess that, while I watched my mom making potica many times, it was only many years later, when I found granny Neža’s potičnik (a traditional ceramic round baking mold with a flat bottom, a fluted outside edge and a hole in its center) up in the attic, that I mustered the courage to put her potica recipe to the test. Potica is, after all, the most recognized Slovenian dish, and it was high time for me to meet this “queen” head-on.
Potica, a rolled pastry stuffed with various fillings, is the queen of Slovenian holiday dishes, indispensable at weddings and baptisms. My favorite is tarragon potica, which is considered a classic. In Slovenian cuisine, tarragon is interestingly used only in sweet dishes.
Potičnik, 27 cm (10 inches) in diameter
400 g (3 cups or 14 oz) soft pastry flour
200 g (1 1/4 cups or 7 oz) strong bread flour
42 g (1.5 oz) fresh yeast
100 g (1/2 cup or 3.5 oz) sugar
5 g (0.2 oz) salt
1 tbsp rum
300 ml (1 ¼ cups or 10 fl oz) lukewarm milk
8 g (0.3 oz) vanilla sugar
50 g (1.8 oz) butter
4 egg yolks
1/2 lemon, zested
50 g (1.8 oz) butter
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
180 g (6.3 oz) sour cream
150 g (3/4 cup or 5.3 oz) sugar
8 g (0.3 oz) vanilla sugar
200 g (7 oz) fresh tarragon, leaves only, or 15 g (0.5 oz) dry tarragon
You will also need:
Butter for buttering the baking mold/potičnik
Strong bread flour to facilitate the dough rolling process
Caster sugar and a thin wooden stick
Place the eggs and yeast at room temperature at least half an hour before baking. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl (I prefer plastic bowls with covers) to make for a lighter and airier texture. Mix gently to ensure both types of flour are well integrated. Don’t use a bowl that is cold to the touch, as it will interfere with the quality of your leavened dough.
Crush the yeast into a small bowl, add one teaspoon of sugar, 4 tablespoons of lukewarm milk and 1 tablespoon of sifted flour. Stir gently, cover the bowl with a dishcloth and allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it doubles in size, for 10-15 minutes. In cold weather, set the mixture in a warm place to expedite fermentation.
Egg Yolk Mixture
Beat the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla sugar, rum, lemon zest and salt into a fluffy mixture before adding lukewarm milk to it.
Melt the butter and allow it to cool, so it’s not too hot when mixed with the flour.
Return to the bowl of sifted flour and form a well in the center, then pour in the yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon to gradually fold the flour from the edges into the yeast mixture.
Now add the egg yolk mixture and stir again before adding the melted butter. Take 20 minutes to knead the ingredients until they form a soft, silky texture that doesn't stick to your hands or the bowl. Add some strong bread flour if necessary. Then form a loaf, put it into a bowl and seal it with a cover or plastic wrap and allow it to rise to twice its original size—about an hour to an hour and a half. For best leavening results, keep the room temperature above 25°C/77°F.
In the meantime, prepare the filling. Sauté the breadcrumbs in butter and wait until they cool. Add the egg yolk, sour cream, vanilla sugar and mix. Beat the egg white with one tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt until stiff and fold it carefully into the filling.
Before you coat the dough with the filling, prepare the work surface. Lay a large dishcloth over it and sprinkle evenly with strong bread flour.
Place the dough on the dishcloth and roll it out to form a square that is 1 finger width thick (1 cm/0.4 inches). Once rolled, the dough should measure 55x55 cm (21x21 inches) in size, which is a perfect fit for a 27 cm (10 inches) potičnik.
Spread the filling evenly to the edge of the rolled-out dough and sprinkle tarragon and sugar over it. Begin rolling up the dough from one side, gently pulling inwards on the emerging tube to ensure the flat dough ahead is taut.
Use fingers while rolling up the dough to squeeze out trapped air, in order to prevent air bubbles from forming during baking. Pinch in the side edges as you go, to avoid filling-free bites. Continue until the dough is rolled up.
Butter the potičnik and use a kitchen cloth to determine the length of the dough to match the circumference of the potičnik.
Feel free to cut away the edges as necessary, to ensure a proper fit. Place the dough in the potičnik. Use a thin wooden stick to poke holes through the dough to facilitate air expulsion, then cover it with a dishcloth and set it in a warm place for another one-hour leavening session. Preheat the convection oven to 180°C/350°F. Perforate the dough again, put it in the oven and bake for one hour.
If the crust turns yellow before the end of baking, cover the potica with baking paper, but if possible keep the oven closed the entire time.
When baked (check by piercing the dough with a knife blade-it’s done when the blade is clean), take the mold out of the oven and immediately flip it over and put the potica to slide out. Allow it to cool, preferably on a wooden surface, then sprinkle caster sugar over it.
You might know Špela Vodovc from the Cook Eat Slovenia cooking and hiking tours she’s been running for a number of years, or from the cookbook of the same name that came out last year. It’s a beautiful book, full colour, well written and well made, with an excellent selection of tried and trusted Slovenian recipes for all seasons and occasions.
The book itself has won three awards at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2020, for best translated, best self-published, and best food tourism cookbook for Slovenia, and as the second best in the world for food tourism, and third best for self-published. I have a copy, and it really is a thing of beauty, with photography by Mateja Jordović Potočnik, cooking and food styling by Špela and her mother Branka Vodovc and Špela Vodovc, and design by Gregor Žakelj. You can pick up a copy at various stores in Ljubljana, or order one online here, but for the next few weeks, as we’re mostly stuck at home and not eating out, Špela has kindly offered to share some of her recipes with our readers.