Known as Potica (poh-TEET-sah) among Slovenians and povitica (poh-vee-TEET-sah) among Croatians, this sweet or savory pastry is made with a yeast-raised dough that is rolled or stretched out thinly and then spread with a filling.
It is then rolled up jellyroll-style and baked variously as a log. in a crescent shape, in a loaf pan or in a Bundt pan.
Finely ground walnuts sweetened with honey or sugar is the traditional filling and that's why many people refer to these pastries as nut rolls.
Poppy seed roll (makowiec in Polish) is another popular variation but, today, almost anything goes filling-wise.
Popular Throughout Europe
These rolls are popular throughout Central and Eastern Europe and are known as gubana, guban'ca, or potica in Slovene, povitica, gibanica, orahnjača / orehnjača in Croatian and Serbian, orechovník in Slovak, strucla orzechami in Polish, orehnjaea and diosbejgli in Hungarian, banitsa in Bulgarian and on and on.
Derivation of the Name Potica
Its name derives from the Slovenian word poviti, which means "to wrap in." Every family has its favorite recipe and a walnut potica, the most popular kind, can vary from one household to the next.
Sweet potica can be served as dessert with coffee or dry white wine, and savory potica is delicious as a side to the main meal or as a snack with cold beer.
Nick Carmody, the co-owner with his mother, Mary Carmody, and head baker of Rocky Mountain Potica bakes up one of the moistest versions of this dessert.
Nick Carmody says, "Our family has been making potica for hundreds of years. We continue to use our time-tested English Walnut recipe, but we have also added a few twists and given the potica some interesting new flavors.
Rocky Mountain Potica is a family-owned and operated business. Carmody's grandparents, Mary Kajfez-Gornik and Ludvik Gornik, emigrated from Slovenia, a province of the former Yugoslavia, when Ludvik's uncle (Frank Gozvoda), who lived in Cleveland, acted as their sponsor.
After being processed at Ellis Island, the Gorniks settled in a Slovenian community located an hour north of Chicago.
"For centuries, our Slovenian ancestors baked poticas in villages that were nestled in the Julian Alps. Similarly, Rocky Mountain Poticas are mountain-made at our facility 9,300 feet above sea level in Conifer, Colo."
How can you miss with a company that plays polka music when your phone call is on hold? That's what happens when you call Strawberry Hill Povitica Co.
Strawberry Hill History
Dennis O'Leary, president and owner of Strawberry Hill Povitica Co., does not have one drop of Irish blood coursing through his veins as his name might imply. His mother, Mary Ann Uzelac (now deceased), was Serbian and his father, Harley O'Leary (also now deceased), who founded the company in 1984 in Kansas City, Kan., was Croatian. O'Leary was his stepfather's name.
"My parents got divorced in 1982 and Dad's in-laws wouldn't share any povitica with him for the holidays, so Dad got his mother's recipe and started making it himself," O'Leary says.
"Dad asked for Mom's advice and she told him how to improve it. Even though they were divorced, they worked on the recipe together, but it was Dad's company that he operated until his death several years ago."
How Strawberry Hill Povitica Is Made
Strawberry Hill's povitica starts with a sweet yeast dough that is rolled out by a mechanical sheeter to a certain thinness and then the dough is transferred to a tablecloth and the rolling and filling is finished by hand.
"Our English walnut filling is sweetened with honey and contains butter. Mom's side used to put cocoa powder in theirs, but Dad's side didn't and his prevailed," O'Leary says.
About 2 pounds of filling is spread onto each piece of dough, measuring 2 1/2 feet long by 18 inches wide, and then the tablecloth is used to roll the povitica into a long cylinder.
"In the old days, the ovens were larger and could accommodate a long cylinder. As they got smaller, home cooks had to figure out how to bake their povitica. Some made it in a 'U' or horseshoe shape but Dad wanted to do it one better, so he shaped it into an 'S' and baked it in a loaf pan," O'Leary says.
The povitica is milk washed and baked. It cools overnight and is packaged and shipped the next day in the signature gift box with the strawberry logo.
Strawberry Hill Povitica Varieties
Now located in Lenexa, Kan., in 7,800 square feet of space, the company features seasonal flavors like cranberry for fall and winter and blueberry cream cheese for Mother's Day, in addition to the English walnut, cream cheese, strawberry cream cheese, chocolate chip cream cheese, raisin walnut and apple cinnamon.
The Tradition of Povitica Giving
"I’m really proud of my heritage. I think Eastern Europe has some of the best food in the world. When grandma would sit in the kitchen and make 12 loaves of povitica, she would have them earmarked for family members, but there were always four or five extra loaves. When she shared them with friends or extended family, it was the ultimate sign of respect. So when you get the gift of povitica, you should feel honored," O'Leary says.
To add to the confusion, Butter Maid Bakery, located in Boardman, Ohio, calls their nut rolls kolachi.
Butter Maid says, "'Nut roll' is the generic name for our kolachi. Our original kolachi are filled with walnuts but, over time, as different fillings were added, the distinction was lost and all rolls, regardless of the flavor, became known as kolachi."