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Potica for the Holidays

December 9, 2019

Potica (po-TEET-sa) is a traditional Slovenian walnut bread, usually made around Christmas and Easter. Both sides of my family are from Slovenia, so potica was always available.

The bread takes an entire day to make. If you start at 8 a.m., you’ll be lucky to finish by 7 p.m. The dough is very large and rises several times before being rolled out across the entire surface of a table covered with a cotton cloth. After spreading the walnut filling on the dough, one end of the cloth is gently lifted. The dough then rolls itself into one long log; sections can be cut to make either loaves or buns.

My grandparents emigrated to the Indianapolis westside neighborhood known as Haughville. Originally settled by Germans and Irish, it eventually became a destination for Slovenians in the late 1880s. My grandfather Turk opened a tavern on Holmes Avenue and my grandfather Berkopes was across the street. The Slovenian National Home – the “Nash” – was just around the corner on 10th Street, the site of wedding receptions and Christmas parties.

The Slovenian National Home was founded in 1918. This structure was built in 1940 at the corner of 10th Street and Warman Avenue. The Haughville Slovenian community used the building for dances, plays and banquets. It is still used today.

Here’s my mom’s recipe – she always made loaves and buns (10 to 12). The recipe can be easily halved. Changes I’ve made are in parentheses.

POTICA – NUT CAKE

2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups flour
2 cakes yeast
2 cups milk lukewarm
rind of 1 lemon grated

Crumble the yeast in the bowl, add the lukewarm milk and 1 cup of flour and set aside to rise in a warm place. Cream the butter, add sugar and lemon rind, eggs and stir well. Then add the rest of the flour and yeast mixture alternately. Mix well, adding more flour only if needed to knead, and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Set aside in a warm place to double its bulk. Take it out, put on a floured board, knead it and form into two loaves, then put it aside and let rise again for half an hour.

Roll out, not too thin (use a clean cotton tablecloth, washed with no fabric softener, lightly floured), spread with nut mixture and roll up, then put in a well-greased pan and let rise till double in bulk (use a small saucer to cut dough into desired sizes). (After rising final time, brush all exposed surfaces with an egg wash). Bake in a moderate oven – 325 or 350 degrees until thoroughly baked about 1 hour.

Nut filling

2 lbs. walnuts (ground)
1 lemon rind
2 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
(1 teaspoon nutmeg)
(Dash almond extract)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 eggs well beaten
2 tablespoons butter
(2 cups sugar)
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups milk or more as needed ¾ cups milk or more

Scald milk and butter together. Pour over the rest of the ingredients. Last, add beaten eggs (make sure to temper eggs before adding to mixture).

Add raisins if you like (NO! NO! The Turks are a no-raisin family!).

David Turk

David Turk is the manager of the Preservation Imaging Department. He has made potica twice.

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