Povitica, or Croatian walnut bread, is a nostalgic favorite of many Eastern Europeans and their descendants. Also known as Orehnjača (walnut bread) and Makovnjača (poppy seed bread) in Croatia, Povitica is a favorite of many other neighboring cultures. Known also as Potica in Slovenia, Orechovnik in Slovakia and Štrudla in Serbian, recipes vary from region to region and family to family.
Povitica is rolled yeast bread, somewhat akin to strudel. It is typically served at special occasions, such as the holidays, birthdays and weddings. The versatility of this bread makes it perfect for morning coffee, or as a simple dessert. By some, the process of making povitica is revered as a dying art, made by long gone grandmas and aunts in the “old country.” In the United States, many immigrants have brought their family recipes for povitica and have passed them down, preserving the tradition. It is said that a gift of povitica from one family to another is a symbol of respect, making it a perfect hostess gift.
The sweetened dough is rolled out very thin and flat, and then is slathered with filling. While walnut is the most traditional of the fillings used to make povitica, other choices of fillings include hazelnuts, chocolate, poppyseed, strawberry jam, apples, cherry, pumpkin and cream cheese. After the filling is spread over the dough, it is rolled tightly, into a simple roll and baked, or placed into a loaf pan for a more uniform loaf.
The end result presents beautifully — the rolled dough and filling create a swirled slice when cut. Unlike some coffee cakes and strudels that many Americans are familiar with, povitica is not especially sweet — it doesn’t contain as much sugar as some other cake-like breads. Though best eaten hot from the oven, povitica will keep for several months when frozen.
Recipes for povitica abound on the Internet, and there are Croatian cookbooks devoted to the bread. For those who yearn for a loaf of povitica, several online shops sell a little piece of the old country, shipped fresh from the oven.