October Daring Bakers Challenge – Povitica!

Pizza (left) and Carmelized Onion and Cheddar (right)

The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

Povitica (pronounced po-va-teet-sa) is traditional Eastern European dessert bread that is usually served during the holiday season. It is also known as Nutroll, Potica, Kalachi, Strudia, just to name a few. Family recipes, and the secrets on how to roll the bread so thin, were passed down through generations of families. However, the tradition of baking this type of bread has become somewhat of a dying art form.  I don’t remember having this bread as a child, but we had a similar rolled sweet bread filled with poppy seed called macowiec.  This Daring Baker’s Challenge was a blast, the thin rolling of the dough was extremely challenging, yet therapeutic, satisfying and de-stressing, and the finished loaves were beautiful and delicious!

(makes 4 loaves)

Click here to print this recipe

To activate the yeast:

2 t sugar
1 t flour
4 oz warm water
2 T active dry yeast
For the dough:
16 oz milk
6 oz sugar
3 t salt
4 eggs
4 oz butter, melted
Up to 8 c flour, divided

Walnut Filling:

7 c ground walnuts
8 oz milk
8 oz butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 t vanilla
16 oz sugar
1 t unsweetened cocoa
1 t cinnamon


To activate the yeast, stir 2 t sugar, 1 t flour and the yeast into 4 oz warm water (approx 100° F) in a small bowl 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), 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. In a large bowl, mix the scalded milk, the 6 oz sugar, and the salt until combined.  Add the beaten eggs, yeast mixture, melted butter, and 2 cups of the flour. Blend thoroughly and slowly add remaining flour, mixing well until the dough starts to clean the bowl.  Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead, gradually adding flour a little at a time, until smooth and does not stick. (I used 40 oz.) Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (they will each weight about 1.25 lb) and place dough in 4 lightly oiled bowls, 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.

While the dough is rising, this would be a great time to make your fillings.

Walnut Filling

In a large bowl, mix together the ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa. Heat the milk and butter to boiling. Pour the liquid over the nut/sugar mixture. Add the eggs 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.

Pumpkin Spice Butter

In a medium saucepan, mix together 2 cups pureed pumpkin, 2 fl oz water or, for extra flavor, apple cider, 3/4 c packed brown sugar, 1 t cinnamon, 3/4 t ground cardamom, 3/4 t ground ginger, 1/4 t ground cloves  and 1/4 t salt.  Cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil.  Boil over medium for about 20 minutes, whisking frequently.  The mixture should be bubbling with large pockets of steam and will thicken and darken significantly.  Once thick, remove from heat, stir in the salt and cool.  Can be stored in the fridge for a week or two.

Caramelized onion, garlic and cheddar

Chop 1-2 large onions into small slices and put in a saute pan over medium heat along with 1 T olive oil and about 1 t salt.  Stir to combine, but once onions begin to brown, spread them evenly over the pan, turn the heat to medium-low and leave it alone to caramelize for about  25 minutes.  Put some minced garlic (I used 3 cloves) into the saucepan during the last 5 minutes of cooking.  Set aside to cool.  Shred about 16 oz cheddar cheese and set aside.


Shred 16 oz mozzarella cheese and set aside along with 1 small jar of pizza sauce and 1 package pepperoni.

To Roll and Assemble the Dough:
Spread a clean sheet or cloth over your entire table so that it is covered. (I used the fitted sheet and it grabbed itself nicely around my oval dining room table.)  Sprinkle with a handful of flour (use flour sparingly).

Surface is ready to roll the dough

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 12 inches in diameter. Spoon about 1 t of melted butter on top.  Use the tops of your hands to stretch the dough out from the center until the dough is thin and uniformly opaque. You can also use your rolling pin, if you prefer.  I used a combination of both, but mostly my hands once the dough gets thinner.  As you work, continue 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. When you think it the dough is thin enough, try to get it a little thinner. It should be so thin that you can see the color and perhaps the pattern of the sheet underneath.

The dough should be thin enough to see newsprint or pattern underneath

Spoon filling evenly over dough until covered.

walnut filling spread to the edges

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.  Repeat with remaining three loaves, coiling each rope of dough in its own loaf pan. Brush the top of each sweet loaf with egg whites and sprinkle with 2 T sugar. I sprinkled cheese on the tops of each savory loaf.  Cover pans lightly will plastic wrap and allow to rest for approximately 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Remove plastic wrap from dough and place into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes. Turn down the oven temperature to 300°F and bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until done.  Remove bread from oven and brush with melted butter.  You can cover the loaves with a sheet of aluminum foil at any point during baking if they appear to be getting too brown on top.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes, still in the bread pan.

Pizza loaf just out of the oven

Since the bread weighs over 2 pounds per loaf,  allowing it to cool in the pan helps it to hold its shape and weight.  Once cooled, the best way to cut Povitica loaves into slices is by turning the loaf upside down and slicing with a serrated knife.

Pumpkin spice loaf

There are several options for storing (and eating) your four loaves of Povitica:

• The Povitica will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature.
• The Povitica will keep fresh for 2 weeks if refrigerated.
• The Povitica can be frozen for up to three months when wrapped a layer of wax paper followed by a layer of aluminum foil. It is recommended to not freeze Povitica with cream cheese fillings as it doesn’t hold up to being thawed really well – it crumbles.


Lemon Macarons with Lemon Cream

It’s been over a week since I’ve made macs and I’m going through withdrawal.   I thought I’d brighten things up with some zesty lemon macarons, sandwiched with a lemon cream filling.  I’m still playing around with my mac recipes, the proportions of ingredients, the temp, the sizes, the baking times, the aging of the egg whites.  Some days none of those things seem to matter and some days they all do.  Aaaaargh!   Alas, this is why I love these challenging darlings!

Lemon Macarons with Lemon Cream
makes about 40 2” sandwiched macarons

Click here to print this recipe

5.8 oz almond flour
5.8 oz powdered sugar
pinch salt
4.4 oz egg whites
¼ t cream of tartar
5.8 oz sugar
zest from one lemon
a few drops yellow food coloring

Combine almond flour, powdered sugar and salt in bowl of food processor and pulse to blend.  Sift and place in a big bowl.  Place egg whites in mixer bowl with cream of tartar and begin whipping to soft peaks.  Meanwhile, place sugar (along with about 2 oz water), zest and food coloring in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high until the syrup reaches the soft-ball stage (approximately 235°F).

Immediately pour sugar syrup over beating egg whites and turn up the speed to high.  Continue whipping until just warm.  Place the meringue in the middle of the bowl containing the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Use long “J folds” to get all of the remaining dry ingredients incorporated.  Pipe using a decorating bag onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Rest up to 30-60 minutes to allow macaron shells to form a skin.  Bake in 325°F oven for about 13-16 minutes depending on size.  (Once the feet have formed around 6 minutes, open the oven to allow steam to escape, rotate pans at this time.)  Sandwich cookies with lemon cream when cool.

Lemon Cream
makes about a pint

Combine 1 egg, 1 yolk and ½ cup sugar and whip until doubled in volume.  Scrape into a small saucepan; add 2 oz lemon juice and the zest from one lemon.  Cook over medium until the mixture thickens.  Scrape into a small bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool.  Whip 1 stick butter until softened, then add lemon cream custard, whisk until homogeneous.

Cranberry and Orange Oatmeal Scones

I really wanted to bake something new today.  Something breakfasty, but dessert-like.  Oh, and healthy too.  What?  OK, maybe this really isn’t too healthy, but it feels “good for you” while you are eating it.  It’s loaded with antioxidants (cranberry and orange), plus it has oatmeal in it, which we all know helps to lower cholesterol.  Woo hoo!

Two (additional) thoughts occurred to me as I enrobed myself in my cupcake apron.  1. I don’t have a recipe 2. I have not been to the grocery store.  So, I decided that today’s recipe was going to be a made-from-scratch, learn-as-we-go experiment, based on what I had already in my own house.  (Granted, I usually have a lot more stuff for desserts than most people do in their house, but I still needed to be choosy!)

So, I’d really like to focus on recipe creation for this post.  What goes into your favorite baked goods?  And how much?

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Anatomy of a layer cake


Today I would like to demonstrate how to assemble a simple layer cake, the banana blitz (or nannersplosion, please feel free to comment and let me know which name you like better), from start to finish.

To begin, the cake layers should have been baked, cooled, then wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen overnight. Bring them to room temperature to thaw for 1 hour before assembly. Also, put previously-made buttercream and ganache on the counter at room temperature for an hour as well.

Grab an appropriately sized cake board (at least 1″ larger in diameter than your cake), place a small smear of buttercream on the middle of the board to keep it from sliding. Unwrap one of your cake layers and place it top-side down on the middle of the cake board. If you left your parchment on the cake when it cooled (a good idea), you can place your hand here to steady the cake as you cut it in half. Use a long, sharp, serrated knife (at least a couple inches longer than the cake) and start slicing through on one side in the center of the layer. If you watch the other end of your knife while you are moving the cake around, you will see that the knife continues to follow the path you originally cut. This helps to keep the layers even. Once the cake is cut in layers, remove the top half and set it aside.

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Autumn Macs – Vanilla Bean with Pumpkin Butter and Cinnamon with Pear Cream

I designed today’s baking experiment around making autumn macs that were NOT filled with buttercream.  I’ve had a lot of success filling my recent macarons with buttercream, but I just wanted to try something different.  My first batch today are cinnamon macarons filled with a unique filling called Pear Cream, which is basically a custard mixed with cooked/pureed pears. A splash of pear brandy is added to bring out the flavor and then the custard is blended with butter to give the filling some creaminess.

Todd suggested pairing the filling with cocoa macarons, but he’s out of town and I’m not sure how I feel about chocolate and pear together…So, I decided to make cinnamon macaron shells.  I used a basic recipe to which I added about 2 T of ground cinnamon.

Before I share the pear cream recipe, I would like to take a few moments to talk about custards. Simply and scientifically put, a custard is a liquid thickened or set by the coagulation of an egg product. Doesn’t that sound delicious?? Ha ha. Seriously, there are 2 types of custards, a stirred custard (which is stirred over heat and remains pourable) or a baked custard (which sets as it bakes). The basic rule for any custards is that the internal temperature should never get over 185 F. This is the temperature at which the mixture coagulates and, beyond that, it will curdle. So, what this means is that stirred custards should always be stirred or whisked while being heated and baked custards are baked at a moderate temperature, usually with the use of a water bath to regulate heat distribution. Some examples of custards include creme brulee, bread pudding, creme caramel, cheesecake, quiche and ice cream.

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Some really awesome cookies

So, if the title doesn’t give it away, what follows here is a recipe for some really awesome cookies! If you are a cookie person and don’t already own Carole Walter’s Great Cookies, please do go out and get a copy. You can buy it off Amazon right now for about 20 bucks. It’s the best cookie book out there!!

Anyway, cookies were on the menu on Friday since I found out that I have a nephew who is on the mend and I decided I needed to send him a little care package. These really awesome cookies are easy to make, use ingredients I already have, travel and store well and are AWESOME!

Most people are pretty familiar with how a basic cookie recipe comes together, but this one uses a few alternate ingredients that I’d like to take some time to explain.

One of the first steps for making a cookie is usually the creaming step. Butter is whipped until soft and then sugar(s) mixed in, edges scraped down and mixture continued to be whipped until “light and fluffy.” This recipe, however, uses brown sugar in addition to regular sugar, and it also calls for a small amount of corn syrup. Brown sugar is a less refined sugar than granulated sugar and usually contains molasses. The molasses contributes not only to the distinct flavor of brown sugar, but also to its more hygroscopic nature. Brown sugar contains about 35% more moisture than granulated sugar. Hygroscopic means that it absorbs or attracts moisture. So, when brown sugar is added to a recipe, it serves to allow the cookies to be chewier, even after they have been cooled. The darker the brown sugar (i.e. dark brown sugar), the higher the molasses content. The extra addition of corn syrup in this recipe helps to give the surface of the cookies a little bit of a shine and it browns at a lower temperature than regular sugar. It is also part of the liquid in this recipe, and contributes to the moisture of the cookie while limiting its spread.

Finally, Carole’s recipe incorporates oatmeal in 2 forms, the whole oats that are actually mixed in to the recipe, but there is also a little over a cup of oats that are ground in the food processor and mixed in with the sugar during creaming. This seriously limits the spread potential of these cookies, since the oatmeal binds the dough. This counteracts (in a good way) the impact of the added moisture from the brown sugar, leaving you with a cookie that is magically thick and chewy. On with the recipe…

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
(by Carole Walter)
makes 3 dozen cookies

3/4 c lightly packed brown sugar
2.5 c old fashioned oats, divided
1/3 c sugar
1.25 c flour
3/4 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
8 oz butter, slightly softened
2 T light corn syrup
1 egg
2 t vanilla
2 c semisweet chocolate chips
2 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 375 F and prepare parchment-paper lined sheet pans for baking. Grind brown sugar, 1/2 of the oats and the regular sugar in a food processor and process for 3 minutes until finely ground and powdery. In another bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir in the remaining oats and set aside. Cream the butter and corn syrup in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium, until smooth and lightened in color. Add the oat-sugar mixture in 3 additions and mix well. Add the egg and vanilla and mix for another minute. Add the dry ingredients on low in three additions, mixing just until blended. Mix in the chips and walnuts by hand. Drop golf-ball sized mounds of dough on your cookie sheet, allowing a couple inches between to allow for spreading.

Bake for 10-12 minutes and rotate pans halfway through. Remove from oven when the edges are just beginning to brown, and allow to cool 2 minutes on the pan then move to a cooling rack. Try not to eat them all in one sitting. YUMMY!

My go-to Italian Meringue Buttercream

Anytime I refer to buttercream on this blog, I usually start here. I thought I’d posted this recipe, but I can’t find it, so I’ll publish in a separate, bookmark-it-please post.

Buttercream is a very broad term used to describe all sorts of fillings/icings make with butter. Heck, sometimes people even call them buttercreams if they are made with Crisco. But, I don’t do Crisco. Simple buttercreams (the kind you might find on a cake from a grocery store) are usually a mixture of butter/Crisco plus powdered sugar. They tend to be somewhat grainy, very sweet and hold up well to decorations. If they are part or all Crisco, they also stand up well to heat. (Butter melts, Crisco doesn’t.)

More complex buttercreams involve cooking eggs (whites or yolks or both) with sugar to create a meringue, which is a very stable base for a buttercream icing. A meringue is basically a mixture of egg whites and sugar. For buttercreams, the meringue base (either Swiss or Italian style) is heated for safety and stability and later mixed with butter. The meringue produces an icing with a smoother, lighter texture, a less-sweet taste and a beautiful shine. There are two major differences between Italian Meringue and Swiss Meringue. In a Swiss Meringue, the egg whites and sugar are mixed together and the mixture is heated, usually over a double-boiler (indirect heat) to a temperature of 140 F (just almost too hot to touch and, significantly the temperature needed to kill salmonella). The mixture is then whipped until cool. This is a Swiss Meringue. To make an Italian Meringue, the egg whites are whipped separately while the sugar is heated with a little water to make a hot sugar syrup. This syrup is cooked to around 243 F (just at the end of the soft-ball stage) and then poured over whipping egg whites to form a very stable, glossy meringue. Once the meringue is cool, the butter can be added, along with any flavorings or additions. This is where it always starts!

Italian Meringue Buttercream

My basic formula is:

x oz egg whites
2x oz sugar + enough water to moisten
2-3x oz butter

A really awesome thing about this recipe is that it can be made with any quantity of egg whites you have on hand and scaled up or down based on how much buttercream you need. So, for example, one large egg white weighs/measures about an ounce. When I separate 4 eggs, I have about 4 ounces of egg whites (save your yolks in another container with plastic wrap on the surface). Place the egg whites in a mixer bowl (may want to add a pinch of cream of tartar to help with stability and volume). In a saucepan, use double the weight of sugar, so in this example 8 oz sugar (if you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can look up the weight of 1 cup of sugar and, guess what?!? One cup of sugar weighs 8 oz.) I do use a kitchen scale religiously, which makes things easier if, say, your 4 egg whites come out to 4.4 oz and you need to use 8.8 oz sugar. A scale makes things a little more exact.

Using the instructions above, mix in just enough water to the sugar to moisten the sugar, begin to cook over high-medium heat. (At this time, also begin whipping your egg whites on medium speed.) You can use a candy thermometer or, if you don’t have one, you can use visual cues or the ice water test for the sugar stage. Once the syrup reaches close to the soft-ball stage, you will notice that the bubbles on the surface of the syrup begin to get larger and slow down. Once at that stage you can grab a very small amount out of the hot syrup (you can use a fork or your fingers, but in that case be careful not to go in for more than a second) and drop it into a nearby cup of very cold/ice water. The drop of sugar syrup should form a soft ball that squishes between your fingers. Once you’ve done this a number of times, the visual cues alone may be enough to tell you that the syrup is ready. This process takes about 10 minutes. When the syrup is almost done, check to see that your egg whites are at soft peaks. (If the egg whites reach soft peaks before the syrup is done, turn the mixer down to low while the syrup finishes cooking.) With the mixer running at high speed, pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl, being careful not to let it splash out onto the whisk attachment (or it will be flung everywhere). Whip until the meringue is glossy and mostly cool, another 10 minutes. This is something you will want to do in a stand mixer. Holding a hand mixer this long can be difficult. Once the meringue is no longer hot, you can add in your butter, about 1 T at a time, until the mixture emulsifies and looks like a smooth, shiny icing.

Some flavor suggestions:
Coffee-1 T instant espresso in 1/2 T warm water
Lemon-1 fl oz strained lemon juice or 1 T curd
Orange-1 fl oz OJ or Grand Marnier or 1 T curd
Liqueur-1 fl oz liqueur (Kirsch, Framboise, Rum)
Praline-3 oz praline paste
Nuts-4 oz toasted finely chopped nuts & 1 oz complimentary alcohol (optional)