It's snowing! It's snowing! THE APOCALYPSE IS COMING! I hope you bought flour and sugar. I hope you happen to have walnuts in the house. Yes? Wonderful.
Meet my latest, love, the Povitica. It comes from my other latest love, the Great British Baking Show. If I may, for just a moment, evangelize on its (the show's) behalf, it is the sweetest, coziest little food show on television. Contestants do their preparation in advance, and come to weekly competition with dog-eared copies of recipes they’ve developed. If someone runs behind, others pitch in to help out. Even the hosts of the show sometimes provide assistance. There’s a lot of smiling and hugging, absolutely no product placement, and so much Englishness, you won’t know what to do with yourself. It's Victorian sponge for miles.
Don't let the coziness fool you: each episode brings a "bake" more ambitious than the last. There are hot-water pastries and raised yeasted loaves, tiered pies and sculptured cakes. There are desserts you’ve never heard of, from Germany and Poland and France and Croatia, which if you saw in a cookbook might give you pause: lots of ingredients, pages of instruction, no sense of what the thing is supposed to look like if baked correctly. But when a bunch of (okay, very accomplished) home bakers give these recipes a go, under the pressure of a short timeline a televised competition, you watch them, and you think, yeah, maybe I could do that. One minute I’m watching the show, then next, I’m all I must have this in my oven now. That is why last week I up and baked a dobos torte, just because. And then this week, I got baking shpilkes again, so I went totally mad and baked my beloved povitica.
Povitica is, of course, not pronounced as it looks. The GBBS ladies called it “povutchka” and that sounds about as Polish as it should. What is it? Glad you asked. It’s what babka should be. Fighting words, I know. But most babka recipes I’ve made leave you with a big, thick coil of dough and not enough flakiness or layers. Delicious on day 1, but pretty dry by day 2. Not the case with povitica. The dough is so supple and easy to work with, it may become my go-to for yeasted sweet breads from now on. It’s a small ball of dough, but you roll it out so thin that by the time you’ve filled it and rolled it back up, the coil is long enough to fold on itself FOUR times in the pan. After a final rise, it bakes for a full hour – the better to let those lower coils actually rise – and when you slice into the thing, you see four individual spirals organized in each slice. Think of Green’s, but with butter in the dough and good quality chocolate. That’s this.
And the filling! Chocolatey, but – is it possible? – better. It’s a paste of ground walnuts, some cocoa, spices, and (my addition) actual chocolate. As if it isn’t evident, I could not love this more. I may never make another babka again.
With snow on the ground and no plows in sight, this is the time to hunker down, roll up your sleeves, and try your hand at povitica. I've never been more confident in saying this: you won't be disappointed.
Povitica, i.e. The Best Babka Ever
Adapted from the Great British Baking Show, via PBS
First things first: I left in some of the Britishisms in the instructions, because how could I not? Adding salt and yeast into different sides of the mixing bowl is adorable. Now, for the important notes: if this truly is a snow-day project, please don't stress about getting the dough to 40 inches. I couldn't because my counter isn't that long, so I rolled it until it was windowpane-thin and falling off the edge, then called it quits. Don't sweat it.
For the dough:
2 1/3 cups + 1 tablespoon (300g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
3 tablespoons (40g) sugar
1 ⅓ teaspoons (7g) kosher salt
3 teaspoons (10g, or 1 1/3 packets) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, melted
1 large free-range egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
scant ⅔ cup (150ml) whole milk, warmed
For the filling:
4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter
4 tbsp whole milk
2 1/2 cups (280 g, or 10 oz) walnut pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
scant 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or use chips)
1 free-range egg yolk, beaten
1 egg white, for brushing
Make the dough:
Combine flour and sugar into the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt into one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the melted butter, egg, vanilla, and warm milk and begin mixing on a slow speed. When the dough starts to come together, turn mixer to medium and mix 5-8 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth and stretchy. Marvel at your creation; then tip the dough into a buttered mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm(ish?) spot to rise until doubled in size, about one hour. Meanwhile, butter a loaf pan.
Make the filling:
Place the butter and milk in a small pan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat.
Just before rolling out your dough, put walnuts, vanilla, sugar, cocoa, and chocolate into the bowl of a food processor and process into a sandy powder. Add egg yolk and milk-butter mixture, and pulse to combine. This mixture is easier to work with when it's just been made, so hold off on making it until you're about ready to work with the risen dough.
Assemble the povitica:
spread a clean bed sheet or very large linen kitchen towel over a table or your largest counter, and dust with flour. Turn the risen dough out onto the sheet/towel and roll out the dough, gradually and patiently, into a large 20" x 12" rectangle.
Dust your hands with flour and gradually ease them underneath your dough. Using the backs of your hands, stretch the dough out from the center, bit by bit, until very thin and translucent (you should be able to see the sheet through the dough). The rectangle should measure approximately 40" x 24", or as close as you can get to that size; really, don't sweat it.
Taking care not to tear the dough, spread the filling over the dough until evenly covered. If the filling has been standing for a long time and is too thick, add a little warm milk to loosen it. My strategy was to drop bits of the filling evenly across the dough, then use an icing spatula to spread it as best I could. I think it worked pretty well. Some of the GBBS bakers went nuts, rolling out the filling between layers of plastic wrap and then trying to flip the rolled filling onto the dough. This isn't a competition: don't drive yourself crazy. Just spread it out as well as you can.
Starting with the long edge of the dough nearest to you, lift the edge of the sheet/towel to roll the edge of the dough over itself. Roll the dough gently but tightly into a long (loooong), tight coil.
Carefully lift the dough and place one end in the bottom corner of the greased loaf tin. Ease the roll into the base of the tin to form a long ‘U’ shape, then double back laying the roll over the first ‘U’ shape to form a second ‘U’ shape on top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise one hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Brush the dough with beaten egg white and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300F and bake for 45 minutes more, or until golden-brown. Tent with foil if the top begins to darken too much.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. If you'd like, you can make a royal icing to drizzle over the finished babka (so British!), but I like mine pure. Either way, enjoy this thing to high heaven. Day 1, day 2, day 7. All good. It is the best.