Tomorrow, Jan. 7, is Christmas for Orthodox Christians around the world.
In Montana, many of those people are of Serbian, Russian, Greek and similar heritages.
My father’s parents were Serbian, and we celebrated Orthodox holidays as well as those celebrated in our own faith each year. Some years it meant that we had two Christmases, two New Year’s Days and two Easters.
Orthodox Christmas occurs on Jan. 7 because the churches use the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar, which was developed in the 16th century is used by Catholics and Protestants and in much of secular life throughout the world.
I can remember rounding a table covered in white cloth when I was just tall enough to see over the table edge and coming nose to nose with a wonderful-smelling, but downright scary looking, roasted pig on one Orthdox Christmas. Roast pig is a traditional dish at Orthodox Christmas celebrations.
My family always had a wonderful nut bread called Povatica. It can be made in many ways. I find it best served with softened butter and sliced fairly thin. Many families in Butte also serve the bread, which does take some solid preparation time because it does require yeast action.
It’s key to not overcook the bread, which can be quite dense, but flavorful. I do know some people who serve it with honey on top to complement the honey used in the filling.
You can adjust the amount of cinnamon in the filling to suit your taste or use cardamom. Some cooks also use a small amount of finely chopped apple in the filling, which can help keep the bread moist.
In some areas of the United States with larger populations of Orthodox worshippers, peach, strawberry or other flavors also show up in a more dessert-oriented version of the bread.
One of the keys to making Povatica with walnut filling is to grind the nuts to what I call walnut fluff. An old-fashioned hand-crank grinder works well because you can control the consistency better than with an electric hand grinder. But the hand-crank method takes a bit of work, while the electric grinder makes quick work of this step.
Be sure to run your hands through the ground walnuts to eliminate any chunks that remain.
Here is one recipe for the bread:
1 cup water at 105 to 115 degrees
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter at room temperature
1/2 cup instant nonfat dry milk (in dry form)
3-1/2 to 4cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. ground cardamom seed or cinnamon
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
4 cups walnut meats, finely ground (1 lb.)
Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Let stand for 2 minutes. (Be sure that you see the yeast start to bloom.)
Add salt, butter, dry milk and 2 cups flour. Mix until smooth and beat for 2 minutes. Let rise, uncovered, for 30 to 45 minutes until bubbly.
Stir in 1 cup of the remaining flour. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface (using some of the remaining flour) and knead for 4 to 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic; add only as much flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking. The dough should be soft.
Place the dough in a buttered large bowl, and turn one time to bring the buttered side up.
Cover dough with a clean kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place until double in volume, about 1-1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, grease two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans. Just before the dough is finished rising, make the walnut filling according to the directions below.
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough in half. Cover the dough and let it stand for 5 minutes.
Roll 1 piece of dough into a 11-by-16-inch rectangle. As you roll the dough, it will become quite thin and will require that you stretch the dough carefully to avoid tears.
Spread half of the walnut filling evenly over the dough to within 1 inch of the edges. Starting from a narrow side, roll the dough like a jelly roll.
Turn the edges under slightly and tuck them as needed. Place the roll, with the seam down, in a prepared pan.
Repeat with the remaining half of the dough. Cover and let rise for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. The dough may not swell to double in size.
Place the pans on a shelf near the top of an unheated oven and turn on the oven to 325 degrees. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, or until done.
Remove the pans to pans on a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Turn the loaves out of the pans and let them cool completely. Makes two loaves.
For the walnut filling: In a medium saucepan, cook the brown sugar and butter over medium-high heat.
When the butter and sugar are melted and the mixture is bubbly, take the pan off the heat. Stir in the eggs, cardamom or cinnamon, vanilla and ground walnuts.
Cool the filling gently, stiffing often, before using. Makes about 3 cups of filling.