Recipe: Croatian Holiday Nut Roll (Povatica)

It’s all in the wrist. The secret to making good Povatica, that is. This famous Croatian Holiday Nut Roll gives its maker a workout. You will be rolling, and pulling, and stretching the dough until it is thin, thin, thin.

We’re talkin’ paper thin, like a curtain of dough, blowing in the breeze.

I bet Croatian grandmother’s everywhere compete for the most delicate, thin walled Povatica. (Note this bread is also common- under various names- in other areas, such as Poland, Austria, etc)

Unlike cinnamon buns, which ooze fluffy bready goodness as much as anything else, Povatica is all about showing off the filling, framed by delicate layers of bread.

And Povatica is worth the effort.

Here’s one Croatian’s description of good Povatica:

I’ve tasted many different versions of Povatica. Some are made with honey and tend to be heavy, others are too doughy. My grandmother’s version is, to me, the perfect balance of dough and filling. Made properly (with dough stretched thin), it is delectable. My mother put together the recipe while watching my grandmother make the bread, as she cooked without recipes. I’ve traveled in Yugoslavia and seen a similar version of this bread in Slovenia. It was called “Potica”. My grandparents came to Kansas City, KS, from a village in Croatia in the early part of the twentieth century. Grandma made this rich, rolled nut bread for holidays and other special days. She was a master at stretching the dough thin. For
weddings, women in the Croation community of Strawberry Hill gathered together and made many loaves of Povatica for the two-day celebration.

M. Matson in the “The Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook”

The easiest way to roll dough: When you roll out the dough, make sure you take short breaks when it starts to spring back, like a rubber band. Just 30 seconds – a minute gives the gluten in the dough time to relax and will minimize your struggles. Since this recipe makes 2 loaves, you’ll be able to alternate rolling and the timing will work out perfectly.

Please note the next time I make this (and, yes, there will be a next time – perhaps for Christmas morning), I will work to get the dough twice as thin as you see here.

Makes 2 loafs


For the bread:

2 tsp yeast
1 cup milk, room temperature/warm
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
4 1/2 – 5 cups of flour

For the filling:

2 cups whole walnuts
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 cup milk


1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine milk and yeast. Let sit and froth up for about 10 minutes.

Add in sugar…

Eggs and softened butter. Both the eggs ad the butter help make this bread rich, and tender – like brioche.

A bit of salt gives dimension. Salt is flavor jewelery. Without it, everything is okay. But with it? Stunning!

Add in flour and mix/beat with the dough hook for about 10 minutes. The dough should be soft and pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. It should not be sticky, nor dry.

Here is mine after mixing.

Let it rise for 1.5 hours. Be sure to cover the dough, so it won’t dry out. I left mine in the mixing bowl and draped a towel over it.

Meanwhile for the filling:

Pull out your food processor and add in the walnuts,

brown sugar (is there anything better in this world?)

and a dab of butter and scoop of cinnamon. Oh cinnamon… you are like the holiday messenger, coming to tell me it’s time to celebrate!

Splash in a drizzle of vanilla extract. Did you know that you can wear vanilla extract like perfume? My mom always dabs a little on her wrists when she bakes. I do the same because I value tradition and smelling like cookies.

I gave everything a quick pulse and then realized – oops, need a little milk. Just enough to get this paste loose for spreading. 1/8 cup should be plenty.

Here’s my ooey gooey ball of sweet, scrumptious filling… someone pick my husband up off the floor. He just fainted.

Meanwhile, our dough has been very busy. Look how beautiful! The warm milk really helps the yeast get going faster.

Divide the dough into 2 evenly sized sections…

And roll them out. I am putting this in loaf pans, so the dough should be roughly the width of a loaf pan (I made mine a little too big which caused  buckling in one loaf pan). Anyway, just as thin as you can! Alas, a Croatian grandmother, I am not.

Spread on the gooey, paste-like filling. Hear your heart flutter. (PS see that pan hanging behind the mixer? Read about the time I bought it)

Sprinkle one Povatica with raisins, if that’s how you roll.

The raisins really dismayed Mr. Picky but I remained steadfast and strong.

Once tightly rolled, pinch the ends so no filling oozes out.

And place in an oiled loaf pan.

Let rest another thirty minutes to an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F

Bake 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown. While still warm, spread with butter.

You heard me.

It gives the dry crust an alluring sheen, even once cool.

Oh heavens.

Let cool 2 hours before slicing.

Just kidding.

But try to wait at least 30 minutes, or the filling will fall apart on you.

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  1. Oh dear. I think you are aware of my love of swirly bread… this looks heavenly!

    I wonder if it could be made sans the walnuts, to make it more school friendly? I know… loses nearly all of the appeal.

    Maybe I’ll just have to make it for a weekend treat… and how about spreading it with nutella? ;)

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Ha! Astrid, I heard you could make this with poppy seeds instead, but I don’t have the quantities for that. As for no walnuts… it would probably be more like a cinnamon roll… you’d need more sugar and probably more butter. Good luck… the bread would be good even on its own btw. Sort of brioche-like.

  2. Oh man, this looks delicious !! I think I’ve eaten something similar in Slovakia with poppy seeds, but a thicker dough – but it was absolutely delicious ! Now that I see the recipe I think it’s not that big a deal and I can try it ! Thank you !

  3. Mercy, this is BEAUTIFUL!!! Sigh, those glossy loaves delight my heart and make me wish for a whole day at home to bake to my heart’s content. :-) Wonderful job!!!

  4. This is lovely. It reminds me of kolache.

  5. This really looks wonderful. I have marked this recipe to definitely try out. I am kind of yeast bread deficient, but I want to try this!

  6. …baking – at last – you truly look like you are
    “in your element..”…

  7. I stumbled upon this recipe through one of the food photography sites. Thank you so much for providing this recipe! I like in Kansas City, and at one point I lived in the Strawberry Hill area. Povatica is my favorite dessert, and Strawberry Hill’s is the best. I’ve been vegan for a year now though, so I can’t eat it. Strawberry Hill is being sold at ALL the grocery stores and farmer’s markets because of the time of year. Now I can make it, and stop torturing myself!

    I could be wrong, but I’ve heard that making a single loaf of bread takes up several tables because they roll their dough so thin.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Teigan, welcome to the Adventure :) I’m sure you’re right about the tables – I wish I could get my dough as thin as theirs… absolutely incredible. Keep in touch! :)

  8. Thanks for the idea. I did deviate from the tradicional and did not use raisins (my grandmother would be appealed :) but it worked quite well!

  9. Bonnie Serben says:

    I’ve been making this dessert at Christmas for years. I stumbled upon a recipe in a magazine in the mid 1970’s. I roll it a lot thinner than shown on this site and my recipe makes two large breads or three smaller ones. I mold my filled dough into snail-like shapes and bake them.

    My son doesn’t like walnuts, so I use pecans, which makes for a sweeter bread. Sometimes I add golden raisins and sometimes I don’t, it’s good either way. I like the pecans so well I never bake any other filling, but sometime I’m going to bake one with poppyseed or levkar (prune) filling.

    My husband is half Croatian and half Serbian, so this bread is right down his alley. When my in-laws were still living, I would bring them a loaf and they seemed to like it a lot.

  10. Hi Sasha, I have made it to Croatia on my culinary journey, and since I make a dish (not a meal) for each country, I have decided to make Povatica. Since we will have cousins visiting from California for Orthodox Easter (April 15, 2012) this will make a wonderful breakfast treat with our colored eggs!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Fantastic! I hope it comes out as well as it did for us – good luck and have a fantastic time with your family :)

  11. Baking this, but used what we had on hand for the filling (mixed nuts, no peanuts). Filling was delicious, but not spreadable even after the addition of 5 Tbs of milk. So, we rolled it out between parchment and Saran, transferred the filling to the rolled out dough, and had great success! Just an idea if anyone wanted to fill with a nut with a lower oil content, or just generally finding the filling difficult to spread.

  12. Jim Palmisano says:

    Strawberry Hill in KC! Enough said. The best Povatica in the world. My dad grew up in KCKS and ran with the Hunkies(as they called them) and still has friends in Strawberry Hill. He buys an annual loaf for Christmas from someone in SH every year. I don’t know anyone that has tried it that doesn’t absolutely crave it once tasted.

    Ty, ty, ty!

  13. Del Smoljan says:

    how do I print this recipe so I can make it. Also the pictures help a lot.
    Thank you

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Hi Del – we’ve had problems with our printer functionality but hope to have this restored in the next month or two. Thank you for your patience – glad you like the pictures :)

  14. This is a cake found in many Central and East-European countries eaten usually during Christmas. It is a great cake and there is no way you will not get fab results by following this recipe. I would not worry too much about the way you roll the dough, thin or thick the filling is so delicious… I would like to congratulate you for this blog, what a wonderful ideea to “cook” the world :). I have cooked other recipes from your site and they turned out great. One more thing, the recipes chosen for the country I am from are very representative for it and delicious…

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