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(Eastern European) Marbled Pecan Bread

I was halfway through writing up the recipe for this marbled pecan bread before realizing it was... pretty involved. It's not difficult, just involved. But it's quite tasty and freezes well. Definitely a worthy project for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

I’m hesitant to ascribe any particular geographic origin to this delicious marbled pecan bread, since I think the original source of this recipe got it wrong (more on that below). I do feel confident enough to say that the general type of bread – a nut roll – is an Eastern European thing. Whether this is potica or povitica or poticza, I don’t know. I just know it’s dang good and this recipe isn’t as fussy as some of them out there.

marbled pecan bread in a slice
Given that my 38th birthday was just a couple weeks ago, I’m delighted that this bread formed a 38. It feels auspicious!

I have a dear friend in Kansas City who has repeatedly mentioned this mysterious, nutty, thinly layered bread to me. I think she’s probably the reason I decided to try the “poticza” recipe from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion cookbook. It’s a massive tome that strikes me as a sort of Joy of Cooking for all things baking. Honestly, I’m still a bit on the fence about the book, but I like having it around as a reference guide if nothing else.

King Arthur flour seems to be the only ones on the interwebs who call it poticza, which is one of the reasons I’m dubious about the recipe’s “authenticity.” There are also significant discrepancies between the KAF online recipe and the one in the cookbook. I used the one in the cookbook, and I’m happy with it, so I haven’t felt the need to test the online version.

From what I understand, the kind of authentic bread that my friend pines for (however it’s spelled) has much thinner layers – and is thereby a much bigger pain in the ass. So, make no mistake, I don’t think this particular iteration of marbled pecan bread is any specific kind of regional delicacy. I think it’s an approximation that tastes good and isn’t too much hassle, which is definitely enough for me.

I’ve made this bread three times now, twice with pecans and once with almonds (for a friend who is allergic to pecans), and it’s good both ways. It keeps well, it makes a really yummy french toast, and it’s a nice morning or afternoon snack, especially if you pop a slice in the microwave for a few seconds.

A note on ingredients: the first time I decided to make this bread, I went ALL OVER TOWN trying to track down potato flour. It was an escapade and a testament to my general stubborn-minded commitment to following the recipe. I somehow failed to read the “optional” tag in the ingredient list (the online version doesn’t say optional, so who knows). I also learned that potato flour and potato starch are two different things. You want potato flour, and if you’re planning ahead, save yourself the headache and order it online. I eventually tracked some potato flour down, but dried potato flakes are much easier to find, so go for those if you can’t find the flour.

Second note: this takes a LOT of nuts. Like, a lot. Like, definitely a trip to Costco kind of a lot. Five cups total, somewhere around 20 ounces. The baked loaf weighs over a pound and a half. These suckers are substantial. So, it’s not the cheapest bread to bake, and that’s probably why it’s often a more festive sort of loaf to whip together.

Final note: I like to roll the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper, which serves as a decent guide for measurement and also ensures the dough doesn’t stick to the counter. That was a concern for me, since you’re rolling that stuff so dang thin. Parchment works well, so I recommend using it.

marbled pecan bread rolled out and filled

So much filling! I used my hands to spread it around – it’s thick and sticky and not very conducive to using a knife or offset spatula. Much easier to just get in there and muck around. Also, you’re theoretically rolling out a 14″x28″ rectangle to then cut into 14×14 squares. Measuring out the parchment to 29 inches or so helps serve as a guide.

(Eastern European) Marbled Pecan Bread

(from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion – with adapted instructions)

Note on timing: this takes between 4-5 hours from start to finish, so it’s a bit of an all-day/all-evening affair. Timing varies depending on temperature of the room. If it’s cooler, the dough will take longer to rise.

Note on nuts: pretty much any combination of nuts will work. I’ve used chopped almonds and almond meal. You can also do a combination of pecans and walnuts. If you use almonds, substitute 1 teaspoon almond extract for one of the teaspoons of vanilla.

DOUGH (make first):

  • 3/4 cup milk (preferably whole, but 2% is probably fine)
  • 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
  • 3 cups (12.75 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1.5 oz) potato flour OR 1/3 cup (.75 oz) potato flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs

FILLING (make while dough rises):

  • 5 cups (18.5 oz) pecans, toasted and divided:
    • 3 cups (10.5 oz) pecans ground into a fine meal
    • 2 cups (8 oz) roughly chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
  • 3 large eggs

MAKE THE DOUGH: start by heating the 3/4 cup milk in a small saucepan set over medium heat. You want to get it warm enough that small bubbles form along the edges and it starts to steam. Then remove from heat and add the 4 tablespoons butter. Stir until the butter melts and set aside to cool to lukewarm. Go measure out your other ingredients at this point, and make yourself a cup of coffee. You want to give the milk a little while to cool off.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a large bowl), whisk together the dry ingredients: 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup potato flour OR 1/3 cup potato flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast. Once the milk mixture is cooled to lukewarm, add it to the bowl. Then, add the 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 2 eggs. With a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, give the dough a good stir to combine the ingredients.

With the dough hook attachment, set the mixer on low to knead for 5-10 minutes. You can also knead by hand if you don’t have a mixer. The dough will likely be sticky at first, but resist the temptation to add more flour. It will come together if you give it time. You want the dough to form a smooth ball.

Once the dough has come together, lightly grease a large bowl with cooking spray and set the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and set it to rest in a warm place for about an hour. It won’t necessarily double in size like many yeasted doughs, but it should puff up and increase in size noticeably.

MAKE THE FILLING (while the dough rests): first, toast the 5 cups of pecans. Heat the oven to 350° F and spread the nuts evenly on a baking sheet. Toast for 5-7 minutes, keeping an eye on them and potentially stirring after a few minutes. Once you start to smell the lovely nutty smell, they are probably close to done. Set them aside to cool and turn off the oven.

Grind 3 cups of the toasted pecans in a food processor until it breaks down into a fine, sandy meal. Be careful not to over-grind as they can turn into pecan butter if you leave it too long. Pour the pecan meal into a medium-sized bowl. You can then use the food processor to chop the remaining 2 cups pecans by pulsing a few times. You can also just use a knife and chop them the old fashioned way. You want them to be chunky but not huge.

Once you’ve got the pecans chopped, add them to the bowl with the pecan meal. Mix in 1 cup sugar, 1/3 cup all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, and (optional) 1/2 teaspoon cardamom. Stir to combine, then add the 3 eggs and mix into a thick paste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (which will depend on how long the dough takes to get puffy).

ROLL AND ASSEMBLE: once the dough is puffed up and has increased in size, you’re ready to assemble the loaves.

Spray two loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside. (Ideally you have 8.5×4.5 pans, but any loaf pans are fine – mine are more like 9×5).

Measure out a stretch of parchment paper to about 29 inches, or get a sense of how big 14″x28″ is on your countertop. Roll the dough into a giant rectangle, trying to keep it relatively even throughout. The dough will be thin but shouldn’t tear at this point, so don’t be afraid to really go to town with the rolling pin. Once you have it roughly the right size or as stretched as you think you’ll get it, cut it into two pieces approximately 14×14.

Divide the filling roughly in half and plop each half onto each of the sections of dough. Using your hands to then spread it out really does work best here, since the filling is goopy and too thick to easily spread with a spatula. I find it easiest to break into lumps that I then distribute across the dough and press to spread evenly. (I didn’t get pictures of this because my hands were coated in delicious pecan goop). I did both halves simultaneously, then washed my hands before rolling things up.

Once the filling is evenly distributed, start from the outer edge and roll inward toward the center, keeping the roll as tight as possible. Then, roll inward from the opposite edge – essentially creating a scroll shape with the rolls meeting in the middle. Then, fold the edges with the exposed filling inward to meet in the middle and seal up the filling (see photo below if this doesn’t make sense).

pecan bread folded

Turn the loaf seam side down and place in the prepared loaf pan. If needed, you can squeeze and smoosh and gently tug it a bit to get it to fill up most of the pan/get it into an appropriate size/shape. Repeat the process with the second half of the dough/filling. Cover the loaves with plastic wrap or a towel and leave them to rest for 1.5 to 2 hours. The dough should puff up enough to reach the top of the pan or crown a bit above it.

TO BAKE: Preheat the oven to 350°.

After the dough has risen, uncover the loaves and place the pans in the hot oven. Set the timer for 15 minutes, and get out a pastry brush, a small bowl of water, and some granulated sugar. When the timer dings, pull the loaves out one at a time and brush the top of the loaf with water, then sprinkle with granulated sugar and return it to the oven.

Bake for another 25-30 minutes (40-45 total, including the first timer). Check about halfway through, and if the tops are browning too quickly, top with aluminum foil. The bread is done when an instant read thermometer inserted in the center reads 195° F.

When the loaves are done, pull them out and allow them to cool on wire racks for 10 minutes or so before turning them out of the pan to continue to cool. Cool completely before slicing.

Note: in the hopes of some (far off) day being able to quit my day job, this post contains affiliate links. I only link to things I actually recommend, and I might earn a commission if you end up buying something. That would be cool, but no worries if it’s not your thing.

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