Do you remember the taste of Croatian pogacha bread? It's soft, chewy and infused with the scent of smoke. This is because we usually bake it under the bell in an open fire - the famous peka style.
This traditional Croatian bread comes in a circular, flat form - just like the shape of the peka bell. Its texture is soft but still rustic. And inside, pogacha should have a nice open crumb.
Pogača (the way we spell it in Croatian) is a delicacy. You are extremely lucky if you find it a restaurant or an odd bakery. So what can you do to get your hands on that ultimate piece of comfort?
Read on because I have the recipe for you. No, you won't have to build a fire in your kitchen. I'll show you how you can use a cast-iron dish to recreate the perfect Croatian bread.
But first, let's cover some basics before you dive into baking.
What kind of bread is pogacha bread?
Pogacha is a high hydration bread. This means that the dough is wet and sticky so it should be handled as little as possible. The best way to get those attractive wholes inside the bread is to skip the kneading.
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On the other hand, you do want to develop gluten. This is what gives pogaca elasticity. And elasticity equals bubbles, i.e. wholes. So, what do you do instead? Well, you will just stretch the dough as I'll explain later on. It won't be messy, I promise.
My Croatian pogača recipe is easy to follow, but you must set aside some time. Instead of using your muscle power, we'll let time do the trick. Resting the dough for long enough will give you the right texture.
Bake this bread the right way and you'll learn our most important Croatian principle: pomalo. Take things easy. We are talking about slow food.
What should you eat Croatian bread with?
On its own? I kid you not. Pogacha is so delicious you can simply break a piece off and much away. This is what we would do as children anyway.
Of course, you can eat this bread with anything you normally pair bread with. But where pogacha really shines is with various spreads. Think butter or olive oil and some coarse salt. Think scrumptious ajvar and nothing else.
Make a full meal out of pogacha and the cold cuts we enjoy in Croatia. Here you have prosciutto and hard cheese, such as Pag cheese. Pour some olive oil on your plate and dunk pogacha in it. Better yet, wipe the plate clean with as many slices as you wish.
How long can pogacha keep? That depends on your appetite. But since our Croatian bread uses white flour, it's best on the first day. Fresh and (you didn't hear me say this) warm. But if you have some leftovers, your feast will be just as pleasant on the next day.
And now the pogaca recipe.
Croatian pogacha bread recipe
Croatian bread pogacha
- 400 g bread (strong) flour (3 1/4 cup)
- Handful more for shaping
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 1/4 tsp dry yeast
- 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 320 ml tepid water (1 1/3 cup full to the brim)
- Half a handful of semolina four
- Sift the flour into a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, add 1 tbsp of the sifted flour, dry yeast, sugar, and half the amount of water. Let it stand for 15 minutes until it bubbles up - this is your yeast starter (sponge).
- Add salt to the sifted flour and whisk to combine evenly.
- Once the yeast starter is ready, add it to the sifted flour. Pour in the remaining water.
- Bring the dough together. It will be shaggy and sticky but don't worry.
- Gently grab the dough underneath on one side and lightly pull it as much as it allows it. Don't stretch as hard as to break it. Fold it onto itself.
- Rotate the bowl quarter of the circle, grab the dough underneath again, and gently pull to stretch as far as it allows you. Fold it onto itself. Repeat 2 more times, each time rotating the bowl to close the full circle.
- Set your timer to 20 minutes. When it goes off, repeat the stretch and fold routine. Do 2 more stretch and fold movements 2 more times, at 20-minute intervals. After each time, the dough will be softer and more elastic.
- Place the bowl with the dough in the fridge and let it rest there for 1 hour.
- Once the dough is cold, it will be easier to shape. Lightly sprinkle your working surface with flour. Turn the dough over.
- Without any kneading, shape the dough into a ball. Do that by tucking the ends underneath while you rotate the dough.
- Get a shallow salad bowl (or something of a similar shape) and line it with a clean kitchen towel. Sprinkle semolina flour over the towel. Make sure the bowl is deep enough to allow the dough to double in size as it proofs.
- Put the dough ball, seam side up, into the lined bowl. Sprinkle more semolina on top. Leave in the fridge for another hour to proof.
- In the meantime, have a cast-iron bowl with the lid (Dutch oven) ready. Place it into the oven and turn the temperature to 250 C (480 F).
- To help you take the dough out of the proofing bowl, place a baking (parchment paper) on it. Flip it into the cast iron dish, laying it down on the side that has the paper on it. You leave the paper too.
- Put the lid on and bake for 30 minutes.
- After that, take the lid off, turn the temperature down to 200 C (400 F) and bake for 20-25 minutes longer to get a golden finish.
- Take the pogaca out on a cooling rack. Allow it to cool to room temperature before cutting into. it.