19 Dec Special of the day: Baking Day with Big Skov
If you were lucky enough to have landed on Chris Skovron’s Christmas list, you have fond memories of the marvelous povitica she gifted her friends with throughout the holidays, year after year. Unwrapping the treasure and slicing into the Eastern European yeast bread filled with swirls of cinnamon-nut filling was a holiday tradition I grew to look forward to every December.
I had secretly longed to make the guest list for the many baking tutorials she had hosted during the holidays, meticulously mentoring friends through the making of this labor-intensive traditional treat. And after Christmas last year, Chris had mentioned I’d made the cut and would be invited next season, which would have been this Christmas. Little did I know at the time that pancreatic cancer would tragically take her life just a few months later, leaving her large circle of friends and family shocked and saddened by the incredible loss. Chris is greatly missed by many.
But as the holiday season approached this year, so too did my second chance. Intent on making good on Chris’s promise to teach me how to make povitica, her husband Tom (also known as Big Skov) invited me out. And, so, lo and behold last Sunday, I found myself in Chris’s kitchen baking povitica with Big Skov, my daughters, his good friend Janell Murphy and her daughters and Tom’s little sister Karen Harant. And what a baking day, it was.
“By this time last year, Chris had made a dozen or 14 batches of povitica,” Skov said, remembering the epic holiday baking extravaganza Chris was somehow able to pull off last year. “I’d eat a loaf every other day,” he added with a smile.
Inspecting the recipe his mother Sweet Sue had handwritten for him, he told me the recipe was handed down from his mom to Chris who became the family baker after Tom and Chris got married in 1986.
Turns out Big Skov was paying attention all those years that Chris was carefully creating batch after batch of povitica. He relayed such secrets as “doubling the goo batch” and “giving it extra minutes in the kneading” to achieve the great results Chris had experienced with her povitica.
This is not to say that Chris was not missed throughout our baking experience. Of course she was. Truth be told, in the beginning, Skov turned his back on the bubbling goo for a moment only to turn around and discover it boiling over all over the stove. A little later, Karen found the butter that was warmed in the microwave still sitting in the microwave (and not in the dough that was rising nicely in a bowl by the stove) and as we began to assemble, Janell spied the cinnamon resting quietly on the counter after the rolling had begun. Oops. You could almost feel Chris tilting her head and raising her eyebrow, giving us amateurs “the look” as we bumbled our way through replicating her signature masterpiece.
As the dough was rising and the filling was cooling outside, Skov covered the kitchen table with a Denver Broncos sheet, lightly dusted it with flour and pinned it “like a diaper”, securing the edges and providing a flat work surface for assembling the povitica.
Karen added a healthy dose of humor to our baking day and provided necessary guidance with the stretching of the dough, gathering the girls around the flour-dusted sheet-covered table, reminding them to be purposeful yet gentle. “Treat it like your best friend,” she said. It was truly amazing how far that dough did stretch, almost reaching the edges of the kitchen table.
“When Chris used to do this, it would hang six inches off the edges of the table,” Skov said. The filling was then evenly spread all the way out to the edges before Karen did her “dry dough inspection” with the girls. After the filling came the sprinkling of the cinnamon, thanks to Janell, and the rolling up of the extra long log. The log was then coiled around itself in three long sections before the pins came off the sheet to allow for easier movement and relocation into the baking pan.
The coup de grâce came after the dough had been painstakingly mixed and kneaded, risen and stretched, filled and sprinkled, rolled and coiled and was ready for transfer into the foil-lined roaster for final rising and baking. It truly seemed like the hardest work was behind us.
“This scares me,” Karen admitted as Big Skov stood waiting to catch the povitica with the roaster pan resting under the edge of the table by the window. And then, in one fell swoop, Karen flipped the coil up and off the table and narrowly missed flopping it…right onto the floor.
“You threw it clean out the friggin’ window!” Big Skov blurted out, admonishing his little sister. “You have about as much finesse as a bull in a china closet!” And the kitchen exploded with laughter.
“Somebody up in heaven is shaking her head at this fiasco,” Skov remarked after having miraculously caught the flying loaf and helped to land it safely in the roaster for final rising and baking. Or smiling down on us, I thought to myself, happy her legacy lives on and her friends and family are enjoying povitica and remembering her again this holiday season.
With thanks to Tom Skovron for keeping Chris alive in our hearts and her povitica on our tables this Christmas comes this week’s Special of the Day: Baking Day with Big Skov and recipe for Povitica. Happy Holiday Baking, and as Sweet Sue wrote on the bottom of the recipe, Good luck!
Makes about 8 loaves
1 lb, walnuts, ground
3 cups milk
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup butter
3 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup honey
Place all filling ingredients (except eggs) in large heavy saucepan. Boil for about a half an hour. Add a little of the hot mixture to the eggs, stir to combine and then add to the hot mixture. Remove from heat. Let cool for about 2 hours. (“Speed cool” it outside, if you want.)
8 cups flour
2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup butter
2 cups milk
3 envelopes yeast (6 ¾ tsp.)
Soak yeast in 1 cup water. Scald milk. Measure flour. Add salt, sugar and butter. Work as for pie crust. Add yeast mixture, warm milk and beaten eggs. Knead for about 15 minutes. Let rise until double in bulk.
Meanwhile cover kitchen table with a sheet (a Denver Broncos sheet works best, Skov says). Pin edges of sheet together to hold. (“Like a diaper,”) Lightly dust sheet-covered table with flour.
Punch dough down and put in center of table. Stretch the dough as big as you can. (Have four or more people spread out around table and gently stretch dough until it covers the whole table and is uniformly thin with no holes or thick parts.
Cover with filling and spread to edges. Sprinkle with cinnamon to cover. Carefully roll filled dough into one long log.
Wind around into one large coil. Carefully transfer into foil-lined large roaster pan.
Preheat oven to 200 degree and when heated, turn off oven. Place assembled povitica in warm oven to rise until doubled in size. Remove from oven. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Bake povitica for 2 ½ hours at 250 degrees.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at https://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.