Pogača– Slovenia’s Traditional Welcome Bread
When I first saw Pogača, I wondered what was so unique about it. It looked similar to Slovakian, Hungarian, Russian or Turkish bread! And it’s a tradition in those countries also to welcome with a salted bread. I was wrong. Baking Belokranjska Pogača, Slovenia’s traditional welcome bread, has been passed onto from generation to generation. Locally it is known as Belokranjska Pogača (pronounced as Pogacha) or Bela Krajina flat bread. Light, salty and round in shape Pogača is baked mostly to welcome guests at home.
There is a folk song that goes like this ‘Give him Pogača for a spring in his step’ when children go from house to house calling for Zeleni Jurij (Green George Festival).
Children would wait patiently when mothers prepared freshly baked Pogača but they were not allowed to eat till the guests had it. Hence Belokranjska Pogača was even more eagerly awaited! 😀
We were having it for breakfast every day! So I decided to join a workshop to learn.
How to make Pogača
I started with pouring the measured flour into a large bowl and adding yeast (which I had soaked in water to activate it), a bit of sugar, salt, oil and warm water to it. Kneading was the next step and then she instructed me to fold the dough. My hands moved fast giving it the required suppleness and consistency. The best test for it is that the dough should not stick to your hands. The dough for Pogača was ready now and was left for 15-20 minutes to rise.
While waiting, Bernarda, the certified Pogača maker, told me all about Pogača.
Pogača (पोगाचा in Hindi) is a typical Slovenian welcome bread. Round in shape, it has a diameter of approximately 30 cm. The edges are 1–2 CMs thick while the centre is 3 to 4 cm thick.
Not everybody is allowed to make Pogača. To be able to make the standard Belokranjska Pogača, one has to pass an exam to prove one’s skills and get a certificate. The official size of a Pogača is 30 CMs. From time to time, the inspectors come to check if the Pogača makers are adhering to specifications or not.
Traditionally in Slovenia the guests are welcomed with a freshly baked Pogača and wine. Sometimes when the wine is ‘measured’ meaning it’s sold out, the homemade brandy or coffee is also offered to guests. The Pogača is not cut, instead the guests tear a piece off it, as a sign of being welcomed into the host’s house. The name, Pogača, has come from the Latin term panis focacius meaning ‘hearth, place for baking’. The roots of the flatbread take us back to the Slovenian region of Bela Krajina which is also known as White Carniola in English.
Now the dough was risen, double to its size; and I knew what to do with it. I made a flat round base, making sure that the centre was thicker than the edges. Barnarda’s watchful eyes were watching me and she was fine-tuning my techniques.
Next step was to make incisions with a knife on the base. Bernarda deftly showed me how to do it, total seven incisions … one in the centre and 3 on each side. I was careful to make the incision just deep enough so as not to cut the base into separate pieces. I then turned the based 90 degrees and made 7 more incisions. So now we had a lovely chequered design.
I coated the bread with a beaten egg, leaving a portion for those who do not eat eggs. Now it was almost ready to go into the preheated oven at 200-220 C. As per Bernarda’s instructions, I generously sprinkled some cumin seeds and coarse sea salt on it before its journey to the oven.
Twenty minutes later, the room was filled with the aroma of freshly baked Slovenian Pogača. Our sensory organs were accentuated and we were eager to bite into it. The grid on the surface made it easy to tear off pieces.
Soon, we were having a small party at Barnarda’s workshop cum showroom! The bread was soft and delicious. The crunchy salt crystals made it even better. We chatted with her over a glass of good quality wine Metliška črnina by K Z Metlika. Belokranjska Pogača was mostly baked in wine growing regions. It goes well with wine and in earlier days, people believed that Pogača soaked up the wine and prevented hangovers.
Barnarda has a showroom where she has displayed all the handicraft items which she procures from producers and sells. Among all the handicraft items my favourite was the embroidery work and painted eggs! I even tried my hands on an egg. It needs days of practice to be able to make some designs.
If you happen to visit Bela Krajina, Slovenia, make sure you try Belokrajnska Pogača. You can contact Bernarda Kump at BIBI Turizem and on Facebook.
Note: While what I made was the standard Belokranjska Pogača, the locals frequently bake with a lot of bacon or cheese toppings too. While this is not a standard Pogača, it is also quite delicious for those who love meat or cheese.
Getting there: Bela Krajina is a small traditional region in south-eastern Slovenia touching the Croatian border. It is at 100 KMs from Ljublijana and an hours’ drive from Croatian capital Zagreb.
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