It is called pogača in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, poğaça in Albania and in Turkey, pogace in Romania, pogácsa in Hungary, pagáče in Slovakia, pohagata in Bulgaria, or pogacha in Greece, it is the staple bread found on every table in the Balkans and in the Carpathian basin.
Etymology and origin of pogača
Just like the Italian focaccia, the word pogača comes from the Latin panis focacius, which means literally “a flat bread baked on a fireplace or under the ashes of a fire” or also from the word fuoco which means fire, since originally, the dough of this bread was baked under the embers.
In Latin, panis means bread and focacius means oven or fireplace (focus)
In ancient Rome, panis focacius was a flat bread cooked in a fireplace of ashes.
This technique has nowadays become a variety of oven-baked bread, from the focaccia in Italian cuisine, hogaza in Spain, fogassa in Catalonia, fugàssa in Liguria, fougasse in France and specifically in Provence, and of course this pogača in the Balkans.
How to make basic pogača
To make this delicious bread in its most standard and plain version, you will need flour, eggs, oil, butter, sugar, vinegar or lemon juice, salt, lukewarm milk and yeast. Cream is sometimes added to the recipe.
Pogača dough can be made with or without leaven, but only experienced bakers can make good quality unleavened pogača, and it is becoming more and more rare.
Choosing the right flour is essential for this recipe. The flour must be fine flour, rich in gluten.
Gluten? Without getting into scientific details: around the heart of wheat germ, there is a certain quantity of proteins (gluten), fats, starch, vitamins and mineral salts.
Once milled, this gluten will become part of the flour. There will be between 60 to 72% of starch and between 8 to 12% of gluten.
To get a well leavened dough, you will need good flour, which means it will have to be rich in gluten, which is called a “strong flour”. It is that gluten that will offer an ideal rise and a soft and smooth dough. It will also give it a nice flavor since strong flour is usually of better quality.
The richer your preparation (eggs, butter or oil), the more you will need flour rich in gluten, since it will need to be strong.
The variants of pogača
There are as many recipes as there are shapes, although the most standard and traditional shape is round.
Every country, or even region, has its own version of pogača, or more than one, with different flavor and texture.
Some pogača are flat and are not thicker than 1 inch, while some are much taller. Some have a consistency similar to that of the English scone, while others are much softer and smoother.
Many ingredients can be added to the dough, or even sprinkled on top, before baking the dough, after, or both.
The variants are many. For example, there can be pogača with any type of cheese, with herbs, garlic, paprika, red or white onion, cumin, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, sour cream or even cabbage.
In Hungarian cuisine, the most widespread versions are the ones with hot potatoes, sheep or cow cheese, sour cream, and cabbage.
In Greek cuisine, there is a version called bougatsa, and it is a pastry served for breakfast, made with either semolina-based pastry cream, cheese, or minced meat, in between two filo pastry layers.
A type of pogača is also found in Algeria, specifically in the Constantine region, in the towns of Annaba and Guelma.
It could be akin to the French fougasse and might have been born around the time of French Algeria. Its stuffing is however different from the French stuffings. It is made of a sauce, similar to taktouka garnished with spices like ras el hanout.
- 5 cups high gluten flour
- 1 cup milk
- 6 tablespoons melted butter
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- ¾ cup sour cream
- 1 large egg , lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice (or white vinegar)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Heat the milk and add the butter. Cool to a warm temperature of 95 F.
- Add the yeast and sugar and mix until dissolved.
- Leave to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 15 minutes.
- Add the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer and dig a well in the center. Add the mixture of milk and yeast, sour cream, oil, lemon juice (or vinegar) and egg to the center of the well.
- Using the dough hook, knead at medium speed for 3 minutes. Add the salt and knead again for 5 minutes. Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rise for an hour in a warm place, away from drafts.
- On a lightly floured work surface, punch the dough and divide it into two pieces.
- Place each piece of dough in a greased pastry ring, about 5 inches in diameter and flatten by hand, or form two round loaves by hand of about 5 inches in diameter.
- Using a sharp knife, draw a cross on top of the dough.
- Allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 15 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 350 F.
- Bake both loaves for about 50 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and place the buns on a cooling rack.