Trump and pope put potica’s political popularity centrestage

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Potica has firmly been placed on the political podium through a surprising exchange between Melania Trump and Pope Francis. Pic: ©iStock/Samo Trebizan
Potica has firmly been placed on the political podium through a surprising exchange between Melania Trump and Pope Francis. Pic: ©iStock/Samo Trebizan

Related tags: Baking, Pastry

An exchange between Melania Trump and Pope Francis is not the first time the Eastern European cake has made it to the political podium.

However, the meeting that took place during the US president’s recent visit to the Vatican has been dubbed “Pizzagate” by the Holy See press office.

The brief conversation recorded the First Lady’s confusion over the pontiff’s query into the president’s diet.

Melania and the pope

Pope Francis asked Melania Trump: “What do you feed him, potica?”

America’s first lady obviously assumed the pope was referring to her husband’s well-known love for fast food.

She responded: “Pizza? Yes.”

Was it pizza… no, it was…

Potica – pronounced po-teet-sah – is a typical Eastern European festive dessert, favored by the 266th​ leader of the Roman Catholic church.

It is a nut bread made from sweet yeast dough, typically spread with ground walnuts, cream, butter, eggs and sugar or honey, then rolled into a ‘log’ (or jellyroll) and baked. This creates its distinctive spiraled effect.

It is also known as orechovník in Slovakia; makowiec in Poland; povitica in Croata and Serbia; kalács in Hungary; and pastiç in Turkey.

Other fillings include hazelnuts, poppyseeds, cottage cheese, cinnamon, raisins, lemon zest, chocolate or carob.

Sometimes, the sweet regional speciality is given an unusual twist with the addition of tarragon, leeks and sour cream.

Trump’s passion for pizza

According to a Vatican spokeswoman, the Argentinian-born pontiff – who has played a key role in many diplomatic relations – especially produced the custom-made joke for Donald Trump’s 47-year-old Slovenian wife.

Perhaps her mistake was spurred on by the extravagant entrepreneur-turned-president's numerous appearances in Pizza Hut television commercials​ several years back.

Potica’s political past

Second and third generations of the Forti family. (From left) Tom, Vincent, Paul, Linda, Ginny and Anna seated.
Second and third generations of the Forti family. (From left): Tom, Vincent, Paul, Linda, Ginny and Anna seated.

The widely-reported exchange between Melania Trump and the pope could be a godsend for the handful of specialist potica makers in the US.

US Sunrise Bakery’s​ Ginny Forti said making potica is a dying art form, so the timing could not have been better.

“We are focusing on increasing our distribution of potica to supply it in all upscale groceries stores in the US,”​ the granddaughter of the Minnesota bakery’s founder told BakeryandSnacks.

“We sell more than 20,000 potica cakes annually, throughout the US and online,”​ said Forti. “We also make a potica coffee cake and potica bars.”

Forti explained that making potica is a traditionally a full day’s endeavor.

“Slovenian women would gather and make it across floors or large tables. The dough is rolled into fine layers and it requires much practice to make.

“In 1960, Eunice Kennedy came to the Iron Range campaigning for her brother and soon-to-be president. She tried potica and said: ‘I will serve this at my brother's inauguration,’” ​said Forti.

Ján Gadzo
Ján Gadzo

Long shelf life

A second Minnesota baker that specializes in potica is Andrej’s European Pastry.

“The original Slovak recipe was handed down by my mother and I have been making walnut potica for over 30 years,”​ owner Ján Gadzo told this site.

Gadzo contended his potica, when fresh, has a shelf life of three weeks, but can be frozen up to six months. “There are no artificial ingredients or preservatives in our potica,”​ he said.

Andrej’s European Pastry also makes a poppyseed version.

The potica art

potica RossHelen
Pic: ©iStock/RossHelen

Sunrise Bakery was opened by Italian Giulio Forti in 1913, who immigrated to Minnesota’s Iron Range to supply traditional baked goods to the Slovenian, Italian, Croatian, Serbian, Finnish and Irish immigrants flocking to the region to work in the iron mines at the turn of the 19th century.

Although Sunrise Bakery makes a range of delicacies such as Norwegian jelekake, Czech kolacky and Italian panettone and biscotti, the sale of potica is a key reason why the company’s still baking after 100 years.

Gadzo, a refugee who escaped war-torn Czechoslovakia in 1969, originally sold his potica as a side business to friends before opening Andrej’s European Pastry in 1999 (he named the business after his father).

Today, the bakery sells its potica through several US retailers, such as Kowalski’s, Lunds, Byerly’s and Super One Foods, as well online at a recommended retail price of $14 plus shipping & handling.

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