Paska/ Easter Bread
Ukrainians hold bread in high regard as it symbolizes the body of Jesus Christ.
Paska is therefore the center piece of the Easter basket and table and a triumph of every homemaker.
The very word paska refers to both Easter bread and Easter Day. Ukrainian paskas are traditionally home baked on Easter Thursday (as you are not supposed to work on Easter Friday) and brought to church on Easter Saturday. Blessing this loaf of bread along with other Easter foods is believed to bring health and God’s protection to the entire family.
A traditional Easter paska is a yeast cake bread with a rich, tender, spongy, and light texture. Paskas may be of different sizes and feature various decorations, but they are always round in shape and topped with white sugar frosting or, more contemporarily, chocolate. Children have their own church baskets and small paskas. These may be either round or lamb shaped. At Easter breakfast, Ukrainians spread slices of paska with butter and eat it right after the eggs.
- ¾ (6 oz) cup milk
- ½ (4 oz) cup warm water
- ½ to ¾ (2.5-3 oz) cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp sugar
- 7 tbsp saf-instant yeast
- 10-12 egg yolks
- 2 whole eggs
- 1 ¼ tsp salt
- 1 (4 oz) cup sugar
- 1 (4 oz) cup unsalted butter
- 2 tsp vanilla
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 1 large orange zest and juice
- 2 tsp brandy
- 2 tbsp buckwheat honey
- 5 ¾ to 6 (1.5-1.6 lb) cups unbleached bread flour
- ¼ (1 oz) cup baker’s milk powder
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 (4 oz) cup yellow raisins or more
How to Make Paska:
- Scald the milk and cool it down to about 120 ℉.
- Whisk the flour with yeast and sugar, and mix it with the cooled milk and warm water. It should be about the consistency of pancake batter.
- Add more flour if necessary
- Beat well, cover, and leave to sit in a warm place until it rises and feels light and bubbly.
- Beat the egg yolks and whole eggs together with the salt; gradually add 1 cup of sugar and continue beating until thick and light.
- Beat in the butter, vanilla, lemon zest, orange zest and juice, brandy, buckwheat honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, and milk powder.
- Combine the mixture with the risen sponge mix and again mix well.
- Stir in enough flour to make a very soft dough and knead it in the bowl by working the dough over and up continually for about 10 minutes.
- Thorough kneading is essential to develop the elasticity. When raisins are used, they should be added after the dough is kneaded.
- Cover and leave to rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk. Punch down, knead a few more times, and let it rise again.
- Prepare 4, 46 oz. juice cans and line them with parchment paper. Large tube pans may also be used, but the traditional paska is always baked in a tall, cylindrical pan. Fill the pans one-third full.
- Cover and leave the dough in a warm place to rise until it reaches the top of the pan. It should triple in bulk.
- Brush the loaves with beaten egg diluted with 2 tbs of milk or water.
- Do this after the loaves have started to bake for about 20 minutes otherwise you risk deflating them if you try to brush them when uncooked.
- Bake in a moderate oven, 360 ℉, for about 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 320 ℉ and bake for about 30 minutes; then again lower the temperature to 275 ℉ and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes.
- The baking period depends on the size of the loaves. If necessary, cover with aluminum foil to prevent scorching.
- Paska dough is very delicate and temperamental.
- It should be baked at a moderately high temperature at first to puff up and form a firm crust (which is when you can use the egg glaze).
- Afterwards, the temperature should be lowered,as the dough is very rich and scorches easil
- Remove the baked loaves from the oven and leave them in the pans on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Tip each loaf gently from the pan onto a cloth covered pillow.
- Gently remove the parchment paper. Do not cool the loaves on a hard surface.
- Careless handling of the baked paska may cause it to fall or settle.
- As the loaves are cooling, change their position very gently a few times to prevent settling.
- If desired, the cooled loaves may be iced or glazed and decorated with bakers’ confetti. This is an old custom.
- Paska is always sliced in rounds across the loaf. The sliced bottom crust serves as a protective cover, and it is replaced to prevent the loaf from drying out.
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