Monday, March 15, 2010


Originally uploaded by Mama__B
Is that an unfamiliar word to you? Paska. It was unfamiliar to me too until just over a decade ago, when I joined a Mennonite Brethren church. It was there that I learned about this sweet yeast bread with it's creamy white frosting and ubiquitous rainbow sprinkles.

Paska is an old world Easter bread. Many in the MB faith have Russian and Ukrainian roots, which bring to us foods like Paska, and borsht (often without beets). I can't recall when exactly I first tasted this sweet Easter bread, but I know that I was instantly enchanted. It was rich and golden, with a soft, yeasty crumb and a sweet frosting, dotted with tiny balls in rainbow colours. More frosting was served on the side for spreading over each slice. Definitely NOT diet food.

After a little asking around, I was given THE recipe. Not that there is one recipe for Paska. Quite the opposite, actually. But I got the recipe that I'd first tried. The one that everyone talked about. The one that defined Paska for me. And I'm going to share it with you.

1 pkg yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk, scalded
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 lemon, juice and rind (grated fine)
4 1/2 to 6 cups white flour

Dissolve the yeast in the sugar and water. Set aside.

Mix the scalded milk, butter (cube it while scalding the milk), sugar and salt. In a very large bowl, combine the milk and yeast mixtures. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, lemon juice and rind. Gradually stir in the flour, one cup at a time, with a spoon. By the 3rd cup, the mixture will get stiff. Add the remaining flour with your hand, mixing, but not kneading. Additional flour is only needed if, after 4 1/2 cups, the dough is still sticky. Add what you need a bit at a time.

Knead the dough 6 or 8 times and take it out of the bowl in a ball. Clean and dry the bowl and butter it lightly. Put the dough ball back in and butter the top with your fingers. Please do not use sprays. Cover with a tea towel and place in the oven with the light on for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until double in bulk.

Punch down the dough and knead once or twice in the bowl. Turn it over and butter the top again. Cover with the tea towel and put back in the oven for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down again. Divide into loaves and knead them individually once or twice. Put the loaves into greased bread pans, punch them down to flatten them. Butter the tops once more and put back into the oven uncovered for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove from oven and place away from drafts. Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake the Paska for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Let stand in pan 15 minutes to cool. Turn onto a wire rack.

1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter (or all butter)
2 cups icing sugar
1 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat all ingredients together, adding more milk if necessary. Ice the Paska tops and serve extra alongside. Icing can be frozen. Add lemon to the icing if desired. I like to, though it's not strictly authentic. *

Makes 2 large or 3 regular loaves. Can also be shaped into buns.

* Speaking of "authentic" there is another common way to enjoy Paska, which is with a spread made with cottage cheese and boiled eggs. I've never tried it, but I found a recipe here. You may want to scale it down.

So integral to Easter is Paska in our church that we even serve it (unfrosted) for communion on Good Friday. And this past Friday several women got together to make hundreds of Paska buns for Easter Sunday snack.

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