As I mentioned in my “How to make Pysanky” blog post, my absolute favorite part of Easter – growing up – was Ukrainian Easter bread, called Paska. My grandmother’s neighbor would bake it every year and share it with us. After the egg hunt was over, I knew we’d be going to my grandmothers and this delicious, citrussy bread would be waiting for us. SO GOOD. It’s sweet, and almost like a cross between a cake and a bread, and she used to bake it in coffee cans. It’s traditionally served at Ukrainian Easter celebrations, and I think of it as a breakfast bread.
The memories of that bread were so vivid, when that Pysanky post brought them up, that I decided to get the recipe from my grandmother. It’s always interesting when you’re trying to get a recipe through a game of telephone – especially when the first two passes are through old ladies 🙂 As usual with my family, the recipe came as more of a formula – no instructions… and I adapted it a little (increased the flour, increased the zest, changed lard to butter, ditched the coffee can in favor of decorated style), figured out what the directions would be, and made it last night.
I had originally planned to make this as a blog entry only, pass the finished product off to my husband to share at work, and behave myself. Gluten allergy be damned, I dug into that sucker AS I was taking it out of the oven! Whatever fallout should happen as a result, it’ll be worth it!
I prefer this bread served warm, either fresh out of the oven or microwaved. It’s a very tender, moist bread, so be sure to keep it from drying out. Also, it makes a TON of bread, so be prepared to make some friends VERY happy. There seem to be some wildly different ideas of what Paska entails – many don’t have citrus, some have a frosting – but this is what I was raised on, and it won’t disappoint!
I’m thinking that this will make some AMAZING French toast this weekend. Oh yeah. With a little vanilla, orange zest, and a splash of OJ in the custard… MMMmmm…
Stir sugar into warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top of sugar water, gently incorporate. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes, until bubbly.
In a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, continue to cream until well incorporated and fluffy once more.
Add juices, zest, and salt to the mixture, mix until combined. Add scalded milk, continue to mix until well incorporated and smooth. Add 4 cups of flour, combine well. Add yeast mixture, mix until well incorporated.
If you have a dough hook attachment for your mixer, affix it now.
Slowly add remaining flour until a good, coherent bread dough comes together. It should be only very slightly sticky to the touch – not super sticky, and not really DRY.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for a few minutes. Dough should be smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky when it’s been kneaded enough.
Put dough into a lightly greased bowl or pot, cover top with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm area until doubled in size, about 1 1/2-2 hours. Once doubled, beat down the middle of the dough and allow to rise another hour.
Now here’s the fun part. Reserve about 1/3 of the dough for decorations, and divide remaining dough out among the pans you’ll be using (grease them first!). For reference, we used a 9″ round pyrex pot, a large loaf pan, and 3 mini loaf pans to bake ONE batch of this. It makes a *LOT* of bread… this is a good thing!
For the main body of your breads, you’ll want the dough to fill about 1/3 of each baking pan – they’ll rise like crazy. Halfway full if you’re adventurous, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Cover loosely pans and reserved 1/3 dough loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise another 30 mins.
Once your 30 minutes are up, use the reserved dough to make designs on the top of each loaf. Braids, twists, curls, crosses and rosettes are popular/traditional, but have fun with it. (Google can be a great source of design inspiration.) Toothpicks can be used to help secure designs in place until after baking. Cover loosely with plastic, allow to rise one last time, 30 minutes.
While your dough is rising, whisk together the remaining egg yolks and water to create an egg wash. This glaze will give your finished Paska a shiny, dark brown finish. Beautiful!
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Once final rise is finished, brush entire top of each loaf with egg wash. Bake loaves for 10 minutes. Without opening the oven door, lower the heat to 325°F and continue to bake for another 40 minutes.
Cool Paska for 10-15 minutes (if you can handle the wait), then gently remove from pans and tranfer to a wire rack or wooden cutting board to continue cooling.
I recommend wrapping and hiding a loaf or two, before cutting into any of them. If you’re planning to bring them somewhere, or share with ANYONE, this step is kind of essential.
Cut into one of your warm loaves, slather with butter, and … don’t plan on going anywhere for awhile. It’s easy to plow through a ton of this, and it will give you a bread coma. SO WORTH IT.
This is even great the next day, reheated with butter. Yum.
PS: I am glad that I double checked Mary’s last name for this post. For some reason, I originally typed “Mallon” instead of “Morin”. Mary Mallon. Yes. How’s that for a food blog screw up? Typhoid Fever is the new Truffle Oil?
Marie is an award winning cake artist, cookbook author, and spandex costumer based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Known as much for her delicious and diverse flavor menu as for her sugar artistry, Marie's work has graced magazines and blogs around the world. Having baked and designed for brides, celebrities, and even Klingons, Marie was proud to share her wealth of baking knowledge in her two cookbooks: "The Spirited Baker" and “Evil Cake Overlord”. She followed those up with 4 other cookbooks: "Beyond Flour", "Beyond Flour 2", "Hedonistic Hops", and "More Than Poutine". She is currently working on her 7th - and final - cookbook, "Maize Craze".
Marie has also authored a book about her experiences surrounding the 2011 Minneapolis tornado: "Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir", as well as 6 sewing manuals - the "Spandex Simplified" series.