Marianna Dushar, author of the culinary research project “Pani Stefa” (panistefa.com)
There are several types of ritual Easter breads in Ukraine, the most common being paska, kolach, and babka. Paska is round, often adorned with braids, and made only for Easter. Kolach can be round or elongated, or fitted to the shape of the baking vessel. Kolach (or kalach) is the ritual bread for Easter, Christmas, weddings, and christenings; it is baked from yeast dough with 10 eggs. Babka is significantly sweeter, with more eggs, additions, and flavors. Old cookbooks provide recipes with 30-40 and even 60 eggs. Traditionally, paska is baked in a special paska form, and babka in a thick clay pot. Some regions are known for cottage cheese babka, or cheese pleskanka, both baked and non-baked.
However, the pastry commonly called paska today is the middle ground between paska and babka. It’s sweeter than the paska baked from ancient recipes. It is also enriched with various additions and with flavors of citrus zest and vanilla.
Eggs from home-raised chickens are best for paska because the yolks are bright, so the dough will have a pleasant color. Alternatively, you can add color and flavor to the dough with saffron essence (keep a pinch of saffron threads in any kind of flavored alcohol, rum, or bourbon). Raisins and dried fruits should be small, washed before use, dried, and rolled in a couple of tablespoons of flour. Lemon or orange zest will add extra flavor.
When baking paska, the kitchen should be warm and draft-free. All the ingredients should be at room temperature. The rising dough requires delicate handling; don’t shake it.
Ingredients (for 2-3 medium-sized paskas)
- 18 oz flour
- 1.8 oz fresh yeast
- 3.5 oz sugar
- 2 oz butter
- 5 oz heavy cream
- 5 egg yolks
- ½ tbsp oil
- 7-8 saffron threads (soaked in 1 tbsp rum)
- ½ cup raisins (a mixture of dark and light ones is fine)
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup dried fruits
- ½ cup nuts
- Pinches of powdered cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom
Dissolve yeast: crumble it, add warm heavy cream, several spoons of flour, and sugar. Place in a warm spot, cover, and let ferment. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks with sugar. Melt butter and let cool. When the yeast mixture has risen (in about 15-20 minutes), pour it into a bowl, add mixed egg yolks with sugar, butter, salt, and saffron essence, and mix well. Gradually sift in flour. Mix the dough. If it’s too watery, add more flour. With your hands greased, grease the dough ball, cover it with a cloth, and let rise. In 1 to 1½ hours, add raisins, dried fruits, and nuts to the dough and mix again.
Fill your forms ½ full with dough, and leave them in a warm spot for an hour. When the paskas rise a little, spread some egg yolk on top and bake 40-50 minutes at 360-390℉. The paskas will rise substantially while baking.
My grandmother never glazed her paskas and always said that glaze is for paskas with tops that did not come out nice. If you decide to glaze, you will need 7 oz confectioner’s sugar, the juice of half a lemon, 2-3 tbsp water, and 2-3 tbsp rum. Mix the sugar with the water and rum on your stovetop (preferably in a double boiler), adding the lemon juice. Glaze the cooled paskas with the resulting white glaze.
Happy Easter and sweet paska! Glory to Ukraine!