Enticing Easter breads
By JEAN TELLER
Paska, a yeast bread made with milk, butter, eggs, flour and sugar, is a traditional Easter dish found in a number of Eastern European cultures, including the Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria. The Mennonites are sometimes credited with bringing the recipe to the United States.
The number of recipes for the bread and for the icing or topping are as varied as the cooks who prepare the dish. Of course, you can always alter the recipe to fit your preference.
As a side dish, paska is usually baked in a round pan, braided and then twisted round to fit the pan. Many people add dough cut-outs in the shape of a cross or other religious symbols to the top of the loaf, or braided dough is added to the edges of the loaf for decoration. An American addition to the paska loaf is a cheese topping made from cottage cheese. Many recipes have the cottage cheese as an ingredient in the bread dough.
As a dessert, paska is sweeter and includes raisins or currants, and sometimes cherries or other fruit. This version is most often baked in cans, or panettone paper baking molds, so the loaf comes out tall and cylindrical, similar to Ukrainian babka or a Russian kulich. The loaf is topped with a sweet white frosting, which is allowed to drip down the sides and is then covered with multicolored sprinkles.
When baking paska, the tradition goes, the household must be peaceful and quiet, and the baker must keep her thoughts pure. It’s a family affair-no strangers or neighbors allowed and in olden days, the man of the house guarded the entrance to the home while the loaf was being made and baked to keep away threats and those who would curse the family’s future prosperity.
Another Easter tradition is hot cross buns, an English treat immortalized in the street call of “One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot cross buns!”
The spiced and sweet buns contain raisins or currants and are topped with a cross of either a paste made of flour and water or a white icing. Traditionally, the buns are baked and eaten on Good Friday as a way of ending the Lenten fast.
The custom of eating the buns on Good Friday may also have been because of a London law that prohibited the selling of sweet buns except on Good Friday, Christmas and at burials. Many people believed the cross on the bun indicated it had been blessed and had the power to heal or ward off evil. The history of hot cross buns can be found at a number of websites on the Internet.
Whatever the reason you may bake paska or hot cross buns, know that the traditions are strong in many cultures, and your efforts are being duplicated by others all around the world.
Could it be Paska?
Lois Severson, Marlton, New Jersey, remembers her grandmother baking an Easter bread that contained raisins and had a thick ribbon of cottage cheese down the middle of the loaf. The cheese ribbon baked into a golden treat that tasted wonderful, she says.
While several readers sent in recipes for Paska-traditional Slovak bread baked at Easter-not many of the recipes had anything resembling a golden ribbon running down the middle. Several recipes included dry cottage cheese as an ingredient in the bread. Most Paska loaves are braided and then twisted into a round pan to bake; and a variety of shapes and symbols are made of bread pieces and placed on top of the unbaked loaf.
A recipe similar to what Lois describes was located on About.com, posted by Barbara Rolek, who writes,
“Romanian Easter Bread with Cheese or paska appears on the table with cozonac. Paska is similar to Polish kolacz. The term ‘paska’ means Easter and can be confusing because it can refer to many different Eastern European breads and cheese desserts served at Easter time. The fun is in trying them all! If you can’t find dry curd cheese, you might want to make your own farmer’s cheese from scratch (www.grit.com/how-to-make-farmers-cheese).”
Romanian Easter bread
With Cheese (Paska)
Yields 1 loaf.
11/4 cups milk, divided
21/2 tablespoons plus 31/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 package active dry yeast
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup superfine sugar
4 ounces light or dark raisins
Zest of 1 lemon
4 ounces butter, melted
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, optional
1 ounce walnuts, optional
1 pound dry curd or farmer’s cheese or ricotta
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
3 ounces light or dark raisins
To prepare bread dough: Scald 1/2 cup milk and stir in 2 1/2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Let flour paste cool 10 minutes.
Heat another 1/2 cup milk just until lukewarm. Do not scald. Place yeast in small bowl and pour lukewarm milk over it, stirring until dissolved. Add yeast mixture to flour paste and beat until large air bubbles appear. Cover and let rise for at least 15 minutes.
Heat remaining milk to lukewarm. Do not overheat. Pour into warmed large bowl or bowl of stand mixer. Add, stirring after each ingredient, egg yolks, sugar, raisins, lemon zest, yeast mixture and flour.
While still in bowl, knead for about 10 minutes by machine, or 15 to 20 minutes with buttered hands, adding melted butter as necessary to achieve a nonsticky, pliable, moist ball of dough. It will probably take about 3 ounces of butter. Reserve the rest.
Add rum, vanilla and oil, and knead for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Cover bowl with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size. Punch down and, with hands dipped in reserved melted butter, knead for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Coat 2-inch-deep 10- or 12-inch round pan with cooking spray. Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Line bottom and sides of prepared pan, reserving handful of dough.
With reserved dough, make 2 long, pencil-thin ropes and twist them together. Place around edge of dough lining pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let sit in warm place for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
To prepare cheese filling: Beat cheese with mixer and add butter, sugar, 3 egg yolks, flour, vanilla and salt. Beat until smooth; add raisins and mix again.
When dough has risen in prepared pan, pour in cheese filling, making sure it doesn’t go over edges.
Beat remaining egg yolk. Baste cheese filling and dough border with beaten yolk. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on wire rack and then remove from pan to cut and serve.
If you wish, while the cake is still hot, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and walnuts.
Note: Some recipes use cottage cheese in place of the farmer’s cheese. Just be sure to drain it well to make it as dry as possible.
Hot cross buns
Yields 12 buns.
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 F to 115 F)
21/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons soft lard or butter
1/2 cup currants
1/4 cup cut-up citron
Prepared white icing
In bowl, dissolve yeast in water.
Measure flour by dip-level-pour method, or by sifting, and place in separate bowl.
To yeast mixture, add sugar, half of flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Beat until smooth. Add egg and lard or butter. Beat in remaining flour, currants and citron.
Scrape sides of bowl and cover with cloth. Let rise in warm place (85 F) for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size. (If kitchen is cool, place dough on rack set over bowl of hot water and cover completely with towel.)
Grease 12 large muffin cups. Stir down raised dough. Spoon into muffin cups, filling half full. Let rise in warm place until dough reaches tops of muffin cups, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until brown. Make cross on each bun with white icing.
Classic Woolworth’s Cheesecake
Yields 12 to 16 servings.
Several readers sent in recipes for the cheesecake served at Woolworth’s in years gone by. This one’s from the website of The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee.
30 squares graham crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 cup hot water
1 package (3 ounces) lemon gelatin
1 cup sugar
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make crust: Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter. Reserve some crumbs for garnish. Pat remaining crumb mixture into 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish and set aside.
To make filling: Pour evaporated milk into large bowl. Freeze for 10 to 15 minutes, or until ice crystals form. Whip until stiff.
Add hot water to gelatin; cool.
Combine sugar, cream cheese and vanilla. Stir in gelatin mixture. Gradually add to evaporated milk, mixing for 1 minute.
Pour filling into crust. Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture. Chill overnight.
Note: Recipe comes from “A Recipe Portrait, The Ramczyk-Platta Collection of Recipes,” compiled by Carol Borchardt.
END OF ARTICLE: Excerpted from GRIT. To read more articles from GRIT, please visit www.grit.com or call 866-803-7096 to subscribe. Copyright 2020 by Ogden Publications Inc.
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