I have a confession to make. I’m a recipe junkie. A recipe-a-holic. A recipe hoarder. And not just online or in cookbooks. I have scraps of paper with family recipes that are so smudged with butter grease that you can barely read them. I have magazines dating back to 1982 because they contain one recipe that I use over and over around the holidays.
Some recipes I keep just because the picture is pretty. Some recipes I keep because they are special. Some recipes I keep – I have no idea why! Some recipes I use over and over, and some recipes I haven’t even tried.
So why is it that when I wanted to make Easter paska bread this week I couldn’t find my recipe? Oh yeah, I know why. Because my recipe cupboard looks like this!
Not a very pretty sight is it? It seems that a couple of weeks ago when I was reorganizing my kitchen (you can read about my kitchen cupboard meltdown here) I ever so casually ignored this cupboard. Completely by accident, I assure you. I think.
Anyway, this week I’ve been thinking about Easter and special recipes that my family only eats at Easter time. Like paska. Paska translates in Ukrainian to Easter, which explains a lot actually. Paska is a traditional bread that is a slightly sweeter version of white bread. It is usually decorated with braids and other religious symbols on top and sometimes it is made with raisins and citrus zest and sometimes it’s left alone, which is my favorite way to have it. When my Grandma would make paska at Easter, we didn’t get to eat it until after it was blessed at church on Easter morning. Then we got to dig in.
I knew that I had a paska recipe somewhere in that mess. I used it last Easter and it was delicious. I opened the cupboard door and I will admit, I was afraid. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, opened them again and yep, still there. So I did what anyone else would do. I began with one scrap of paper and then worked my way through the stacks. A-ha! Bingo! Jackpot! I found it! Then I shoved everything back in the cupboard and quickly closed the door.
I’ll work on it later, I promise. I have paska to make!
Easter Paska Bread
makes 1 loaf
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 tablespoon quick rise instant yeast
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 cup milk, scalded
- 2 tablespoons oil, canola or vegetable
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 medium eggs plus 1 small egg
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
Turn your oven on and let the oven begin to heat up for 3 or 4 minutes then turn the heat off. Warming the oven this way will give your dough excellent conditions for rising.
In a small pot over medium-high heat, scald the milk. Scalding milk requires you to heat the milk until the point just before boiling. Some experts believe that scalding is an unnecessary step, however, let’s keep with tradition here. Once scalded, add 1/4 cup sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add water, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and yeast. Stir gently until yeast is combined and then let mixture sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, your yeast mixture should have grown and become frothy. If it has not grown, your yeast is dead and you must start over with either a new batch of yeast or perhaps your water temperature was too hot and it accidentally killed the yeast.
In a small bowl, slightly whisk 2 medium eggs. Add oil and melted butter and mix until combined. Add the egg mixture to the milk mixture.
To the yeast mixture add 4 cups of flour and the salt. Turn the mixer, fitted with the dough attachment, on low and slowly pour in milk/egg mixture. Increase speed to medium and mix until dough is well combined. Continue mixing for several minutes. Your dough should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too sticky and does not pull away from the sides, add an additional 1/4 cup of flour at a time until it begins to pull away.
Transfer the dough to a large bowl, slightly coated with oil. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and place in the pre-heated oven. Do not turn the oven back on. Insert a wooden spoon or similar object in the oven door to prevent it from closing all the way. This will allow a small amount of the heat to escape. You don’t want to cook the dough yet, just warm it enough for it to rise. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes or until it has doubled in size. Once it has risen, punch it down, and cover it with a tea towel and place it back in the oven to repeat the process.
Once the dough has risen a second time, punch the dough back down. Cut off four golf ball sized pieces and use those to make the braids. Using slightly floured hands, roll each ball into a strip about 10 inches in length. Cross two strips over each other and pinch at the top and bottom to form a braid. Repeat with the other two strips.
Transfer the reserved ball of dough to a well-greased dutch oven or oven safe pot. Place one of the braids over the dough ball, tucking the ends under the ball, pinching if necessary. Place the second braid in a cross pattern over the first, tucking and pinching if necessary. Cover the dough with a tea towel and let it rise and rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
While dough is resting, whisk together 1 small egg and 1 tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Once dough has rested, use a pastry brush to brush the top of the dough with the egg wash. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the bread is golden brown and your kitchen smells like Heaven. Remove from the oven and let cool before removing it from the pan.
This is just one version of paska and there are many, many more versions to try. I love eating my version the next day, toasted and smothered in fresh butter and jam alongside my morning coffee. Enjoy!