Traditional Easter Bread – Ukrainian Paska Recipe
Easter is one of my favorite holidays, because of its rich traditions. One of these is the blessing of a basket of special foods which becomes the Easter Sunday brunch, being the first meat meal, after a strict fast on Good Friday and Saturday. One of the special foods in that basket is a round shaped Easter Bread, called Paska in Ukrainian, or Babka in Polish. The top of this bread is elaborately decorated with fancy dough ornaments, having a cross as the central motif. Here is my family Paska recipe, which makes two large loaves, or several small ones.
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 package dry granular yeast
- 3 cups scalded whole milk, lukewarm
- 5 cups of flour
- 6 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup melted butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbs. orange zest
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- 6 cups of sifted all purpose flour
- Dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm water and sprinkle the yeast over it.
- Let it stand for 10 minutes.
- Combine the softened yeast with the lukewarm milk and 5 cups of flour.
- Beat well until smooth.
- Cover and let the batter rise in a warm place until light and bubbly (I place it on a heating pad, and cover it with plastic wrap, then with towels, to keep it warm).
- Add the beaten eggs, sugar, melted butter, salt, and orange and lemon zest.
- Mix thoroughly.
- Stir in enough flour to make dough that is neither too soft nor too stiff.
- Knead until the dough no longer sticks to the hand.
- Turn the dough on a floured board, or other work surface, and knead until smooth and satiny.
- Place in a bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm place until double in bulk.
- Punch down and let it rise again.
- Prepare your loaf pans by thoroughly greasing them with shortening.
- Divide the dough into 3 parts, if you have large enough pans to make only two loaves, and leave the third part for ornamental decorations.
- If you wish to make several small breads, then fill your greased pans 1/3 full with the dough, still leaving some dough for decorations.
- To make ornaments, one of them being the cross, you roll out some dough into a rope like shape and form it into an ornamental cross to place in the middle of the top of the bread.
You can also make other ornamental decorations for your Paska, such as a braids, rosettes, twisted swirls, cones, etc.
- Now that your loaves are decorated, dip a pastry brush in whole milk, and gently brush the bread tops, and ornaments, to give them a nice golden color once baked. For a darker shade, you may use a wash made out of one egg beaten with 2 Tbs. of water.
- Set the loaves in a warm place, once more, until almost double in bulk.
- Do not let the loaves rise longer than necessary, because the ornaments will lose their shape.
- Preheat you oven to 400 degrees, and bake the bread for 10 minutes.
- Lower the temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for 30 minutes longer, or until done.
- For smaller loaves your baking time should be shorter, so you need to use your judgment.
- To prevent over browning of the tops, you may cover them with loose pieces of aluminum foil, once the Paska is lightly browned.
- Remove the loaves from the pans, and cool completely.
- You may wrap cooled loaves in aluminum foil, and plastic bag, and freeze until ready to use, to keep them fresh.
- To thaw, keep covered, to prevent from drying out.
Tip: If you like raisins in your bread, you may add 1-2 cups of golden raisins to your dough, and you need to make sure to push them deeper into the dough before baking, or they will burn if sticking out of the bread.