Light and Airy Paska – Aunt Maria’s Recipe
I have my favorite Easter Paska recipe, which I have been baking for many years and my family loves it.
However, I was always very impressed by my aunt’s light and airy Paska/Babka, so as soon I received her recipe I baked this wonderful and delicious bread in my own kitchen and was very happy with the final results. My family fully approved as well.
You may wonder why I call this bread Paska/Babka….as these two words are used interchangeably by many people, yet they are quite different.
These round bread loaves are baked mainly around Easter time and traditionally blessed at the church in a pretty Easter Basket with other foods, then eaten on Easter Sunday.
Paska is an enriched round bread loaf topped off with ornamental bread dough decorations.
Babka on the other hand is also a round bread loaf, usually smaller in diameter but much taller than Paska. It is much lighter and richer in texture and flavor, due to a greater amount of sugar, eggs, and fat used in the dough. These tall round loaves are usually decorated with icing and colorful sprinkles, rather than the dough decorations used on Paska.
This recipe yields 6 round loaves of bread. I used 2 – 7 inch pans, 2 – 6.5 inch pans, and 2 – 5.5 inch pans.
- 3 tsp. Instant Dry Yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to room temperature
- 1 cup light cream (or 1 cup milk plus 1/3 cup melted butter)
- 6 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 cups golden raisins, less or optional (rinsed well and dried off)
- 6 cups all purpose flour, sifted (I use Gold Medal, unbleached)
- 2 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur)
- In a small bowl add the warm water and 1 tsp. sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over it, mix it and keep in a warm place until light and bubbly (10 minutes or so)
- In a medium bowl mix 1/2 cup of flour with 1 cup warm milk, then gently mix in the proofed and frothy yeast mixture until incorporated.
- Cover with saran wrap and a kitchen towel and set in a warm, draft-free place, until very bubbly (about 1 hour).
- In a large bowl beat the eggs, the egg yolks and 1 1/4 cup of sugar, until a thick and creamy mixture of light yellow color develops (looks like vanilla pudding). Mix in 1 cup of light cream (or mixture of milk and butter), vanilla extract, salt, and lemon zest. Set aside.
- Mix the egg mixture into the proofed yeast mixture. Then gradually mix in the rest of the flour, and the rinsed raisins, and knead it for 20 minutes, or use a stand mixer with a dough hook and mix it at medium speed (2) to get the job done for you. Do Not use high speed for mixing because it will change the texture of your dough, making is too loose, and the bread will turn out more spongy. Also DO NOT add more flour than specified even if you think the dough is not thick enough.
- Remove the dough into a lightly greased bowl, turn the dough so both sides are greased, cover with a plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, keep it in a draft-free warm place (I keep it in the oven which was warmed up to 80 degrees and turned off), until double in bulk (about 1- 1.5 hours) punch down to deflate, cover and let rise again.
- Remove the dough from the bowl unto a work area, knead it few times and form into two even logs.
- Cut off 1/3 of each log, then 1/3 of the remaining section of the log, leaving the last 2/3 as a third piece.
- Work each piece of dough into a ball, then flatten slightly and place it in a greased baking dish with a corresponding size. The largest ball goes into the 7-inch baking dish, the medium ball into the 6.6-inch baking dish and the small one into the 5.5-inch baking dish.
- You can also divide the dough accordingly, to fit your own containers or even bake it in a loaf pan if you are not using a round shape to make Paska.
- Place them in a warm, draft-free place, cover with a kitchen towel and let them rise close to the top of the baking dish for about 40 minutes.
- Gently brush the tops with room temperature milk, or egg wash.
- Place on the middle rack in a preheated oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 15 minutes, turn the temperature down to 325 degree F and bake another 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, rub cold stick of butter over the top of each loaf. Cool in pans for 15 minutes, then remove onto a cooling rack to cool off completely, before slicing and serving.
You can use only All-purpose flour if you wish, but I personally like to mix in a small amount of bread flour into my paska dough.
I always grease my baking pans very generously with CRISCO shortening, rather than butter or oil, since it does not burn easily during baking.
The reason I rinse the rasins couple of times before using is because they are pretty dirty, as you will notice how cloudy the water will be after the first rinse.