Traditional Easter Bread – Ukrainian Paska Recipe
Easter is one of my favorite holidays, because of its rich Ukrainian traditions.
One of these traditions is the blessing of a Basket of Special Foods, each having a symbolic meaning (please click on the balded link for more information).
This blessed food, including meats, is served for brunch on Easter Sunday, after a three hour Special Easter Sunday Liturgy, and the singing of the Easter Hymn “Khrystos Voskres” (Christ Is Risen).
The Easter Sunday Brunch is the first meat meal, after a strict fast on Good Friday, Saturday and Easter Sunday morning.
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 favorite Paska recipe, inspired by a recipe from Traditional Ukrainian Cookery, by Savella Stechishin.
This recipe yields two large loaves, or few small round ones.
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 package dry granular yeast (1/4 oz = 7g)
- 3 cups scalded whole milk, lukewarm
- 5 cups of flour (King Arthur Bread flour is my favorite)
- 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 flour (King Arthur Bread flour is my favorite)
- 1 or 2 cups Golden Raisins (optional)
- Dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm water and sprinkle the yeast over it.
- Let it stand for 10 minutes in a warm place, until bubbly.
- 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 like to keep it in a warm oven.
- I preheat the oven to 150 degrees F, turn it off, the place the batter there to rise).
- Once the batter is ready, add the beaten eggs, sugar, melted butter, salt, orange and lemon zest.
- Mix thoroughly.
- Gradually keep on adding the remaining flour, and mixing,until the dough is neither too soft, nor too stiff. Sometimes I use only 5 cups of flour, but other times all 6 cups are used, depending on the humidity in the house and the flour.
- If using raisins, add them in now.
- Knead until the dough no longer sticks to the hand (at least 30 minutes by hand, or 20 minutes in a mixer).
- Cover the bowl of dough with a tea towel, place it in a warm place, free of draft (I use the warm oven again), and let it rise until double in bulk (about 1 - 1.5 hours).
- Punch it down, and let it rise again (this time it will be less than 30 minutes).
- Prepare your loaf pans by thoroughly greasing them with shortening.
- Divide the dough into as many parts as you have pans to be filled 1/3 full, plus leave some dough, (size of an orange), for the ornamental decorations .
- To make ornaments, one of them being a cross, you roll out some dough into a rope like shape and form it into an ornamental cross, then place it in the center of the top of the bread.
- 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 crust color, once baked. For a darker shade of the crust, 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 (they will extend slightly over the rim of the pans)
- Do not let the loaves rise longer than necessary, because the ornaments will lose their shape.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and bake the bread for 10 minutes.
- Lower the temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for 30 minutes longer, or until done.
- Smaller loaves may be done a little sooner, so use your judgement. I place larger loves towards the back of the oven and smaller ones in the front part of the oven.
- To prevent the tops from over browning, you may loosely drape large pieces of aluminum foil over the bread, once the crust is golden.
- Remove the loaves from the oven and let cool in pans for 5 minutes. Then gently remove from pans onto a towel, or cooling rack, to cool completely.
- You may wrap cooled loaves with paper towels, then aluminum foil, then place them in plastic bags to store for few days in a cool place, or freeze them for later use.
- To thaw, keep covered loves in the refrigerator for at least a day, then unwrap and serve at room temperature.
If you like raisins in your bread, you may add 1-2 cups of golden raisins to your dough before final mix. You also need to make sure to push them deeper into the dough before baking, or they will burn if sticking out of the bread.
Here is a close up look of a technique for making a braid, and and a fancy cross, for the center of your Paska.
You can also make other ornamental decorations for your Paska, such as a braids, rosettes, twisted swirls, cones, etc.