One of my fondest memories from childhood were the traditions we celebrated at Easter time. My grandmother on my mother’s side was from a little village in the Carpathian Mountains. I was brought up in the Russian Orthodox faith.
My favorite part of the tradition was the food and especially the bread. The week before Easter in the Russian Orthodox religion is holy week, a week of strict fasting. It is also the week that all the traditional foods are made for the Easter celebration. There was kielbasa and ham, homemade cheeses and cakes. But for me, nothing beat the bread. The smell of the bread baking made my mouth water especially because it was holy week and I couldn’t eat it till Easter Sunday after the priest blessed it.
Today, sadly, I don’t follow the Easter traditions any longer, but I still make the bread every Easter. I even won the “best of show” ribbon at the county fair for it.
This bread is known by a few names. Paska, Bobka, and Easter Bread to name a few. And it comes in many forms: heavy and cake like (my recipe), light and airy, and with or without raisins. They are all good in their own respect.
The one thing about making this bread is that the recipe is very sensitive. An ingredient that’s not at the right temperature, or using flower from two different batches, or not letting it rise twice, any one of a hundred things and you’ve got ca-ca bread.
Now, I’m not a baker by any means, I just know how to make this bread. I’m going to take you through my step-by-step process for making this wonderful treat.
10 cups of all purpose flour
10 egg yolks (save egg whites)
2 whole eggs
3 cups whole milk
3 oz. Yeast (cake type)
1/2 lb. sweet butter
1/2 lb. salted butter
The first thing is to take all ingredients except the milk out the night before. This will ensure that all the ingredients are at room temperature. Also the room temperature when mixing the ingredients should be about 70 degrees or warmer.
Begin with the milk. Scald two cups of milk. For those that don’t know, to scald milk you need to put it in a pot on the stove at high heat. When you see a film start to form on the top of the milk, turn off the heat and move the pot to a cool burner and let it cool to luke warm. You do not want to bring the milk to a full boil. If you do, throw it out and start over. While waiting for the milk to scald, put the third cup of milk in the microwave for 1 minute. After 1 minute take it out and pour it in the bowl you intend to use for mixing.
One note here, I use a large ceramic bowl. I have used metal and glass and it doesn’t seem to make a difference, so use what you have so long as it is a large bowl.
Once the milk is cooling you can start separating 10 eggs. Save the egg whites.
Now, in the bowl with the 1 cup of milk, mix in 1 cup of flour and 7 tablespoons of sugar till well blended.
Next, take the pot of luke-warm scalded milk, and with a spoon, skim the film off the top. Then dissolve the 3 ounces (1 ½ cakes) of yeast. When thoroughly dissolved, start mixing in egg yolks one at a time. After these ingredients are thoroughly blended, add them to the other ingredients in mixing bowl and mix together.
Now, are you ready to get messy? The only thing I use to mix the rest of the ingredients together is my hands. After mixing these ingredients together, it’s time to get messy.
Add six more cups of flour to the bowl two at a time and mix them up. You should have a pasty mix. Then add the 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 whole eggs, and butter. Using your hand, mush the butter up well until blended with the other ingredients. Don’t worry if there are small chunks here and there, it will blend in as you add the rest of the flour.
Next, add the rest of the flour 1 cup at a time. As you blend the mixture you will find the dough sticking to your fingers and hands (I told you it would be messy), but this is a good thing. The indicator that the dough has been kneaded enough is that it will no longer stick to your fingers and hands.
After you’re done kneading the dough cover the top of the bowl with a towel and set it aside in a warm spot to rise, approximately 2 hours. When it has doubled in size uncover it, punch it down and knead slightly, cover the bowl with the towel again and let it rise a second time.
Once it has risen a second time preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Grease a baking pan. I use a 10″ x 10″ x 4″ deep square ceramic baking pan. Place the dough in the baking pan and brush the top with the saved egg whites. Place the pan in the oven and set your timer for 1 half hour. After a half hour take it our or just slide the rack out and brush on egg white again, making sure to cover the whole top, which will now have risen above the top of the pan exposing more of the uncoated bread. Put back in for another half hour and repeat.
After 1 ½ hours your bread will be done and your kitchen will be a mess, but after you taste the bread, you’ll know it was all worth it.