Ahead of Easter, we sat down with Chef Liz to learn about her family’s tradition of baking Paska.
Every year just before Easter, my mom embarks on a dough-kneading, butter-melting, bread-baking journey. She spends weeks leading up to Easter baking loaf after loaf of Paska, an enriched and yeasted Easter bread that is golden, buttery, and slightly sweet. It’s as perfect sliced and toasted with butter and jam as it is as a side for kielbasa and pierogies. Our family recipe, er…guideline, originated in Slovakia and is similar to other enriched breads of Eastern Europe.
As a kid, while baking Paska with my Grandma Sweetie, Aunt Maggie, and mom, I would watch with amazement as the dough seemed to rise and rise and rise. Then, just when it had grown to a seemingly impossible, giant-pasta-cooking-pot-size, it was my job to punch the dough down and watch, again amazed, as it shrunk away from my flour-y 4-year-old arm. While I was busy de-doughing myself, the pot of Paska dough was stolen away, formed into loaves, brushed with egg yolk, and left on the stove to rise again. Into the oven the loaves went, then, after about 40 minutes, it was time for a post-bake butter brushing.
For me, Paska is as much a part of spring as the sound of melting snow, the smell of newly green grass, and the plague of springtime allergies from everything in bloom. My mom makes batch after batch, then delivers the Paska loaves to all her friends. She keeps a few wrapped up in the car in case she runs into someone while she’s out, and a few more in the kitchen to slice up to eat with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
2 packets dry yeast (4½ teaspoons)
3 cups milk
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 stick butter, plus ½ stick for finished loaves
¼ cup shortening
3½ lbs flour (about 8 cups)
1 cup golden raisins
1. In a large heatproof bowl, stir together milk and sugar, and microwave in 30-second intervals until milk is warm and sugar has dissolved. Add yeast to the milk and sugar mixture and set aside in a warm place to allow yeast to bloom, about 10 minutes. You should start to see bubbles in the milk mixture (this is how you know your yeast is alive and active).
2. In a separate medium heatproof bowl, melt butter and shortening in the microwave in 30-second intervals. In a separate large bowl, combine flour and salt. To dry ingredients, add eggs and melted butter and shortening. Using a spatula, stir to incorporate eggs and melted butter and shortening. Then, slowly add milk mixture, stirring to combine, until a dough begins to form. Add raisins and continue to work dough until no longer sticky. If dough is still sticky, add flour until the dough is soft and supple and no longer sticks to your hand.
3. Oil a large piece of plastic wrap and place over bowl, being careful not to touch plastic to dough, then cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Flour your hand and punch the dough down, then divide into 4. Grease 4 loaf pans with butter, shape dough into loaves and place in greased pans. Brush loaves with a beaten egg yolk then cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and set aside for 30 minutes until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F.
4. Transfer loaves to oven and bake until cooked through and tops are golden brown, about 40 minutes. If the tops of the loaves brown before the inside is cooked through, simply cover with a piece of aluminum foil to prevent further browning. Once baked, rub golden Paska loaves with a half stick of butter. Enjoy the lovely smells of your kitchen and Happy Easter!
Story contributed by Plated Recipe Developer Liz Dinsmore.
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