Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Easter Paska

As promised, here is the recipe and story for my family's favorite bread-Easter Paska Bread.  This is a traditional Ukrainian Easter bread that I grew up eating each spring.  My grandma would bring a few freshly baked loaves home for consumption around Easter Sunday-from the Ukrainian Church bake sale.  I have vivid memories of devouring warm, soft slices of this sweet eggy bread studded with white raisins.  She was liberal with the butter and it would melt in little pools all over the top.  Comfort food at its finest.  This is a bread that goes perfectly with an Easter ham or just a cup of morning coffee.

After grandma passed away eight years ago, our family traditions were one of the ways remained connected to her.  While she wasn't ever a cook, and hadn't ever taught me how to bake those scrumptious loaves, I wanted to ensure they weren't missing from our Easter table.  Luckily, I found a Ukrainian Church cookbook in her pantry while cleaning out the house.  It contained so many of the traditional recipes that we love so dearly.

This bread is easy to make.  I say this because before I attempted it, my experience with yeast breads was zero.  I had no clue what I was doing, and turned out two beautiful loaves.  Over the past eight years, I've made notes, changes, and alterations to the recipe to better work the dough and make it more to our liking.  We have even used it at Christmas for the best bread pudding you have ever eaten.  Trust me, this bread is so yummy, you'll want it year-round, not just on Easter Sunday.  But for me, whenever I bake it, the smell wafting from my oven smells just like springtime.  And grandma's house.

Like I said, the recipe has been well-loved! (don't worry about translating this one, I'll give you a clean copy below)

Lay out your supplies BEFORE starting. There aren't many elements to this bread, so make sure you have the highest quality ones you can find. And use whole milk. It makes the bread so much better. 

You will start with the yeast going into your mixing bowl.  After making the bread once, I started using our stand mixer with the dough hook.  Much better this way, than using the old fashioned method of elbow grease and a wooden spoon.  I think I dislocated my arm in that process.  As you can see in the photos, I put the 2 packets of yeast into the bowl with the 1/4 cup of warm (110 degree) water, and after I'm done with the following steps, it has "bloomed" nicely and has little bubbles telling me it is ready to go!

While the yeast is "blooming" you will be scalding your milk in a sauce pan.  Basically, you have your milk over low to medium-low heat until small bubbles form.  Whatever happens, DO NOT LET IT BOIL! Get it to around 110 degrees.  This makes your yeast happy.  At the same time, or before scalding your milk (whichever is easiest for you) take your 4oz of butter, chop it up into smaller pieces, put it into a bowl with your 3/4 cup of sugar and 2 teaspoon of salt.  This saves mucho time later.  When the milk has properly scalded, you'll put it into the bowl with your butter/salt/sugar and mix until the butter is melted.  Set this aside to cool to lukewarm.  

Add scalded milk and make some bubbles with whisk. Then cool your jets. 

Now I sift my heart out.  Sifted flour creates better, happier, softer baked goods.  At least that is what Ina Garten says, and she is brilliant.  Into a very large bowl, sift 8 cups of all-purpose flour.  I use every last morsel of it, and then some.  And I make a holy mess doing this.  

Pre Sifting

Post Sifting

Only a part of my mess. I can't get my sifting under control.

Now, break your three eggs into a separate bowl.  Your milk mixture should have cooled at this point, and will be egg-ready.  Beat the living daylights out of your eggs.  I should mention at this point that I prefer extra-large eggs.  Especially in a bread like this that features their flavor profile so prominently.  And make sure, for goodness sake, that they're at room temperature before using them.  

Add your milk/butter/sugar/salt mixture, and your eggs to your yeast in the mixing bowl.  Blend well.  See, pretty yellow color below.  

Now comes the fun, messy, sticky part.  Adding the flour.  Ready? Set. Go!

Here you see some of the flour added...about half is in at this point. 

Now most of the flour is in...look at that mixer go!

The dough is now "workable"
The recipe states to add enough flour to make a "soft dough."  This isn't specific enough for me.  I want to know exactly how much to add.  Sorry to disappoint you, because I can't honestly tell you the answer to this problem. Sometimes I don't quite use all 8 cups, and sometimes I use almost 10!  You don't want liquid, that is for sure.  I use the dough hook action as a guide.  If it is pulling the dough away from the sides, without it sticking, I know I've got it good to go.  This is a very sticky bread dough, but it should form together rather well, and NOT RUN.  At this point, let it rise in a warm spot, covered for a half-an-hour. (I have my oven running and set it near the convection fan)

Poof! The dough is risen!
Ready for some fun now? The raisins get to join in the party now.  The dough is risen once, and we knead in the raisins.  Each time I've made Paska my family tells me there are not enough raisins in the bread.  The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of them.  This makes two loaves of bread.  For you math geniuses out there, that comes to a measly 1/8 cup per loaf.  I've increased the "raisin count" to the entire bag.  Yep.  You read that correctly.  One full bag of white raisins.  That is how much I love my family.  I know I couldn't cram one single more raisin in'll see why.

One full bag of white raisins (used for their softer, sweeter texture/flavor).  This is how much I love my family. 

Take your dough, spread it out on a floured surface.  Sprinkle liberally with raisins.  Fold over, knead.  Spread flat again.  Sprinkle more raisins.  Repeat until the entire bag is worked into the dough. 

I love my family so much that I cram into the dough, and entire bag of white raisins.  When you knead it, they jump out of the dough.  See em? I just poke those suckers right back in, so they will meet their fate in a 325 degree oven anyhow.  

Divide into two equally sized loaves.  You can bake in any type/size pan you like.  I prefer one fancy for Easter Sunday, and one more "rustic" for us to rip into while it is still hot.  Once in greased pans, allow to rise until double in size. (time varies...just keep an eye on them...and keep em warm!)

Doubled! Ready to bake...almost.

I brush those bad boys with an egg wash so they're purty when they are baked. 
Bake your loaves in a 325 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.  They should sound hollow when tapped/thumped.  Cool on wire racks.  Eat at least one as soon as you can touch them.  Mmmmmmmm. 

Don't you wish you had smell-o-vision.  Or monitor? Which is it?
See those raisins? Those mean love. Deep love for my family!
Hope you enjoy some Paska bread soon! It makes up two huge loaves, one for you to eat, and one for you to share (or not).  It is absolutely delicious and comforting.  I may have to make more this weekend just because I edited these photographs and they look so yummy!

Easter Paska Bread

2 cups whole milk
3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp. salt
4 oz unsalted butter
2 packets dry yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm (110 degree) water)
3 extra large eggs (well beaten)
7-8 cups flour
1/4 cup white raisins (only if you're stingy)

Scald milk.  Into large bowl add scalded milk, sugar, salt, and butter.  Add to yeast mixture, stir until well blended.  Add eggs, stir enough flour to make soft dough (until dough workable).  Cover and set aside for half an hour.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead until smooth, adding flour as needed.  This is when you will add raisins to dough.

Grease two pans (in any shape you want).  Divide dough in half and place each half in pan.  

Let rise-double in size. Brush with egg wash. Bake in preheated oven at 325 degrees-40 to 45 minutes.  Cool on wire racks.

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