Easter Paska

This sweet bread is one of our traditional Mennonite treats, hailing from the Ukraine where all my grandparents and my dad were born.  Growing up I always looked forward to it because we got to eat it for breakfast on Easter Sunday.  We typically ate really healthy breakfasts, so it was a big deal to have something sweet.  The bread itself is good, but the sierne paska, the spread you slather on top of each slice, is my favourite part.  Traditionally the paska was baked in large coffee tins, but I didn’t have any of those, so I just used loaf tins.  This recipe makes two loaves and a big batch of sierne paska, enough to top slices for both loaves.

We would typically leave the paska sitting out on a table, surrounded by decorated eggs, just because it looks pretty.  But, by Easter morning it would be all dried out – so I recommend storing it in a plastic bag before icing it, then ice it before you’re going to put it out, and cut right before serving.  People can slather on as much of the cheese spread as they want – mmmm, so good!

I’ve posted the recipe that my mom uses, but here are my Tante Katja’s recipes, in German.

What you need:

For the bread

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1 (8 gram) package yeast

2 whole eggs

5 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

juice of 1/2 an orange

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup scalded milk, cooled to luke-warm

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

4 & 1/2 to 5 cups flour

1/2 cup butter, melted

fine bread crumbs

For the sierne spread

2 cups dry curd (farmer’s) cottage cheese

5 egg yolks, hard-boiled

1/2 cup cream, boiled and cooled

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the icing

1/4 cup butter

a tablespoon or two of cream or milk

icing sugar

What you do:

For the bread

1. Dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm water, then sprinkle the yeast on top.  Let it sit for 10 minutes – if it gets foamy you know you’re got live yeast.  If not, go get some new yeast before proceeding.

2.  Beat the eggs and yolks for about 10 minutes, adding the sugar gradually.  Add the orange juice, milk, vanilla and yeast mixture, and mix well.

3.  Gradually add the flour and butter, adding enough flour to make a soft dough.

4. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, basically until the dough doesn’t cling to your hands any more.

5.  Lightly grease a large bowl and place the dough in it, turning the dough to coat it with a bit of the oil.  Place a clean tea towel over the top of the bowl and leave to rise in a warm place, about 45-60 minutes, or until doubled in size.  Punch it down and let it rise again for the same amount of time.

6.  Grease two bread pans (or coffee tins) and coat with the bread crumbs.  Divide the dough in half and form into a loaf with the edges tucked under, then place them into the pans.  The dough should fill the pan about 1/3.  Let the dough rise again, covered with the towel, until it just reaches the top of the pan.

7. Bake for 30 minutes at 350F.  Remove the paska from the tins and cool.  Then they will be ready to ice and show off!

For the sierne spread:

1. Press the cottage cheese and egg yolks through a fine sieve using the back of a wooden spoon.  Do this three times – it takes a bit of time and muscle, but it’s worth because it makes the texture very fine!

2. Cream the butter and sugar, then add everything else.

3.  Line a sieve with cheesecloth and place the spread in there.  Cover the top with plastic wrap and allow to drain in the fridge for a few hours.  (My mom says this is necessary, but there really wasn’t much liquid that drained out of mine, so I don’t think it’s essential.)

4. Invert the spread onto a plate so that it is a molded mound.  (In the photo I have it a bowl instead, but traditionally it is molded, usually in a pyramid shape)

For the icing

1. Cream the butter, then add a little icing sugar and cream, then a little more of each until you’ve got a soft icing.

2.  Top each cooled loaf with the icing, and add sprinkles if you like.

We seem to have fallen into a post-Easter coma.

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