So I promised a photo of the Paska that Yanez and I baked last week and I’ll be the first one to admit that a photo is all that remains. That stuff was GOOD. My recipe (taken from the Mennonite Girls Can Cook cookbook) made 3 loaves, two large round ones and one regular sized loaf, and they didn’t last very long! Throughout my pregnancy I’ve tried to maintain a pretty healthy diet, but last week I found myself eating Paska for breakfast, afternoon snack, and dessert…often all on the same day. How convenient that our little girl popped out over my jeans a few days afterwards and I was forced rely on loose tops and leggings for the first time during my pregnancy! Perfect timing indeed!!!
Paska is traditionally a Ukrainian and Russian Easter bread (called kulich in Russian–thank you Dari for your contribution of the Russian term!) that the Mennonites who came from southern Russia (now part of the Ukraine’s Crimea region) brought to North America and passed down to unsuspecting, unskilled bakers like myself. Which is why I enlisted the help of my non-Mennonite, but VERY skilled baker friend, Yanez! She reintroduced me to kneading (I hadn’t kneaded anything in over a decade), taught me a few baking tips, and guided me through the 542-step process that is the Paska-making ordeal. When I spoke with my Grandma in Winnipeg a few days ago, I was quite proud to tell her I’d baked 3 loaves of the stuff with a friend’s help. She was in the middle of making Paska herself and it turns out her recipe was going to produce 15 loaves. FIFTEEN! I am SUCH a novice. Grandma had to split the recipe in two because she didn’t have a bowl large enough to mix the dough ingredients together, so half the batches were being baked that evening and the rest the day after. I had the chance to ask Grandma about how Mennonite woman were able to get their Paska so tall (mine were short and stocky and not at all how I remembered hers growing up) and she explained the coffee can tradition to me. Old coffee tins were used as baking pans for the bread, which allowed them to rise to extreme heights. Paper bags were put on top immediately when they went in the oven in order to protect the crust from burning. Grandma doesn’t tend to use coffee cans any more because they are often ringed with ridges nowadays, making it virtually impossible to extract the final product from the tin. Sounds to me like someone had to learn that the hard way.
Paska in it’s finished form is often tall and round, fluffy and full of lemony goodness, topped with the requisite icing sugar and coloured sprinkles. At least that’s what I grew up with. My friend Julie introduced me years ago to another Paska tradition, which is a lemon/cottage cheese/cream cheese/ spread that intensifies the citrus flavour and adds a dollop of richness to this rather light sweet bread. It is DIVINE and like Julie confessed, I too could eat it by the spoonful.
I promised the Paska recipe here, but seeing as how it’s awfully long (not exactly 542 steps, but still tedious for sure) I’ve decided to refer you to the cookbook I took it from. It’s called Mennonite Girls Can Cook and is written by a group of Mennonite women who also contribute regularly to a blog by the same name. I couldn’t cook from their recipes on a regular basis as they don’t really fit my ideal of a healthy diet, but they are fantastic recipes for indulging in on the odd occasion. The great thing about the book is that it’s filled with history and personal stories that seem to enrich the recipes themselves. I actually have two, one given to me by my mom’s cousin, and one given to me by my Grandma–the same who was baking Paska the other day. She actually informed me that we are related to one of the authors, which if you’re Russian Mennonite, you’ll nod with familiarity here and say ‘of course’ or ‘typical’, because Mennonites love to trace back their lineage to see if they are related to one another. It’s what one Mennonite does when they meet another. Swap last names or maiden names, and then list everyone you know who has the other’s last name to see if they know of or are related to them. It can be a lengthy process but it’s always amusing at the very least.
Back to Paska recipes. I DID get Julie’s permission, however, to share with you the Paska spread recipe that will become a part of my own family’s Easter Paska tradition. It’s her own Grandma’s recipe and I’m sure came straight from the old country, like most every other creamy, fattening, luscious food item we Mennos love to splurge on!
Julie’s Grandma’s Paska Spread
- 1/2 cup Cream
- 5 Eggs, yolks only
- 1/2 cup (Unsalted) Butter
- 8 oz. Cream Cheese
- 1 1/2 cups Cottage Cheese
- 1/2 cup Sugar
- Salt (pinch)
- Vanilla (1 Tsp)
*- 1 Lemon, Juiced
1. Scald cream and egg yolks.
2. Add butter and cream cheese and stir until melted.
3. Add remaining ingredients and blend well (in blender until smooth).
The aspects of the list of ingredients that are in parenthesis are my own additions for clarification. *Directions for use of the lemon were a bit different, I decided to juice my whole lemon.
Spread each slice with a dollop of sauce every time one is cut…and then take a catnap afterwards, or better yet a brisk walk!
That my friends, is Paska! I’m so thankful to Yanez Koenig for her help, and to Julie Thiessen and Jennifer Bass for their tips and advice on Paska making. I’m so excited to try this on my own next year and pass it down to the next generation of Mennonites. Maybe I’ll even find a coffee tin with no ridges so I can try my hand at a super tall Paska loaf!
Well, that’s about all I can write about Paska without getting hungry! It’s about lunch time and we are vacationing in Santa Barbara this weekend, so I think we’ll go find something to eat soon. I swear that’s one of my favourite aspects of traveling. That’s why I rarely find myself eager to travel to places where people don’t rave about the food. Seriously. If you like exploring different foods and cultures, you should check out Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations. And if you’re in the Vancouver vicinity, you should check out my friend Lindsay Anderson’s blog: http://www.365daysofdining.com Here in Santa Barbara we’ve visited (on recommendation by my foodie friend Kelly I.) Metropulos, a gourmet sandwich shop (and so much more) and plan on also hitting up a superb-sounding taco place by the name of Lilly’s Tacos. Anyone know of a great brunch spot in Solvang???
One final note, as it was Good Friday yesterday and Easter Sunday tomorrow, I just wanted to share two of the verses from one of my favourite modern hymns, called In Christ Alone. It so perfectly sums up the glory and majesty of Easter, and what Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the grave means for those who believe in it’s power:
In Christ alone who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
How fitting that the rising of bread and the breaking of it, should be part of my Easter tradition. He is risen.