Paska is a sweet, rich bread that is traditionally served at Easter in Ukrainian (or Eastern European) countries. Ukrainians bake the Easter paska and place it in a basket of traditional foods which they bring to the church for a blessing. Most Ukrainian Easter traditions include foods that are symbols or reminders of the meaning of Easter. Paska represents Christ as the Living Bread. Typically, paska breads have ornaments on the top. The braids or twists (like you see on my paska) are the easiest symbols to make. Other symbols include the cross, rosettes, pine cones and doves.
Baking Paska takes time, but is well worth the effort. I love eating it warm out of the oven with a little butter. It’s also amazing toasted with cream cheese and/or jelly.
Paska (Traditional Ukrainian Easter Bread)
Makes 2 loaves of bread
4 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 2 envelopes)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/4 cup warm water
12 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups warm milk (100-110 degrees)
3 large eggs, room temperature
8 large egg yolks, room temperature (save the whites to attach ornaments later)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 lemon, zested
1 orange, zezted
3 tablespoons rum
1 stick (8 tablespoons) melted butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
- In a large bowl, combine yeast, 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 cup warm water. Mix until smooth and then set the mixture aside for 10-15 minutes, or until bubbly.
- Add 4 cups of flour and warm milk to the mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise for ~30 minutes, or until double in size.
- In a mixer (with whisk attachment), beat 3 eggs, 8 egg yolks and sugar until light and pale yellow (about 5 minutes).
- Add yeast mixture to the egg mixture and mix on low speed.
- Add salt, vanilla, lemon zest, orange zest, rum, melted butter and vegetable oil. Whisk on medium speed until combined.
- Remove the whisk attachment and attach the dough hook. (Note–if you don’t have a dough hook, you can do this by hand) With mixer on medium / low speed, gradually add enough of the remaining 8 cups of flour until the dough comes away from the side of the bowl. I usually mix 6-7 cups with the mixer and mix in the last cup or two by hand.
- Transfer the dough to a large bowl or clean work surface and knead (adding remaining flour, if necessary) until the dough is smooth and elastic (5-10 minutes).
- Place the dough in a large bowl and cover it with cloth or plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm spot for 1-2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Butter two round pans (I use casserole dishes)
- Divide the dough into thirds; set aside 1/3 for decorations and put the remaining thirds in the buttered pans.
- To make decorations, roll dough and shape into desired ornament. Attach them with lightly beaten egg whites and secure them with toothpicks.
- Let the dough rise for another 20 minutes in the pans.
- Combine 1 egg and 2 tablespoons of water and brush the egg mixture on top of the surface of the loaves.
- Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, then cover the top of the bread with tin foil, lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 50 minutes.
- The bread is done when you hear a hollow sound when tapping it. Let it cool in the pans for 30 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.