With Easter just 10 days away on both the Orthodox and Western calendars, the Akron Beacon-Journal has published a recipe for Paska, or Pascha, the traditional sweet bread that takes up a large part of the Rusyn Easter basket traditionally taken to church for blessing.
The article quotes a parishioner of Akron's St. Michael's Byzantine Catholic Church describing "Paska is a sweet yeast bread, rich in eggs and butter, which is symbolic of Christ himself." She is Nickie Dornack of Akron, who bakes for her family and for her church family.
"Dornack follows a recipe she describes as Slovak for Easter bread that gets braided and then twisted into a wreath shape. Her recipe calls for two cups of golden raisins in the bread, which sometimes is left in unbraided round loaves.
'''We always put a little cross of dough on top,'' she said, noting that the braided shape also represents the crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus at his crucifixion."It's not my mother's recipe (definitely no raisins in hers), but Dornack's version is one that you may want to try:
2 cups milk
3/4 cup butter
6 to 8 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tbsp. instant dry yeast
1 cup sugar
5 eggs, beaten
2 cups golden raisins
1 tsp. vanilla, optional
Egg wash made from 1 beaten egg mixed with 2 tbsp. of water.
Warm the milk and butter together for about 3 minutes on high in a microwave.
Mix flour, salt, yeast and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add in the eggs and vanilla if using. Then add in the milk and butter mixture. Add in the raisins last.
Allow dough to mix until it pulls away from the side of the bowl. It will be a soft dough.
Place dough in a large, oiled mixing bowl. Cover with a towel and leave in a warm spot to rise until doubled in size.
Once raised, punch dough down and divide into 3 balls.
Each ball can be divided into three strands and braided, then twisted into a wreath shape. Or loaves can be left plain. Reserve a small amount of dough to shape into a cross and top each loaf with a cross.
Place loaves in round bread pans or cake pans or on flat baking sheets.
Allow to rise a second time until the loaves nearly double again, about an hour.
Brush loaves with egg wash.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.
To test for doneness, stick a sharp knife in the middle of each loaf. If the knife comes out sticky, the bread needs to bake longer.
Makes 3 loaves.