How to Make Traditional Easter Bread

Paska and I go way back. Though it is traditionally an Easter bread, my grandmother made it year round. She must have made it twice a week; she just couldn’t keep it in the house. Everybody who paid her a visit knew exactly where to look for a loaf of freshly baked paska. We ate it buttered and served with a meal. We toasted it and added butter or jelly. My grandfather liked it with his eggs or to make a sandwich. My daughter, Jordan, from the age of two, liked to dip it in “angel coffee”, a concoction invented by my Gram when she babysat Jordan.

Two years ago on, Good Friday, my Gram passed away. In the years before she died, I was lucky enough to have spent a lot of time with her. She taught me lots of things, including how to make paska. I’ve had many practice sessions, making it with her, and I now plan to teach it to my own daughter when she’s old enough.

It’s pretty easy to make, especially if you have a good stand mixer with a dough hook. My Gram always said, “It’s so easy. It’s only four things.” In truth it’s more than four, but she looked at it like this:

1) 4 cup measure:

Mix about ¾ c. warm (not hot) water; 2 tsp. sugar; 2 packets quick rise yeast

Cover loosely amp; let rise to about the top of 4 cup measure

2) large bowl:

Sift together 8 c. flour; 1 c. sugar; 1 tsp. salt

3) small bowl:

2 beaten eggs

4) small saucepan

2 c. milk, scalded and still hot; 1 stick butter, cut in pieces

Once milk is scalded, remove from heat and add butter; let melt

To make the paska in your mixer, allow the milk/butter to cool enough to not kill the yeast. Pour the warm milk/butter mixture into your mixer bowl. Add the yeast mixture, making sure to scrape the sides of the cup. Begin mixing on low speed with a beater.

Add a little of the flour mixture and blend until you have a batter-like consistency. Keep adding flour a little at a time until it begins to form a soft dough.

Change to your dough hook, making sure to scrape the beater.

“That’s another slice of paska,” my Gram would say.

Pour in the beaten eggs and mix with the dough hook on a Cuisinart stand mixer. Add remaining flour until a nice dough forms and it begins to pull away from the sides; continue to knead in mixer for several minutes.

Turn dough out onto floured board and knead by hand into a nice ball. Lightly grease the inside of your mixer bowl and place the dough back in. Put the whole mixer bowl into a large clean kitchen trash bag. Twist the bag shut, trapping some air inside, and twist-tie it. Let rise in a warm/sunny place for about two hours, or until about doubled.

After the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and punch it down. Use a sharp, non-serrated knife to slice dough into three equal pieces for traditional round pans (about 8″ diameter), or four pieces for loaf pans. Grease pans with butter before adding dough.

Knead each piece into a ball and place it into a pan. Place all pans back inside the plastic bag and close. Let the dough rise a second time, until it comes to the tops of the pans, about one hour.

While you are waiting, beat an egg in a small bowl and add a few teaspoons of cold coffee. This will be used to coat the tops of the loaves. The coffee helps brown the tops.

Preheat oven to 350º. When the dough has risen the second time, remove from bags. Take a sharp knife and gently poke any air bubbles that have formed on the surface. Now stick your clean fingertips into the egg/coffee mixture and gently rub a thin coating over the top of each loaf.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and shake to loosen. Cool slightly, then remove to rack to cool completely.

Store paska in plastic bags, if you can keep it around that long. Makes 3-4 loaves.