When I was growing up, my mom made a very cakey bread at Easter – called babka, usually with a glazed top, a very open texture and a smattering of raisins. While I learned to cook most of the savoury Polish dishes she made for us, I never learned to make her babka.
Tuffy P is Ukrainian/Irish. Her mom was very Ukrainian and at Easter made delicious paska. She made the bread straight up, but Tuffy P tells me her Aunt Annie made it with all the bells and whistle decorations usually associated with paska – including little chicks with cloves for eyes. We make ours without decorations and without raisins or other fruit. We do add lemon zest and lemon juice though and my paska has just a hint of lemon after baking.
Of course this bread is symbolically tied right in with religion and when my paska rises, that isn’t lost on me, even though I abandoned the church at a young age. I think of it more as a rite of spring, and when my dough rises again, I’m more likely to be humming the Mary Ellen Carter than any hymn.
We make lots and usually give loaves away to friends, and freeze a couple for paskalicious toast later on. I enjoy that it is something we make just once each year and something we share.
It takes some time to make a good paska, and I like that. You need some commitment to make it, and that’s something important to me in the instant gratification world we inhabit. I started late last night and made a sponge – basically a first rise, with less than half the flour in the mix.
This morning, I added in more flour until it was a soft and still slightly sticky dough, so I could just knead it without it becoming a sticky mess. At this point I split the dough into two bowls and let it rise for a couple hours.
After the dough was well-risen, I punched it down, and cut it into pieces for the next step. We make our paska in coffee cans. Each can is coated with oil and then a layer of breadcrumbs. I dropped a piece of dough into each can, covered them with a tea towel, and let them rise in the cans for a couple hours.
We had to test a loaf (for strictly scientific purposes you understand), just to make sure it was just right.
Although it is delicious plain, we couldn’t resist buttering the warm paska. This was a good batch, very light with a nice open crumb. Very tasty. I confess we destroyed that loaf in short order.
If you have questions about paska, leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer. If you’re hankering for more detail on how to make it, email me.