I usually write a little story to preface my recipe, but writing out the recipe took long enough, so no story today! I’m just happy to share the recipe that both my mother and my baba have been using for decades (that’s my mother’s handiwork above), and the one that I tried on Saturday. I was surprised that it worked out–for some reason I thought the first try would be a messy failure–although I still have a ways to go with practicing my technique when it comes to forming the loaves.
When I was talking with my baba the other day about baking paska, I asked her if there’s any difference between paskas and babkas, and she said no. The babkas are just a different shape–they’re more narrow. She also reminded me that this isn’t her recipe, but Pani Chernovohorodsky’s from Welland, Ontario. She’s never one to take credit for work that’s not hers! And I’ll add one thing…it’s quite the process, but with practice, I’m sure it will get easier. Good luck!
Paska / Babka / Ukrainian Easter Bread
- 6 large eggs
- 5 cups of all purpose flour, sifted
- one package of dry yeast
- 1 tbsp. of sugar
- 1/4 cup of warm water
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1/2 cup of lukewarm water
- 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp. of salt
- flavoring: 1 tsp. of lemon rind OR vanilla
- raisins (optional)
- parchment paper
- a variety of cans or pots: depending on the size of your baking cans and pans, this recipe will yield about 8 mini-babkas (baked in 15-ounce soup cans). To bake a bigger, rounder paska, use an old pot.
- standing mixer
A couple of hours before you start, take out the eggs from the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature. Either now or while the dough is rising, clean out your cans and trace them on parchment paper. Cut out circles, and then cut lengths to surround the sides as well. (I used the labels of the cans as my template.)
Sift the flour and separate the eggs.
In a pyrex measuring cup, mix the yeast with 1 tbsp. of sugar and 1/4 cup of warm water. This should start bubbling. If it doesn’t, start over with a new package.
Using a standing mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until very stiff. Scrape into another bowl and set aside. Wash and dry the mixer bowl.
Place yolks in the mixer bowl and add the sugar. Using the whisk attachment, beat well until the egg yolks are really frothy and light.
To the yolk mixture, add the yeast. Also add the lukewarm water, oil, salt, and your flavoring. Mix well.
[now here's the fun part!]
With the mixer running on a lower setting, start adding the egg whites, a big spoonful at a time, then a 1/2 cup scoop of flour, and alternate back and forth. Before you add more of the whites or the flour, make sure what you’ve just added has been well incorporated. You may have to stop the mixer now and then and scrape the sides of the bowl. NOTE: you can keep the whisk attachment on for the first few rounds. When it gets too thick, switch to the dough hook.
Continue adding the whites and the flour. You may run out of the whites sooner than the flour, and that’s OK because you may not actually use all of the flour. Here’s where you have to start guessing when you’ve added enough flour. How will you know? The dough will be a little sticky a will pull away from the bowl. Also, it will start ‘creeping’ up the dough hook (my dough almost touched the part where the mixer and the dough hook lock together, if you can visualize that!).
Rub your palms with some oil and rub it over the dough so it won’t dry out. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rise until the dough doubles in size. (Be patient! This took several hours for me.)
When the dough is risen, very lightly flour a surface and knead the dough very slightly. Add in the raisins, if you wish.
Now here’s where there’s more guesswork involved. You’ll want to cut off pieces of the dough that would fill your cans to the halfway mark. For your first time, you might want to work with uniformly sized tins so that you can attempt cutting several equally-sized pieces. Place in the parchment lined cans and cover with a cloth. Let the dough rise until it just reaches the top of the tins.
As the rising nears completion, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Just before putting your tins in the oven, brush with some beaten egg and milk.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 degrees. For small paskas, this can take as little as 30 – 45 minutes, and larger ones will take closer to an hour. Also, for larger ones, you may want to back longer on a lower temperature. (Again, this is where you can experiment. I’ll do the same and report back with any new tips.)
If you want to decorate: reserve some dough and knead a little more flour into it so that it is stiffer. Make your decorations and keep in mind that they should be small, as they will grow in the oven. Brush with some of the egg wash and place very quickly on the baking paska once it has been in the oven for about 20 minutes. (One fun idea: make little birds by tying a rolled piece of dough in a knot; flatten one edge with a knife and cut in a few slits, and on the other end, pinch out a beak and make eyes with two cloves. I’m embarrassed to show you my attempt at this, but will do it anyway so you get what I’m saying here. The head on this bird is tiny and the cloves make her look like she’s wearing Jacki Os!…you should aim for something a little bigger so she doesn’t look so out of proportion. But this may take practice. Again…patience!)
Depending on the size of our paskas, start checking them for doneness at the 30 minute mark. To tell whether it’s done, turn paska out of the pan and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it is done. If it sounds flat, put it back in for a few minutes longer and then check again.
Once you remove them from the oven, I recommend taking them out of the can right away. I left mine in for an hour and for some reason, the sides were a bit moist when I took them out. Maybe it was steam? I don’t know. Anyway, the tins serve no purpose after the baking is done, so take out the paskas and allow them to cool.
If you prefer, you can also decorate afterwards. Make a thick paste by adding some water to confectioner’s sugar. Roll out a round that would cover the top of your bread between two pieces of parchment paper, remove one layer of paper and flip the icing onto the surface. Then, decorate it with cut up gummy candies.