I don’t think there’s been a recipe that I’ve been more excited to share here on From James to Jamie than this one. While I’ve posted a bunch of recipes from many different walks of life, this is the first one that celebrates my own heritage (and it’s a fantastic one). If you’re Mennonite (or “half-Mennonite” like myself) or have Mennonite friends, chances are you’ve enjoyed paska during one Easter season or another. If you’re Russian or Ukrainian, you probably know what I’m talking about as well. If you fit none of those categories, tasting a piece of fresh paska may not be enough for you to understand what the fuss is all about. It’s essentially sweetened bread with icing and sprinkles. I mean, what’s the big deal, right?
To fellow Mennonites who grew up visiting baking-inclined aunts and omas on Good Friday or Easter Sunday, or had the smell of the fresh bread in their own homes during the holiday season, paska is more than just sweet bread; it’s a tradition that you look forward to weeks – nay, months – in advance. Knowing that it’s only made once a year makes it special; the fact that it’s made with love, and made to encourage family gathering together to enjoy it – that makes it even more special still.
The main reason I’m so excited to share this recipe though – you know, aside from the fact that it’s absolutely delicious – is because it’s a family recipe. Years ago my mom did her own version of a food blog, writing up hundreds of her beloved recipes (and a few she has still yet to try) compiling them into color-coded binders for her children and close friends. Though she included essentially nothing in the way of anecdotes preceding her ingredient lists – aside from a quick mention of which friend/family member/magazine she procured the recipe from – and no pictures whatsoever, I consider it a big influence in me starting my own food blog. She compiled all of her favourite recipes in one place and shared them around, and I’m doing the same…though arguably on a farther-reaching medium.
Anyways, at the almost absolute back of these packed binders of hers, there are a few different recipes for paska. Considering one was an apparently “perfected” version of my great grandmother Reimer’s recipe, it was a no brainer which one I’d be basing my recipe off of. Having been passed down for generations, translated from German, and having migrated across the Atlantic as well, I didn’t want to make any major changes to the recipe. I decreased the yield (it usually makes about 6 loaves), used quick-rise yeast, and opted for fresh lemon zest and juice over lemon oil (which I’ve never owned or used), but kept everything else essentially the same. The result is a loaf of Mennonite Easter bread that I’m very proud to be sharing with you today.
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup + 4 tbsp. milk, divided
- 1/3 cup whipping cream
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/3 cup butter, firm
- 1-2 lemons for zest and juice
- 5 eggs, separated
- 5 tsp. (25 ml.) quick-rise yeast
- 5 1/2 – 7 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 cup icing sugar
- In a large bowl, combine together 3 cups of flour with your yeast and mix well.
- Place your egg whites in the bowl of an upright mixer with whisk attachment and run mixer on medium until the egg whites are dry (about 2-3 minutes past the “stiff peaks” stage)
- At the same time, combine together the granulated sugar, 1/3 cup milk, whipping cream and water in a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat. Cut your butter into about 5-10 pieces and add to your saucepan. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter has completely melted. Remove from heat and add in zest of one lemon and 4 tbsp. of lemon juice. Add in your egg yolks, and whisk the mixture together for about 30 seconds.
- Pour your liquid mixture over your dry ingredients and mix well to create a wet, spongy consistency.
- Add this spongy mixture into your mixing bowl with the egg whites and fold the two together until fully combined. (This requires a bit of arm strength)
- Switch your mixer to a dough hook attachment and, adding 1/2 cup at a time, gradually add more flour to the mixer as it’s set to a low-medium setting.
- Once you’ve used up at least 5 1/2 cups of flour (3 in the original mixture, 2 1/2 more added in) and the dough is somewhat manageable by hand, remove to a very well-floured flat surface.
- Knead the dough for about 10-15 minutes, until the dough has a satiny texture. In this time, you will need to continually add more flour to your surface and directly onto your dough as well. In total, you may find that you use up about 7 cups of flour overall (up to 1 1/2 cups or so in the kneading stage).
- When you’ve got the right texture to the dough, stop adding flour to your surface and knead for a minute longer. The dough may start to stick a little, but that’s okay.
- Remove to a clean bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- Once the dough has had a chance to rest, cut in half and place in two bread pans that have been lightly greased with butter (you may want to line them with parchment paper as well – I greased my pans, lined the bottom with parchment, then greased that as well and it worked like a charm). You don’t have to punch the dough down, but push it into the corners of the bread pans so it forms a relatively uniform layer on the bottom.
- Cover the bread pans with clean tea towels, and place in the middle rack of your oven with the oven light on. Let rise until doubled in size (approximately 1 1/2 hours).
- Once they’ve risen, remove the bread pans from the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Once the oven is up to temperature, return the bread pans to the oven (without the tea towels, of course) and bake for 45 minutes (obviously, monitor closely in the last few minutes and adjust times if necessary).
- Once baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes in the pans. Then, remove the loaves by simply flipping the pans over onto a wire rack, and allow the loaves to cool a few minutes longer while you prepare your icing.
- For the icing, each loaf requires approximately 1 cup of icing sugar, 2 tbsp. of milk, and 1-2 tsp. of lemon juice, to taste. Obviously adding more lemon juice means you may want more icing sugar to reach the right consistency, so play around with it a bit. Simply mix these ingredients together, then the icing can be poured/slathered over the tops of the loaves.
- Lastly, don’t forget to add sprinkles! Be sure to do this before the icing starts to harden, otherwise the sprinkles won’t stick, and you’ll have a mess of them all over your counter/floor.
- While paska is best eaten fresh from the oven, you can freeze the loaves without icing to be defrosted, iced, and devoured at a later time. If eating paska a few hours or a day removed from when it was baked, a little time in the microwave (say, 15-20 seconds) makes it almost as good as fresh.