Easter bread, called Paska, is traditionally eaten in Ukraine during Easter holidays. Interesting that the recipe for it is similar to Italian Panettone, which is baked in Italy for Christmas. The tradition of eating Easter bread comes from religious reasons - Great Lent. Paska is made of all ingredients that are forbidden during the Lent and people break the fast by eating Easter bread loaded with butter, eggs, milk and sugar. Easter bread can be bought anywhere during the holidays, but there is something mysterious and magical in family tradition of baking Easter bread. The recipe goes from mother to daughter and each family has its own secrets.
I will be honest with you. In our family the right of baking Easter bread still belongs to my mother, because she is the one who keeps the family together. But all the fun belong to me, because I'm responsible for decorating part! Traditionally Paska is decorated with royal icing and sprinkles on the top. However lately in bakeries there are a lot of fancy variations which involve chocolate frosting, ganache, macaroons ans meringues, that I used last year. This time I went for less effortless, though not less beautiful dried fruits and nuts.
And to be totally honest, I wasn't planning to make a blog post out of it. Because I post only those recipes that I make by myself. But as long as I had brought home a huge bouquet of lilac the other day, I just couldn't resist not to use the opportunity.
Note that the recipe makes one 20 cm/8 inch loaf, but we usually triple the recipe and bake in pans of different sizes, because traditionally Easter bread is the first thing to present to friends and family members, and also we have a custom to exchange Easter bread.
Also note that yeast dough is made in a few stages and therefore it is not a quick process. It takes at least five-six hours to prepare the dough and to bake.
makes one large 20 cm/8inch loaf
140 g all-purpose flour
250 ml lukewarm milk
14 g active dry yeast
115 g sugar
110 g butter, room temperature
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk, room temperature
350-400 g all-purpose flour, depending on the dough consistency
1 tbsp orange/lemon zest
1 tsp anise seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 egg white
150-200 g powdered sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
gel food coloring, if desired
To make the starter
Combine the starter ingredients in a middle-sized bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and leave for 45-60 minutes.
To make the dough
Add sugar, butter. eggs and egg yolk to the starter, mix and knead the dough - in stand mixer, bread machine or by hand (we make the dough for Easter bread only by hand) - for 3 minutes. Add flour, orange zest, anise seeds and salt. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it is soft and smooth, but it shouldn't be sticky. In the end of kneading add dried fruits.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a big buttered bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and leave the dough for 1 - 1 1/2 hours to let it double in size.
Gently deflate the dough on a floured working surface. Cover again and set aside for 10-15 minutes while preparing the pan.
Butter the inside of one 20 cm/8 inch tall straight-sided pan or a few smaller (standard 400 ml 8cm/3 inch in diameter cans work excellent) and cover the bottom with parchment paper. Make a parchment paper collar, slightly higher than the pan. It will make releasing of Easter bread much easier and also it gives spare place for the dough to rise in the oven.
Shape the dough into a ball and place into the pan so that in filled one half of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for 45-60 minutes.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours depending on the pan size. The last 25-20 minutes on the oven cover Easter bread with foil to prevent from burning. Check the donennes with a wooden skewer.
Let cool in a pan for 10 minutes. Turn out on a wire rack to cool.
To make the royal icing
Softly beat the egg white, beat in the rest of ingredients until it is smooth. If the icing is too thick add more egg whites, and if it is too runny, add more powdered sugar.
Cover the top of warm Easter bread with icing and decorate with dried fruits and nuts.