Easter bread, or paska, was a staple growing up in our family. Traditional yeast, not the quick rise variety, and a large batch recipe ensured that the process of baking a batch consumed the better part of a day.
The process began early in the morning, with scalding milk and whipping cream together, then adding the hot mixture to some flour.
To this day, this dough starter smells like play dough to me. While waiting for this to cool, a dozen eggs are separated, with yolks whipped together with some sugar and a few drops of lemon extract for flavour.
Some yeast is mixed with a tablespoon of sugar in warm water and left to rise.
The egg whites are whipped separately. This step is crucial to the lightness of the bread. Here is a picture of the egg whites beginning to froth:
Yes, I do whip egg whites with a whisk and not a machine! The egg whites need to be whipped past the frothy stage but stop before stiff peaks form. They will look something like this:
You can see from this picture that the shiny stiff peak stage has not yet been reached, but the froth can just stand up on its own. Now the yolk mixture, egg whites, and yeast mixture are folded into the cooled milk and flour mixture to form a very runny bowlful of goodness that needs to rise.
Once this has risen (I usually wait at least 30 minutes), some lemon and orange zest, more sugar, butter, and lots of flour is added to form a soft dough. LOTS of flour. This recipe has about 10 cups of flour in it.
You stop adding flour when the dough stop sticking to you. Don’t add too much though, you want a soft dough. Knead the dough, cover, and let rise for two hours in a warm place away from drafts. After 2 hours it should have at least doubled in size.
Separate the dough into sections to form four round loaves.
Cover these loaves, and let rise another two hours until they at least double in size. If you think ahead, save a small amount of dough to add braiding after the loaves have risen.
I will admit, this was my first, and very basic, attempt at Ukranian braiding. Into the oven at 300 degrees for just under an hour and you get these lovely toasty loaves.
I learned my braid work needed to be longer (it separated during the baking process) and it needed to be joined to the loaf better…for that I think I needed to wet down the braid and the loaf to make them stick together better.
My second batch was as buns…yum. Next post will include the finished products with icing, sprinkles, and a detailed recipe – but first I must do some taste testing! (Grin)