Paska is a spectacular bread traditionally made for Easter in many Eastern European countries. As with many of the classic Slovak recipes up on this blog, I had somehow never heard of it before going through my grandmother’s old cookbooks. And woe is me, because this is a sweet cheese dough, wrapped in a sweet enriched dough, baked to a rich golden brown. Carbs on carbs! With cheese flavor baked in! Beautiful enough to serve as a centerpiece at your spring table! Paska, where have you been all my life?
This bread does, admittedly, take some work. You make both a basic yeasted dough, enriched with milk and butter, and a cheesy version, made with dry cottage cheese. If you just thought about giving up, because what on earth is dry cottage cheese, I was right there with you. But a little bit of internet sleuthing showed me that dry cottage cheese was a fairly common ingredient used back in the 1950s, and you can recreate it by squeezing regular cottage cheese through a cheese cloth, draining off all of the liquid so that you are left with (you guessed it) dry cottage cheese. It might seem like a lot of extra work, but as long as you have cheesecloth (or a thin kitchen towel you don’t mind getting dirty), you get a yeasted bread with a distinct tangy cheese flavor that’s like nothing I’d ever had before.
I shaped my paskas into ring, and then cut snips all around the top of the dough before baking it to give it texture. There are lots of beautiful pictures out there of other paska shapes, from baking it up high in a pannetone pan to braiding it to creating shapes of the cross or a crown of thorns. The dough is easy to work with, so the possibilities are endless. The color on this loaf is a rich, shiny golden brown, thanks to a simple egg wash. When you slice into it, you can just barely see the two different layers of bread, and the taste is rich, hearty, and more like a dessert than a bread. It would be perfect at an Easter table or a spring brunch, and it’s definitely a show stopper.
- Do yourself a favor and read the recipe through at least once before you begin so you can plan out your time.
- I baked this loaf in a 10″ tube pan. If you don’t have a tube pan, you could follow the same shaping instructions in the recipe, but bake it in a 9″ cake pan, leaving a hole in the center.
- I played around with other shapes while I was recipe testing, and forming a 4-stranded braid (two of the regular dough, 2 of the cheese dough) that I made into a circle and baked in a cake pan was also lovely. If you decide to go this route, decrease the baking time and start watching the loaf around 45 minutes to make sure it doesn’t get overly browned.
- I used this cheesecloth to ring out the cottage cheese.
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
- 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
- 1 cup boiling milk
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ cup butter (4 tablespoons)
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- ½ pound dry cottage cheese (see recipe below)
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ cup milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 ½ to 3 cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 egg yolk + 2 tablespoons water, for the egg wash
- In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water and set aside for five minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl, pour the boiling milk over the butter and salt. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the butter is melted. Cool this mixture to lukewarm, then stir in the yeast mixture.
- Add 1 ½ cups of the flour and stir with the wooden spoon until incorporated. Add the remaining 1 ½ cups of flour and stir until it is incorporated, then turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it until it is smooth, about 10 minutes.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl covered loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let rise until it is doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 ½ hours.
- Place 1 ½ cups of small curd cottage cheese in cheesecloth, and squeeze, getting as much of the liquid out as possible. Measure out 1 cup of the (relatively) dry cheese curds and set aside in a large bowl.
- Heat the ½ cup milk to lukewarm, either on the stovetop or in the microwave. Add in the 1 tablespoon of sugar, then sprinkle the yeast over it and set aside for 5 minutes.
- Add the melted butter and yeast mixture to the cottage cheese curds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the unbeaten egg yolks, sugar, salt, and 2 ½ cups of the flour and stir until the dough comes together, then turn it out onto the countertop and knead it until it is smooth, about 10 minutes. If the dough is too sticky to handle, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time until you can work with it.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl covered loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise for 1 hour.
- Divide each ball of dough into 2 parts. Take 1 of the basic doughs and roll it into a 10 inch circle. Use a knife to make a hole in the center of the dough, then widen the hole to about 2” in diameter.
- Shape ½ of the cheese dough into a roll long enough to form into a circle that will rest on top of the basic dough.
- Bring the middle and edges of the basic dough together over the cheese dough and pinch them together, going all around the circle. When you are finished, the cheese dough should be completely encased by the basic dough. Repeat with the second doughs.
- Flip the bread into a buttered 10” tube pan so that the seam is down. Let the dough rise for another 45 minutes, then brush it with a beaten egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons of water. Clip the top of the bread with scissors (this is to make the bread look more like a crown of thorns). Repeat with the second doughs.
- Bake for 1 hour. Let the paskas rest in their pans for 5 minutes, then remove them to cooling racks.