What comes to mind when you near Easter? Perhaps a whole lot of things, from Good Friday, the miracle of our Risen Saviour, to Easter Lilies, colored eggs & of course…Paska! Yes, it seems that Easter can’t go by without a little of that yummy Easter Bread. I felt very “Mennonite” yesterday as I baked up a batch of delicious paska. I consider myself a novice paska maker but I was thrilled with the end result & the “YUM” expressions from everyone this morning as they ate their thickly sliced & toasted buttered paska was worth the time & effort.
As I graciously devoured my piece this morning I was curious to know the origin of Paska & exactly why we have attached it to Easter. A quick google search didn’t come up with as much as I was hoping/anticipating, but this is what I found:
Paska is an Easter bread eaten in Eastern European countries including Poland, Ukraine and Slovakia. It is also eaten in other countries with immigrant populations from Easter Europe, including the US, Canada and the UK.
The Christian faithful in any Easter Orthodox countries eat this bread during Easter. Various Christian symbolism is associated with features of paska type breads. The inside of paska can be a swirl of yellow & white that is said to represent the risen Christ in Christian faith, while the white represents the Holy Spirit. A version of Easter bread is made with maraschino cherries, added to symbolize royal jewels to honor the resurrection of Jesus.
It is believed to have been brought to the United States by Mennonites.
(excerpt taken from Wikipedia)
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(excerpt taken from http://www.easteuropeanfood.about.com)
Before you even taste the slightly sweet, faintly citrus flavor of a loaf of paska, you’re captivated with the visual appeal of this classic Ukrainian Easter bread. During baking, paska, often capped with elaborate twists and curls, rises high out of its pan in a deep golden puff. It’s almost hard to imagine cutting into these beautifully intricate loaves, which have been staples of the Ukrainian Easter celebration for centuries.
Of course, paska is not just bread: The sculpted-dough designs adorning the top carry symbolic meanings. Many patterns originated during the spread of Christianity in A.D. 988; others can be traced back to native Ukrainian pagan religions. Ukrainian peasants felt strong connections to the land and the grains that grew there, and rituals, charms, songs, gestures, and movements grew around the act of baking paska. In fact, baking it was one of the most serious undertakings of the year. According to legend, you could predict the future from the outcome of the bread — a full, nicely shaped loaf indicated a good year to come.
Symbols Used on Traditional Paska
Triangle: the Trinity
Fish: Christ, the fisherman
Sun: life, growth, and good fortune
Flowers: love, charity, and goodwill
Wheat: good health and wishes for a good harvest
Evergreens: health and eternal youth
Cross: the death and the resurrection of Christ
Eight-pointed star: the sun god
Birds: fertility and wish-fulfillment
Dots: stars in the heavens
Deer, horses, and rams: prosperity
Waves and ribbons circling an egg: eternity
Pussy willows: Palm Sunday
Pine branches and trees: youth and health
(excerpt taken from http://www.marthastewart.com/article/ukrainian-easter-bread-with-lubow)
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Although my paska is plain (no fancy braids or decorations adorning mine), it could be served with icing & sprinkles (a favourite amongst the kids) if you don’t want it toasted.
Here is the recipe I used which comes from my husband’s grandmother:
1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp sugar
2 cups scalded milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup butter or margarine
Rind & juice of 1 lemon
6-8 cups flour
Dissolve the yeast & sugar in the warm water & let stand a few minutes.
Beat with mixer the milk, eggs, sugar, butter & lemon juice & rind. Add the yeast mixture & then add 6-8 cups of flour.
Let rise 1 1/2 hours till doubled. Then form buns or loaves (note: I get two loaves & five large buns out of this recipe). Let rise again (about 45 minutes).
For buns: bake @ 275 degrees for about 20 – 25 minutes.
For loaves: bake @ 325 degrees (I did mine on the bottom rack of my oven) for about 30 – 40 minutes.