Paska, a yeast bread recipe made with milk, butter, eggs, flour and sugar, is a traditional Easter dish found in a number of Eastern European cultures, including the Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria. The Mennonites are sometimes credited with bringing the recipe to the United States.
The icing or topping and paska bread recipes are as varied as the cooks who prepare the dish. Of course, you can always alter the recipe to fit your preference.
As an Easter side dish, paska is usually baked in a round pan, braided and then twisted round to fit the pan. Many people add dough cut-outs in the shape of a cross or other religious symbols to the top of the loaf, or braided dough is added to the edges of the loaf for decoration. An American addition to the paska loaf is a cheese topping made from cottage cheese. Many recipes have the cottage cheese as an ingredient in the bread dough.
As an Easter dessert, paska is sweeter and includes raisins or currants, and sometimes cherries or other fruit. This version is most often baked in cans, or panettone paper baking molds, so the loaf comes out tall and cylindrical, similar to Ukrainian babka or a Russian kulich. The loaf is topped with a sweet white frosting, which is allowed to drip down the sides and is then covered with multicolored sprinkles.
When baking paska, the tradition goes, the household must be peaceful and quiet, and the baker must keep her thoughts pure. It’s a family affair — no strangers or neighbors allowed — and in olden days, the man of the house guarded the entrance to the home while the loaf was being made and baked to keep away threats and those who would curse the family’s future prosperity.
Another Easter tradition is hot cross buns, an English treat immortalized in the street call of “One-a-penny, two-a-penny, hot cross buns!”
The spiced and sweet buns contain raisins or currants and are topped with a cross of either a paste made of flour and water or a white icing. Traditionally, the buns are baked and eaten on Good Friday as a way of ending the Lenten fast.
The custom of eating the buns on Good Friday may also have been because of a London law that prohibited the selling of sweet buns except on Good Friday, Christmas and at burials. Many people believed the cross on the bun indicated it had been blessed and had the power to heal or ward off evil. The history of hot cross buns can be intriguing and found at a number of websites on the Internet.
Whatever the reason you may bake yeast bread recipes like paska or hot cross buns, know that the traditions are strong in many cultures, and your efforts are being duplicated by others celebrating their Easter traditions all around the world.
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