Paska

At the time of this writing, I am employed at a faith-based senior’s home. I work as a cook and a baker at various buildings on site, preparing food items for the hundreds of residents who live there. Being the kitchen’s go-to bread guy, I have been tasked this year with making a kind of bread that, before working there, was utterly unknown to me.

Mennonite Easter bread. Paska.

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I had never seen nor heard of this bread before starting my job in the care home. As I did not grow up Mennonite, I was not privy to their ritual foods eaten on different holidays. What an absolute shame, because this bread is one that should be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of culture, creed, or even time of year. In my professional opinion, which can most certainly be wrong (or stupid), it seems as though this bread is just simply a sweet dough, the kind you would use to make cinnamon buns and the like, shaped into a bun, baked, and then iced. A sweet, iced bun, not unlike a finger bun, which is literally a sweet, iced bun, eaten as a snack for tea. Not bad, but not exciting. The kind of bread product small children and those with a real sweet tooth would enjoy. Is paska really that far removed from an iced piece of white bread?

In short, yes. Very different.

The recipe I am using is adapted straight from the on-line epicenter of Mennonite cooking: a website called Mennonite Girls Can Cook. Definitely check out their website. Chances are, if you are an online-recipe browser, you’ve stumbled across their page at some point. It’s well worth a visit. The recipe on their site for paska that I am using  is a very interesting dough that is quite unlike breads I’ve made before and, as my bread repertoire (a.k.a. “breadpertoire”) is somewhat more expansive than most, this intrigues me. Blending up an entire orange and lemon with a bunch of milk to use as the liquid for bread? That’s some messed up stuff right there. I get jazzed just thinking about it.

The end result of this process is a dozen delightfully soft sweet, white buns with strong citrus notes that linger on the tongue long after you eat them. Topped with an icing or a glaze, some rainbow sprinkles, and you’ve got yourself a Mennonite Easter doughnut.

Scroll to the bottom for a shorthand recipe and if you hate pictures of festive bread.

Things you will need:

  • Bread flour (or all purpose, but it’s not my problem if it doesn’t turn out as nice), milk (or milk powder & water), butter, eggs, white sugar, salt, instant yeast, some lemons and some oranges.
  • A zester or peeler.
  • A blender.
  • A digital scale.
  • A medium to large sized mixing bowl.
  • A cookie sheet and some parchment paper.
  • Spray oil.
  • Plastic wrap.

A couple of notes are necessary about this dough. First, the liquid portion of the dough is made up of milk, zest, and fruit. These three items need to be blended together in order to ensure that the zest and fruit are blended into small enough pieces to be worked into your dough seamlessly. Giant chunks of zest and lemon bits are not ideal. As well, the recipe calls for milk, but I usually use water and milk powder instead of just straight milk. Most recipes that call for milk will require you to scald and cool the milk before using it; milk powder, however, comes pre-scalded, eliminating an annoying step. You don’t have to scald and cool the milk, but it will yield a better product if you do. Ask me to explain why if you want to know the nitty-gritty behind how milk proteins act as a gluten inhibitor.

Ingredients –

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  • Bread flour: 436 grams (812 ml (about 3 1/4 cups))
  • Milk: 218 grams (218 ml (about 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons))
    • Alternatively, you can use 218 grams of water and 21 grams of milk powder.
  • Room temperature butter: 53 grams (55 ml (a little less than 1/4 cup))
  • Eggs: 46 grams (about one medium egg)
  • White Sugar: 69 grams (82 ml (about 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon))
  • Salt: 9 grams (8 ml (about 1 and a half teaspoons)
  • Instant Yeast: 12 grams (19 ml (about 1 tablespoon and one teaspoon)
  • Lemon: 27 grams (depends on your size of lemons)
  • Lemon Zest: 7 grams (lemon dependent)
  • Orange: 55 grams (depends on your size of oranges)
  • Orange Zest: 7 grams (orange dependent)

A note about the citrus: the size of orange and lemon you have will factor into your recipe. If you use a giant orange that’s double the amount of weight needed, it will add too much moisture to your recipe. Err on the side of caution when picking out oranges and lemons.

Method – 

Begin by zesting yo20170326_181102ur orange and lemon. Using either a vegetable peeler, a microplane, or a zester, remove the outermost layer of zest from the orange and lemon. Ensure that you minimize the amount of white pith taken off of the fruit. This does not taste good. Once you have removed as much zest as possible. cut the
top and bottom off of the orange/lemon and carefully remove all of the white pith, leaving ju20170326_182108st the naked fruit. Try to pick out any seeds that you see, as they are not fun to find in baked goods. I recommend squishing the lemon and orange in a bowl and trying to remove any seeds you see before you begin the blending process. Combine the milk, lemon, lemon zest, orange, and orange zest in a blender and blend until as smooth as possible.

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Next, cream together your room temperature butter with your salt and sugar until light and fluffy. Then, add the egg and stir until it is well combined.  Then, combine the milk mixture and the butter mixture in a medium to large sized bowl and add your flour and yeast. Mix it together with a spatula or whatever until you can’t, then dump it out onto a clean and sanitized work surface and begin the kneading process.

Continue kneading until the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic. Don’t under knead it. If you think it’s done, it’s probably not. Just keep going. It should have a nice, pleasant, creamy orange smell, an off-white orangey color, and be very soft and supple. 20170326_191831

Once it’s kneaded to perfection, oil the mixing bowl you used initially and toss the dough back in. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature until double in size, between 1 and 2 hours.

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Next, dump the dough onto your work surface and begin dividing it up into 80 gram pieces. You should be able to get 12 buns from this recipe. I chose to make long buns for this trial and bake them in miniature loaf pans because they are very cute.

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Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Spray and cover your dough and let it rise until almost doubled again, probably between 45 to 90 minutes. The dough should have noticeably swelled. Toss it in your oven and bake it for between 15 and 20 minutes. It should have a nice, browny orangey color and smell just awesome.

Let the bread cool on a wire rack for about an hour before either eating it or icing it. The traditional Mennonite way to ice these is with lots of white icing and a dash of rainbow coloured pearl sprinkles. A simple white icing made from icing sugar, butter/shortening, milk, and either vanilla or lemon extract is more than appropriate for this application. Mix about two tablespoons of butter/shortening with 1 cup of icing sugar until it’s sort of combined, then pour in enough milk while it’s mixing to make an icing that’s thick enough to spread on or thin enough to pour on.

That’s it. You can make buns from this dough or loaves, so long as you top them with icing and sprinkles.

Just the bread itself without icing is delicious as a breakfast toast with jam and butter or as a sandwich bread for sweet spreads, but it’s not paska until it’s covered with icing and sprinkles. I had to make roughly 700 buns and 40 loaves for my job this past week and still have nightmares about rolling all the buns by hand and zesting about seven billion oranges.20170416_074435
I am overjoyed at discovering this festive Easter bread. I think it’s awfully cute that different cultures have different kinds of bread to celebrate their holidays. You could eat a regionally specific holiday bread every week for a year and still have plenty left to try, if you didn’t die from sugary carbohydrate overload first.

There are worse ways to go.

— The Breadest

EXPRECIPE:

  • Bread flour: 436 grams (812 ml (about 3 1/4 cups))
  • Milk: 218 grams (218 ml (about 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons))
    • Alternatively, you can use 218 grams of water and 21 grams of milk powder.
  • Room temperature butter: 53 grams (55 ml (a little less than 1/4 cup))
  • Eggs: 46 grams (about one medium egg)
  • White Sugar: 69 grams (82 ml (about 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon))
  • Salt: 9 grams (8 ml (about 1 and a half teaspoons)
  • Instant Yeast: 12 grams (19 ml (about 1 tablespoon and one teaspoon)
  • Lemon: 27 grams (depends on your size of lemons)
  • Lemon Zest: 7 grams (lemon dependent)
  • Orange: 55 grams (depends on your size of oranges)
  • Orange Zest: 7 grams (orange dependent)

Zest it.

Pith it.

Blend it.

Cream it.

Mix it.

Knead it.

Rest it.

Shape it.

Proof it.

Bake it.

Cool it.

Eat it OR ice it, then

Eat it.

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