Making this traditional Eastern European Easter bread will take the best part of a day - but before clicking away bear in mind much of that is spent on the repeated risings so you can get on with other things as that happens. All the time invested is well worth it for the resulting sweet, impressively tall, brioche-like bread.
Paska is not so much a dessert, maybe more of a snack or a breakfast / lunch treat on Easter Sunday. Try with stewed apples, jam, ice-cream., or - for extra Easter-ness - with chocolate spread.
These quantities make one paska in a 20cm cake tin.
7g packet active dry yeast
1½tsp + 75g caster sugar
1½tsp + 600g sifted plain flour
240ml warm milk
3 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
¼ tsp salt
½tsp vanilla extract
zest of half a lemon
zest of half an orange
50g butter, melted
50ml vegetable or sunflower oil
300g sifted bread flour
You will also need cling film, baking paper, cocktail sticks, and a genuinely enormous bowl for the dough to rise in.
Mix together in your large bowl the yeast, 1½tsp sugar, 1½tsp flour and 25ml warm water. Keep mixing with a spoon until it is all smooth. Set aside for 15 minutes by which time it should be bubbling and smell very yeasty.
Mix together 300g of the plain flour with the lukewarm milk. Stir that into the yeast mixture. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave somewhere warm for 45mins to an hour until rising and bubbly. Room temperature is fine, so long as it is not near a draught.
Beat together two of the eggs, the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar until thick and fluffy. Add that to the dough mix; then also add in the salt, vanilla, citrus zests, rum, melted butter and oil.
Now add the rest of the flours in stages. There will be a point when the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl - then you are getting there. Spread a little flour over the worktop and tip the dough onto it to knead with your hands. Knead until it is smooth and springy. It will take about 15 mins. Wash out the large mixing bowl, lightly grease it and then put the ball of dough inside. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for 1½ to 2 hours until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the inside of a 20cm round cake tin and line with baking paper which comes about 10cm high over the top.
Punch the middle of your dough to get the air out. Cut off about one-quarter if it, and set aside in a bowl covered with cling film. That piece will be used to make the braids for the top. Nicely shape the rest of your paska dough and then put it into its tin. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise again for about 30 minutes.
Separate the remaining egg. Lightly beat the whites; mix the yolk with a touch of water. After the 30 mins of rising, start to work on your braids. Cut the held-back dough into two equal pieces. Cut each of those into three, so you have six equal size pieces. Now use your fingers to roll three of those into long, thin sausages about 20 cm long. Line the three braids up next to each other, quite close together, and start to plait them – each right and then left braid piece is alternately placed over the middle piece. Get to the end, twist the ends into each other, and do the second braid.
Brush the top of the paska with egg white to act as glue. Lay one braid over and then the other. Stick cocktail sticks through the braids at points to secure them down. Cover with the cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
Brush all over with the yolk to ensure a lovely golden colour when baked and – finally – pop the paska into the oven. Bake for 50 mins to an hour, checking after 30 mins to rotate the tin for even cooking and make sure it isn’t going too brown. Put some foil over the top if it is.
The old recipes say they you will have to feel when paska is ready. After all this time making it you and your paska will very likely have created a close bond, so that may well be true. Remember you want your paska to be a lovely golden brown. When you think your paska is ready, take out the cocktail sticks and leave the bread to cool in its tin before turning out.
Paska is best baked to eat in the day or so after making. Store in an airtight tin or wrapped in lots of foil.