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05 April 2012

Paska- a Mennonite Easter Tradition

I grew up in a Christian home, backed by a Mennonite heritage. It has definitely informed some of my world view, as well as my tastebuds.  There is food that can transport me back to my mom's and grandmas' (Klassen and Harms) kitchens, make me feel safe, social and happy (and full!)  Mennos do seem to be a bit obsessed with food: making it, stretching it to feed more mouths, enjoying  it, planning for the next meal or faspa (tea or late supper).  I knew my Grandma Klassen had accepted my husband to be when she asked at the dinner table, "Would you like some more, Robert?"
Easter is a special time of celebration for us, both spiritual and culinary.  One of the most constant food of Easter time was Paska, or Easter bread.  I have some in the oven as I write.  Here is the best recipe I know, and it comes from a site called Mennonite Girls Can Cook.
 The blender makes life so easy.  And I need to mention how enamoured I have become with BAKING PAPER.  It is fairly common in Australian bakeries for muffins, breads, etc. And it makes getting things out of the pan/off the cookie sheet a breeze. 
**NOTE: "Do it (add something, mix something, etc.) until it looks right" is a central tenet of Mennonite cooking and baking. Which usually means you watched someone else do it first or you have learned from the cruel mistress of experience (hmmmmm... remind me of medicine, much?)**

The aroma is just amazing from the time you blend the citrus until the last loaf has cooled.
You will need 4 or 5 loaf pans . .or you can free form little twists or use muffin tins. .. just adjust your baking time. the oven closely.
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  1. In a large bowl, put your yeast, sugar and warm water. Let sit 10 minutes. If it hasn't poofed up, either your yeast is old, or dead. If that happens, start again. There is no point in going on without nice poofy yeast.
  • 1 medium lemon
  • 1 medium orange
  1. Take your citrus and peel it very thin. I use a vegetable peeler. You don't want to use any of the white part of the peel. Put the thinly sliced peel in the blender.
  2. Once you have removed and discarded the white pith of the citrus, chop your lemon and orange, removing all the seeds. Add the chopped lemon and orange to the blender.
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup of real butter
  1. In a microwave safe bowl or in a pot on the stove, heat the butter and milk until the butter melts.
  2. Once it is melted, add it to the blender and begin to puree.
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Add the eggs, sugar and salt
  2. Start the blender on high and allow the citrus, peel and milk, butter mixture to run for about 2 or 3 minutes.
  3. Measure the milk/citrus and sugar mixture. It should be about 4 1/2 cups. If you have a bit more or less that is fine, you will just adjust the flour likewise.
  4. Pour the mixture, along with the yeast mixture into a large bowl. Add flour one cup at a time until you have a smooth, soft dough. It will be sticky.  7 cups of flour should be right,  but it will depend on the size of your eggs and lemon and orange. (At this point, I sometimes add raisins, or candied peel- Barb) With a plastic bowl it is easy to tell when the dough has enough flour because it will stop sticking to the side of the bowl. Do not add more than 7 1/2 cups flour. Allow it to remain sticky. The amount of flour is a guide. If your dough is still super sticky add a little more flour a dusting at a time. It should be able to hold its shape. Don’t despair if you think it is still too sticky. . .go slow. . .add a dusting more. .turn the dough on the counter and knead until you are out of flour again. .and then give it another dusting and continue....
  5. After kneading it for about 8 - 10 minutes.transfer to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, a tea towel and allow to rise until doubled. This should take about an hour. .to an hour and a half.
  6. At this point, give it a bit of a punch down and let rest at least 10 minutes or up to another hour.
  7. During this time prepare your pans. Either baking paper or butter.  Make loaves and let rise until doubled in bulk -  about an hour
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the loaves about 20 minutes. but again it totally depends on the size of your pans.
  9. Allow to cool on cooling racks
Paska Icing
  • 1 cup of soft real butter
  • 4 pasteurized egg whites (young children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems should avoid raw egg whites)  Or you can use egg white powder and water.
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • enough icing sugar to make a soft icing. It will harden again in the fridge.
Beat all together until light and smooth....and spread on each slice and sprinkle with coloured sugar (Australians call them hundreds and thousands). 


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