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Dining Around Lake Superior

Zoom Paska Making Workshop

Zoom Paska Making Workshop

By Cathy Paroschy Harris

THUNDER BAY, ONTARIO  ~~~~~~  March 31, 2021  (LSN)  Paska is the word for Braided Ukrainian Easter Bread. The same name is used to describe Easter breads made in several parts of Eastern Europe, some very different from Ukrainian Paska.

Saturday March 27th, Cathy Paroschy Harris welcomed family and friends into her zoom kitchen to teach them how to make Ukrainian Paska. There are as many different recipes and techniques as there are Babas baking them! Baba is the Ukrainian term for grandmother. Cathy’s Baba taught her mother who taught her. She has in turn taught her daughters. (Recipe below)

If anyone has made yeast leavened bread from scratch, you’ll know there is a time commitment. 23 people met the challenge March 27th, starting at 11am for one hour, reconnecting at 1:15pm, then at 3:30, and an optional zoom at 5pm. Attendees logged / zoomed in from as far as California, Medicine Hat, Kingston, Toronto, Sudbury, Huntsville, Ottawa, Grand Marais, and Thunder Bay. Cathy’s 98-year-old mother living in Welland zoomed in to supervise! Most attendees were Ukrainian or related/ married to someone Ukrainian.

In the first hour, Cathy explained the food science behind each of the ingredients as they were combined.  When making bread, there can be a lot of variables, but when using yeast, it needs to feed off of sugar or the sugars in the flour, and the yeast is temperature sensitive. If the liquids are too hot when mixing, you will kill the yeast. If too cold, it will slow the rising process down. Cathy likened it to testing a baby bottle for the right temperature of the warm water. Along with the science, Cathy spoke of the tradition of thinking only positive things while working with the bread and avoiding gossip and evil thoughts. A good life lesson learned while making bread.

Ukrainian CookBookSince Covid, a lot of people have been experimenting with no-knead or sourdough breads, but Paska LOVES to be kneaded. It is the kneading that gives its texture. There are some good recipes for bread-maker Paska, but they only make a small amount, and only do the first step. Cathy’s recipe made 4-5 medium loaves. People think that is a lot, but Cathy finds a lot of people that don’t or can’t make Paska that appreciate it once a year. She often doubles or triples the recipe. Some of the zoom attendees planned to make their Paska for their children and grandchildren.

When the group resumed for the second session, their dough had been punched and kneaded at least 3 times and was ready to shape. For Easter Paska, it is typically braided into a circular shape, and decorated with crosses, rams’ horns, birds, pinecones, leaves, flowers and wheat. Everyone learned how to create these shapes with the bread dough.

In the third zoom session, everyone coated their risen loaves with an egg/water wash and set the Paska loaves to bake.

Paska is a traditional part of the Ukrainian Easter basket, which can also include Babka, decorated butter and cheese, salt, boiled eggs, kovbasa, ham, beets & horseradish, set in a whicker basket, decorated with a candle, pysanky (Ukrainian Decorated Easter Eggs), pussy willows and an embroidered cloth.

Other Ukrainian ceremonial breads include Babka, also baked for Easter: a sweet, rich bread, often with raisins, baked upright typically in a can. Kolach is another braided circular bread similar to Paska made for Sviaty Vechir (Ukrainian Christmas Eve), often stacked 3 high with a candle. Korovai is a braided bread, heavily decorated, often stacked, for Ukrainian weddings. Khleeb ee Seel (bread and salt) is a kolach used for welcoming visitors or guests to special events.

As a finale, everyone shared photos of their finished masterpieces, and all agreed the Paska tasted delicious!

Paska – Ukrainian Braided Easter Bread

  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) regular dry yeast (not for bread machines, not quick acting)
  • 5 cups (1.25 L) lukewarm water
  • ½ cup (125 mL) + 1 Tbsp (15 mL) white sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) salt
  • Colouring Options: ½ tsp (2.5 mL) saffron (grind with mortar/pestal and moisten with hot water) OR ½ tsp (2.5 mL) turmeric
  • Flavouring Options: 2 tsp (10 mL) ground cardamom OR 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla OR lemon/orange zest
  • ¾ cup (190 mL) melted butter, have a bit additional on hand while kneading
  • 12 cups white flour (I prefer unbleached but regular does not effect quality)
  • Extra flour for kneading
  • 1 egg for glazing before baking

Step 1: (takes ~40 minutes)

  1. Soak yeast in ½ c (125 mL) warm water (from 5 cups is ok) with 1 Tbsp (15 mL) sugar, for about 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, combine eggs, sugar, salt, melted butter, beat well.
  3. Add yeast mixture to egg mixture. Add flavourings and colourings if using.
  4. Add the water and flour, mix well and knead ~15 minutes to make a soft dough.
  5. Cover (with damp cloth) and let rise in warm place until double in size, but punching down every 20 minutes (3-4 times). This is unique to this recipe.
  6. Meanwhile, grease/ line 4-5 8” round pans. Shallow pans allow for the braids to show nicely, but some prefer the look when baked in a high sided pan.

Step 2: (this can take ~1 hour is new to this)

  1. Once risen, use ~2/3 dough for base, hold 1/3 for toppings. Keep dough covered with damp cloth in between handling. Divide the base into 4 or 5 sections. Working with one section at a time, braid the shape and insert in prepared pans. Using a section of ‘topping’ dough, shape decorations. These can be placed on top immediately, or ~30 minutes after rising (more likely for small decorations to keep their shape)
  2. Set the loaves in a warm place to rise, covered with a damp cloth. Until double in size, ~1hour.

Step 3:

  1. Brush tops with beaten egg diluted with 1 Tbsp (15 mL) water.
  2. Bake 400 degrees F 10 minutes, then turn down to 340 degrees F and continue baking 20-40 minutes. Less time if you have smaller loaves, longer if fewer loaves from the same recipe.
  3. Once evenly golden brown, tapping the underside of the loaf with a hollow sound indicates the loaf is done.
  4. Move to cooling racks. Cool before cutting, storing or freezing.

Cathy Paroschy Harris is newly retired from TBRHSC in Prevention and Screening Clinical Services, and a Registered Dietitian. She is the Artistic Director of the Chaban Ukrainian Dance Group in Thunder Bay. She loves sharing about her Ukrainian heritage.

By Cathy Paroschy Harris


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