By Jonathan Kalmakoff
Paska (Cyrillic: Паска) (pronounced: PAH-skah) is a round, egg-enriched sweet bread, traditionally made by Doukhobors in Russia and the Caucasus at Easter for centuries. It is customarily served on Easter Sunday, following the morning prayer meeting, to family and friends.
The following Doukhobor recipe for Paska was shared with the writer by Vasily Stroyev and family, formerly of Troitskoye village, Bogdanovsky region, Georgia, now living in Markevichevo village, Shiryaevsky district, Odessa region, Ukraine.
|flour (2 kg initially; more as needed)||sugar (600 grams)|
|warm milk (1 litre)||salt (1 teaspoon)|
|eggs (10)||yeast (30 grams dry/100 grams fresh)|
|melted butter (600 grams)||raisins (200 grams)|
|icing sugar (10 table spoons)||vanillin (4 grams)|
- Sift flour so that it is well saturated with air.
- In a bowl, add 8 tablespoons of flour. Add in the yeast and 4 teaspoons of sugar, along with a little warm milk. Mix yeast mixture well, cover bowl with a tea towel and put in a warm place for 15 minutes.
- In another bowl, pour in the egg. (If making icing under Step 11, pour in egg yolks only, and separate egg whites into a different bowl and put in fridge to chill.). To the eggs, add the salt and start beating, gradually adding the sugar to get a lush, creamy texture that leaves a light pattern behind.
- In another bowl, combine the rest of the milk and flour. Slowly beat in the egg yolk/sugar mix. Add in the yeast mixture (once it has sat for 15 minutes), then the melted butter.
- Begin kneading the dough mixture, adding in the vanillin. While kneading, add up to 100-200 grams of additional flour, if necessary, to ensure a soft, smooth elastic texture (however, do not add too much!). Continue to knead the dough thoroughly for up to 40 minutes.
- Once kneaded, cover the bowl of dough with a tea towel and put in a warm place to rise for 1 ½ hours. The dough will be yellowish in colour because of the volume of eggs used.
- In the meantime, while the dough is rising:
- Rinse the raisins with water, drain, then place on a tea towel to dry. Once dry, dust the raisins with two tablespoons of flour; and
- Grease 10 large coffee tins (or other cylindrical baking tins) with butter.
- Once the dough has risen, stretch it out on a countertop (dusted with flour), add in the raisins and knead/roll until the raisins are evenly distributed.
- Divide the dough into roughly 10 equal parts. Roll each part into a ball and place into a coffee tin; each ball should fill approximately half of the tin. Cover the cans loosely with a towel and leave for 20 minutes until the dough slightly rises out of the tins.
- Put tins in oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 35 minutes. Then take out tins and place on countertop on their sides, turning them from time to time, as they cool over 15 minutes. They should then be easily removed from tins.
- This next step is optional, as Doukhobor paska did not traditionally have icing. Beat the chilled egg whites together, then add icing sugar and whip well until it is a thick, frothy consistency. Optional: add a dash of lemon or orange juice to taste. Then, using a spatula, add icing mixture generously to the top of each of the completely cooled loafs. Optional: add sprinkles to the top of the icing mixture before it hardens. Allow the icing to dry well before serving.
The making of Paska at Easter is a millennium-old Orthodox tradition practiced throughout the former Russian Empire. When the Doukhobors openly rejected the Orthodox church in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they discarded many Orthodox customs and traditions. However, they continued to bake Paska at Easter, modifying and imbuing the practice with their own religious meaning and significance. Learn more about the historical, religious and cultural aspects of Easter Among Doukhobors.
In the Doukhobor South Russian dialect, the bread is called Paska (Паска), which is also its name in Ukrainian. In modern Russian it is called Paskha (Пасха).
Unlike Orthodox Russians and Ukrainians, who braid the loaves or imprint them with crosses and other religious symbols, Doukhobor loaves are left plain and unadorned. This is a very important religious and cultural distinction that reflects Doukhobor iconoclast beliefs.
When the Doukhobors first arrived in Canada in 1899, they initially continued to bake Paska at Easter. However, at an All-Doukhobor Congress at Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan in December 1908, Peter V. Verigin, in an effort to simplify and modernize Doukhobor ceremony and ritual, and to focus on its wholly spiritual aspects, set aside many of the folk traditions and festivities formerly associated with Easter, including Paska baking. Thereafter, the recipe eventually fell into disuse and was forgotten by many – but by no means all – Canadian Doukhobors. The Doukhobors who remained in Russia and the Caucasus continue to bake Paska to this day.
Additional Baking Tips
Some Canadian Doukhobor users of this traditional recipe have suggested the following tips and tricks:
- Combining Ingredients: It may be less cumbersome to follow a common bread recipe method of ‘proofing’ the yeast mixture separately, but combining and mixing the rest of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, vanillin, raisins) together at once.
- Tins: Coffee tins or cylindrical baking tins must be very well greased or else lined with parchment paper to avoid sticking. Cylindrical spring-form pans with detachable bottoms and openable sides may work best.
- Fill the tins between 1/3 and no more than 1/2 with dough balls to avoid significant overflow.
- Recipe Size: This is a large recipe that makes the equivalent of about 5 dozen buns. Consider halving the recipe ingredients for a smaller amount.
- Cooking Time and Temp: Although the loaves may be browned on top, they may not be thoroughly baked inside. Consider baking instead at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-50 minutes.
Let us revive this centuries-old, traditional Doukhobor recipe!