My youngest older sister married a nice Slovak boy. My maternal uncle married a nice Slovak girl. They both brought great recipes into the family, so that we began to say, “cut a Slovak, they bleed good recipes.”
Here’s one of my favorites, my sister’s take on Paska, the slightly sweet and wonderfully dense bread from the traditional Slovak Holy Saturday meal. Paska, along with red beets-and-horseradish, ham, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, new salt, syrec*, apples, and nut and poppy seed rolls, is loaded into a basket and taken to church for a special blessing, then served up at noon. I look forward to Paska all year long. Since I won’t be back in Pennsylvania for Easter, my kind sister generously sent me a loaf. I did a happy dance through the kitchen!
(*A mild, homemade cheese. Great with apples and the ground red beets and horseradish.)
Paska’s Basic Dough**
**The original recipe calls for an interior cheese dough. My sister’s never bothered with it, and I’ve certainly never missed it. The entire recipe can be found in God Bless the Cooks–a cookbook dedicated to feeding family reunion hordes with proceeds supporting charitable works. Let me know if you want to buy one ($20). I can hook you up, while supplies last.
Yield: Four Paskas
Baking pan: 9″ tube pan (optional)
Temperature: 325F for 10 minutes, then 350F for 40 minutes. (Total: 50 minutes)
8 cups flour
2 Tbs. salt
1 cup warm water
1/4 lb. butter
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 cups milk, at boiling point
1 cake yeast
1 cup golden raisins (optional)
Crumble yeast in 1/2 cup water and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Set aside for 5 minutes. Pour boiling milk over sugar and butter; add balance of water. Cool to lukewarm. Sift flour into bowl; add salt, eggs, milk mixture, yeast, and raisins. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. Place dough in large bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil. Cover. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about two hours, in a warm place.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and shape into four parts. Place into 9″ tube pan, covered to prevent drying, and let rise for 30 minutes. Just before placing in the oven, brush top with beaten egg yolk. Bake for 325F for 10 minutes, then increase temperature to 350F and bake for another 40 minutes.
(The tube pan is optional. I’ve also seen these braided, and clearly, a round loaf is perfectly acceptable!)
My own Paska tradition: the first slice, just buttered; the second, with butter and honey; the third, with strawberry jam. Repeat as necessary.
Now, if she’ll send me a loaf of her raisin-cinnamon bread, I’ll post that recipe, too!