Normally at Easter, our biggest religious holiday in Ukraine, semi-industrial amounts of paskha bread would be made in people’s homes. My aunt Lyuda’s original recipe had at least 5kg of flour in it. They are normally baked in large empty tins (like the ones you’d get tomato passata in). During a typical Easter we’d have at least 15 of these brioche-like breads – tall with a proud mushroomed top covered in a mix of egg white and sugar. Six years ago, I asked my friend Emma Franklin to test Lyuda’s paskha recipe for my first cookbook Mamushka. Emma, a pro reciper writer and tester, found the biggest bowl in the house and put the yeasted dough in it to prove. it was a hot summer night, so she correctly clocked to put the dough in the fridge. Even then the dough exploded and crawled out of the bowl and all over Emma’s fridge. She texted me the photo with the words “is your aunt a professional baker!?”. This year we cannot allow for such excesses. My flour amounts are dwindling, last bits of forgotten raisins scraped out of jars and clumpy icing sugar unearthed. So I decided to make one modest paskha loaf just for the four of us, and have been eating it toasted with salted butter how I would hot cross buns.
130g raisins or any dried fruit or candied peel
200ml hot Earl Grey tea
200ml warm milk
1og dry yeast
2 egg yolks (make omelette with whites)
80g soft butter
1 tsp vanilla (if you have)
5g fine sea salt
400 flour (any white or wholemeal wheat flour) plus extra
1 tbsp poppy seeds
100g icing sugar
zest and juice of one lemon or other citrus fruit
First soak your raisins or dried fruit. Traditionally, we would not soak the raisins. But I found the tip for soaking them in Earl Grey tea in a hot cross bun recipe in Bread And Butter cookbook by baker Richard Snapes. It lends such a beautiful floral aroma, I highly recommend it. So cover the dried fruit with hot tea and leave to soak for at least an hour. Then drain and pat dry as best you can.
You can use a mixer to work the dough, which I, lazily, would have done. But my mixer got broken, so I will give directions as by hand.
Pour milk into a large bowl and add the egg yolks, then add the yeast and salt (keeping them separate (another tip from Bread And Butter) and give it all a whisk. Then add the soft butter and vanilla, beat some more with a whisk. Then add the flour and work it all into a paste using a wooden spoon. Then use your hand, finally tipping the sticky dough onto a well-floured surface.
Give the dough a good knead and leave covered in a warm place for about two hours or until doubled in size.
Then knead in the plumped up raisins bit by bit. they will be slippery and annoying but keep going.
Finally shape the dough into a sausage shape and pop it into your loaf tin. You can also leave it round and use a 22cm round or square cake tin. Cover and leave to prove for 30 mins – 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Bake for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the icing sugar into the lemon juice. It will be runny, so add more icing sugar if you have it! I only had that 100g, and in retrospect I love how lemony the drizzle tastes.
Take the paskha out of its tin and let it cool on a wire rack. When the paskha is cool, drizzle over the lemon glaze and then spread it over with a spoon. Sprinkle over the poppy seeds and zest. I picked up this style of decoration from the brilliant Katrya Kalyuzhna aka @seldonenko on Instagram – do check for more gorgeous Ukrainian recipes and sourdough baking.
This is not traditional, but I do love it toasted with some butter like you would a hot cross bun or even with a thin sliver of cheese on top. Happy Easter!