Ukrainian Paska bread

After a long break from baking due to no oven, I was going to make some Hot Cross Buns, but then I stumbled across a recipe for Ukrainian Paska (Easter) bread, and it seemed a good moment to make this. I’m not at all familiar with Ukrainian cuisine, but it’s easy to see this is a typical enriched, brioche-style bread flavoured with citrus. This is a relatively plain one — apparently it’s common to include raisins, making it similar to a panettone (let’s not go there — I still haven’t succeeded with that).

I made a few changes. The quantity of dough in the original recipe is massive, so I halved it — apparently I don’t have as many friends as Marie does 🙂 The quantity below filled a standard loaf tin plus a tall 15-cm springform tin I bought to make panettone (still unused for that purpose!). I converted the cups to metric measurements. I added saffron because it didn’t seem right to do an Easter bread without that. I reduced the sugar because I’ve never encountered an American cake or sweet bread recipe that wasn’t far too sweet for me. And I had to adjust the amount of flour as I was using French T45 patisserie flour which I expect absorbs less liquid than US all-purpose does — the specified quantity gave me a very sloppy dough.

The end result looks great, and the crumb is very light. I was expecting the flavour to be a bit more punchy though — I couldn’t really taste the saffron, although it did make a nice golden crumb. If I make it again I’ll add more citrus zest and also some diced candied orange and lemon peel.

The bread keeps quite well in a plastic bag to keep it from drying out, and it also freezes well. I can confirm it makes good toast, and it will also be excellent as pain perdu or bread and butter pudding.

And finally, allow plenty of time for making and proving. Best to use a stand mixer, but of course you can do it by hand. It really needs to prove in a warm place, standard room temperature won’t do — I used the dough proof setting on my microwave and it worked brilliantly.

1 sachet instant yeast
85 g butter, softened
180-220 g sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
4 large eggs, beaten (mine were very small, so I used 5)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp powdered saffron
150 ml milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
700-725 g T45 flour (you’ll probably need less if using ordinary plain flour)
1 egg yolk
1 tbs water

If not using instant yeast as specified, you’ll need to activate it with a little warm water and sugar. Sprinkle the saffron into the warm milk and leave to infuse. Cream together the butter and sugar till fluffy, with the paddle if using a stand mixer. Then gradually add the egg mixture a little at a time, beating well between each addition. Have the measured flour handy, then you can toss in a spoonful if you think the mixture is going to curdle. When the mixture is smooth, add zests, juice, and salt, beating well. Add the warm milk, continue to mix, then add about half the flour and the yeast. Beat until smooth.

Switch to the dough hook, and add most of the rest of the flour. The dough should be stretchy, shiny, and definitely not dry. Yes, it will be a bit sticky, but not to the extent of being claggy. Add a little more flour if you need to and beat for a couple of minutes. Then tip out onto a well-floured surface and knead with floured hands for a few minutes — you’ll find it helpful to use a dough scraper in one hand to manipulate it, as it will stick a bit. You should end up with a smooth, shiny ball of dough. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn it to oil all sides, cover with clingfilm or a plastic bag, and prove in a warm, draught-free place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It needs to double and be very puffy. At this point punch it down in the middle, without removing from the bowl. Cover and leave another hour, till it recovers the volume.

To shape the loaves, grease your chosen tins and turn the dough onto a floured surface. Cut off about 1/3 and set aside to make the decorations. Then cut the rest into the desired number of pieces and shape appropriately for the tins you’re using. The tins shouldn’t be more than about a third full — the loaves will rise quite a lot in the oven. Place in the tins, cover, put a floured tea towel or some clingfilm over the reserved dough, and leave everything to prove for another half hour.

Then make the decorations with the reserved dough — plaits, spirals, crosses, whatever you fancy — and place on top of the loaves. Leave to rise for another 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180C. Beat together the egg yolk and water for the egg wash, and brush the top of the loaves with it. Put the tins in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 160C and bake for another 35-45 minutes depending on the size of your loaves. You can cover them with foil if you think they are browning too much, but they do need to be a good light mahogany colour.

Cool in the tins for 10-15 minutes before removing to a cooling rack, to cool to at least lukewarm before tasting.

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