romanian easter bread "pasca cu branza", and a pear pudding
It is the Romanian Orthodox Easter today, and as every year, I made a "pasca cu branza" which translates to "cheese bread". If you visit traditional Romanian villages at Easter you will probably be offered a slice of this deliciousness. I am not sure where exactly I picked up this Easter custom since my family didn't use to keep it while I was growing up, however I feel that to me, this Easter bread, represents a piece of Romanian uniqueness. I did a bit of research into the history of this bread and what I found out is that this type of bread is made either on Good Friday or on the Saturday before Easter. Its shape it's symbolic of Jesus' suffering on the cross. According to an antique tradition, the eggshells from the eggs that have been used to make this bread should be thrown into a floating river so that the people who see them know Easter is coming. It is also said that in order for the Easter bread to be successful, the lady of the household should recite the following lines before putting the "pasca" in the oven: "Cruce-n casa,/Cruce-n piatra,/Dumnezeu cu noi la masa,/Maica Precesta pe fereastra". These lines should be recited while the lady of the household makes the sign of the cross, praying for the dough. Here is an attempt to translate these lines: "The cross in the house,/The cross in the stone,/God with us at the table,/The Virgin Mary at the window". That being said, I didn't recite these lines when I put the "pasca" in the oven, still the dough came out perfect.
I didn't make a traditional "pasca" dough, nor a traditional filling, however the end result is close enough. What I did is I kept the original shape and for the dough I used a quick dough that I always use when I make baked goods. As for the filling I had to accommodate too, since I could't find the exact type or farmer's cheese that is usually used in Romania. Instead I substituted it with cottage cheese. It came out equally delicious though.
for the dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus
2 tablespoons dry yeast
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 egg white
2 tablespoons rum
for the filling (when mixed used half the filling for the Easter bread and half the filling for the pear pudding):
1/4 cup rum
1/2 cup raisins
4 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
24 ounces cottage cheese, small curd
the zest of three lemons
1/2 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 egg white
Combine 1 1/2 cup of flour with the yeast and the salt. Set aside.
In a saucepan combine the milk, sugar, vanilla sugar, and butter. Simmer on low heat until the butter is melted and let the mixture cool down for 5 minutes, then pour it over the flour mixture. Add the egg white and rum as well, and by the help of a hand mixer beat on high speed for 6 minutes. With your hands gradually incorporate the remaining cup of flour and turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes (dust your hands with flour if the dough is too sticky), then place the dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot for an hour.
Meanwhile make the filling. In a small cup place the raisins and top with the rum. Microwave for a minute and then drain the raisins. Mix the rest of the ingredients for the filling in a bowl (in no particular order), add the raisins, and with a hand mixer beat on medium speed for 2 minutes until everything is incorporated. Set aside.
Prepare a 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
When the dough is well risen, cut 1/3 of it, roll it into a 12 inch wide circle, and set it in the pan so as to cover the bottom and the sides of the pan completely. Divide the remaining dough into three equal parts. Roll each part in long enough strips so as to go around a 9 inch pan (keep a tiny piece of dough for the center cross). Braid the three strips and set aside.
Fill the dough in the pan with half the filling, brush the edges with egg white, and then place the braid on top (go in a circle around the pan). Let the Easter bread rise additionally for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the top of the Easter bread with egg white, place it in the oven (reserve the cross until 10 minutes after into the bake), and bake for one hour. Ten minutes into the bake place the cross in the middle and 20 minutes into the bake cover the top with foil so that the dough doesn't get browned too fast.
Let the Easter bread cool down in the pan for 1 hour, then serve.
Use the remaining half of the filling to make the pear pudding. I like it when I can make two different desserts from one filling. Sure enough they use almost the same ingredients, but the taste and the appearance is different.
half Easter bread filling (recipe above)
1/4 cup frozen raspberries
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
1 ripe pear, sliced
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
1 teaspoon oatmeal
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Pour the filling into an 11x8 inch oval baking dish. Top with the raspberries, blueberries, sliced pear and almonds, and then bake for one hour.
Take the pudding out of the oven and sprinkle the oatmeal here and there.
Serve either warm or cold.