Paska (Easter bread) Rolls

paska rolls in baking dish

So “paska” is a Mennonite tradition for Easter.  I happen to like the flavor too!  This year, I was making a bunch of “picnic” type foods and food for the Easter brunch, so I decided to make rolls, like cinnamon rolls not like buns, and a loaf.

So of course the first thing I did was call my Mennonite heritage mother in law.  She’s the one responsible for “Oma’s” bread on this blog, and her pickle recipe was a top internet search result for a year before I pulled my content from the hosting site (elsewhere).  I was surprised when she told me that this recipe wasn’t hers, but it’s a fairly common Mennonite trend from what I’ve seen to swap recipes.  I suspect if you walk away from a potluck and nobody asks you for your recipe…you can call it a fail. 😉  Anyways, this recipe came from her dear friend, Margaret Block, who has since passed away I believe.  She knew her paska.  Here is her recipe (I’ll write what I did to modify afterwards):

Ingredients:

1.5 c. warm water

1.5 T. regular yeast

2 t. sugar

2 c. milk, warm

1 c. sugar

1 t. salt

6 eggs

1/2 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. butter

1 lemon, 2 oranges

Flour (in good Mennonite tradition, the recipe calls for enough to make a soft dough…!! ha ha I’ll write more)

Directions:

Mix the warm water, yeast and sugar together in a small bowl and let sit.  If it gets bubbly or foamy, then the yeast is active and you can use it.  If it doesn’t, get some new yeast.

Blend the lemon and oranges in a blender.  My blender is pretty spineless, so I added water to it then filtered the results with a sieve.  And yes, you blend them whole (or cut up) – don’t peel them.  You want the bitter peel flavor.  You aren’t supposed to filter it but as I said, my blender didn’t work great so I didn’t want great chunks.

Add the citrus juice to the rest of the ingredients in a big bowl and mix.  You add in the yeast water at this point too.

Stir 4 c. of flour to begin with (I used unbleached white because paska is traditionally white but you could use whole wheat).  This will be far too soupy.  You keep adding flour, folding it in by hand or using a dough hook, until the dough reaches the “soft” stage.  If you don’t bake bread regularly, this is when the dough is still a little wet and dimply but it will make a ball.  Maybe because of the extra water I added to the fruit, but I stopped keeping track of my flour after I hit 12 cups.  I’d have to make this again a few times to get a better idea of what is normal.  By the way, the amount needed is affected by the weather.

Once it’s a soft dough, let it sit in a warm draft free area.  I cheat.  I hate having countertops taken up by my very large mixing bowl so I heat the oven up just a bit, so it’s just warm to the hand, then I put the bowl into the oven with the door wedged slightly open.

Once it rises, it will be almost double the original size (if your yeast is good).  Flour your hands well, and punch it down.  You may want to dump it out onto a board (floured) and knead it.  Let it rise one more time in the bowl.  This time, after punching it down a bit, put it into loaf pans to rise the last time.  (see below for rolls)

Once risen in the (buttered!) loaf pans, bake at 350F until the top is nice and brown like this (It should just pop out into your hand.  Jiggly or soft in the center is disastrous!):

paska bread loaf

Once it’s done I like to butter the top of the bread.  Let cool out of the pan, but wait a few minutes in the pan first so it fully “sets” – it’s very soft still at this point.  Once completely cool, it’s tradition to serve it with icing (and sprinkles on top! :)).  I used cream cheese frosting, which was just delicious, but didn’t take a pic so here’s an internet one:

frosted paska

Now for the rolls directions.

You’ll need a few more ingredients.  I used a sweetened citrus peel I found in the baking aisle, along with a dried fruit mix. It had golden raisins, apricots, and a few other things.  It was next to the citrus peel, but I didn’t think to copy the ingredients out that day.  Whatever you end up using, try to stay in the yellow/citrus family.  This is paska, after all.

Take the dried ingredients and put into a food processor.  Pulse into a mash.  Add butter (how much depends on how gooey you want it, try to aim for a thick paste at the least) and sugar to taste.  The dried fruit was already pretty sweet, but these are rolls, so I added at least half a cup.  Pulse together.

Take the paska dough from above when it’s at the putting into loaf pan stage.  Roll it out, as best you can, into a rectangle shape.  What works best is rolling it to an approximation, then letting it rest about 10 min.  The wheat gluten “relaxes” and you’ll be able to finish rolling it out no problem.  When it’s nice and settled, spread the butter/fruit/sugar paste evenly over the dough.  Roll up starting at one side until you get a nice roll.  Dental floss is the perfect knife for the next part.  Slide the floss about an inch into the roll, with enough on each side to grasp, then bring up and cross over.  It acts like a scissors cutting the dough. Here’s a quick video that shows what I mean:

Once cut, place the rounds into your baking pan and bake at 350 until no longer jiggly and golden brown on top.  When cool frost with a nice cream cheese frosting for a superior, citrusy, spring treat!

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