Softest Paska (Kulich) – Sweet Easter Bread
Paska (also known as Kulich in Russia, and Panettone in Italy) is a Ukrainian name for a sweet, soft, and incredibly aromatic bread that’s traditionally baked for Orthodox Easter and brought to Easter service to get blessings from a priest. Paska is usually decorated either with meringue-like egg white frosting (my personal favorite), or sugar glaze and topped with colorful sprinkles or dried fruits.
The Paska recipe I’m sharing with you today is my absolute favorite. It’s rather contemporary, but I based it on my grandma’s very traditional Paska that she baked for many years. She never had a chance to share her recipe with me because she passed away when I was only 9 years old. But I did my best to recreate the smell and texture from my childhood memories. Although I couldn’t resist adding a few personal touches such as chopped pistachios and saffron, this bread still feels like hers. It’s a very special recipe, and I hope you’ll enjoy making it, and then will be blown away by the result.
Fun fact, due to quarantine I couldn’t get a panettone paper mold to bake my Paska so I used whatever I had at home: tomato cans, rectangular cake mold, and even small doughnut-shaped molds I haven’t used for ages. It all worked out fine. If you’re like me, biking in whatever molds you have at home, just make sure to generously grease them with butter and sprinkle with flour. But if you are a lucky owner of paper panettone molds – just relax and enjoy the process.
Lastly, making Paska is a very delicate process that requires a lot of mixing and kneading by hands to give your love and warmth to this sacred bread. The process might seem long and a bit complicated. But bare with me, the result is totally worth the effort we’ll go through the whole thing together step-by-step. You definitely do not need any special skills, just your time and attention. To make the process easier, measure all ingredients ahead of time, and have them ready in front of you. This way, it will go fast and smooth. Let’s go!
- 1 cup lukewarm whole milk
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
- 2 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 cups chopped dried fruits (raisins, oranges, apricots, cherries, etc.)
- 2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- 8 saffron threads (optional)
- 7 medium eggs, yolk and whites separated
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks butter (8 ounces), softened
- 1/3 cup finely chopped pistachios
- 3/4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon
- a handful of pistachios and dried fruits for decoration (optional)
- Mix the milk with 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast, and 1 1/2 cups flour in a large bowl. Stir well until you get a smooth thick batter. Cover with a plastic wrap and put in a warm dark place until the mixture doubles in size, approximately 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, combine dried fruits, orange zest, and cognac in a small bowl; stir well and set aside until needed. In a separate small bowl, mix the saffron and two tablespoons hot water. Set aside to let the spice infuse the liquid.
- When you see that your batter has already doubled in size, it's time to beat the eggs. In a stand mixer, beat 3 egg whites with salt until you get stiff peaks, about 3 minutes. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat 6 egg yolks with the remaining granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Pour in the saffron water, together with saffron threads, stir to combine.
- Using a spatula or big spoon, gradually mix the yolk mixture with the butter until well combined. Then add the softened butter and mix with your hands to fully incorporate. Follow with egg whites. Continue mixing with your hands until you get a smooth, airy mixture. Then start slowly adding the remaining 3 cups flour, mix until you get a soft and moist dough. Mix the dough with the dried fruits and chopped pistachios. Knead for 1 more minute. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let proof until doubles in size, about 2 hours.
- Divide the dough evenly between your paper baking molds, filling each mold only half way through; try to handle it with caution and care not to disturb it too much. Let the dough rise once again in molds, for about 1 hour or longer, until the molds are 3/4 full.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Whisk the remaining egg yolk and one egg white in a small bowl. Brush the top of each Paska with the egg wash. Bake Paska for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown and the toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove Paska from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
- In a stand mixer, beat the remaining 3 egg yolks with 1 tablespoon lemon juice until foamy. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until the mixture is entirely white and glossy with no bubbles. Frost the top of each Paska with the whipped whites and sprinkle with chopped pistachios and dried fruits.