How to make paska bread

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paska bread
Three loaves of paska bread cooling on a drying rack on March 9, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — This time of the year often reminds me of my favorite memories around my grandparent’s kitchen table, anxiously waiting to dive into the delicious food my grandma and relatives prepared for Easter lunch. 

My favorite foods on the table were always my grandmother’s homemade applesauce, butter my grandmother would mold into the shape of a lamb and — the best dish of them all — her famous paska bread. 

To christen the meal, every year, my brother would have the honor — or rather take the honor — of chopping off the butter lamb’s head to be slathered on his piece of paska bread. I, on the other hand, would always get the bottom half of the lamb. 

Nonetheless, butter lamb or no butter lamb, my grandmother’s paska bread is delicious on its own and many of us have to restrain ourselves from eating too much. Fortunately, though, she always makes a few extra paska breads for everyone to take home. 

This year, I visited my grandma as she began Easter Sunday preparations and I was lucky enough to witness her make paska bread. 

Irene Partsch
Irene Partsch kneads dough for paska bread on March 9, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

History

The origins of paska bread — also known as “the living bread” — trace back to Ukraine’s pagan traditions that eventually became a part of the Christian holiday Easter.

Paska bread was created as a way to honor the sun’s ability to resurrect life after winter. Eventually, these pagan traditions became an Easter tradition in eastern Europe, with even the word paska translating to Easter in most eastern European languages. My grandma is Polish which is how the Partsch family adopted this tradition.

Paska bread in Ukraine is traditionally made over the course of 24 hours beginning on Holy Wednesday and ending on Maundy Thursday. According to the country’s traditions, it is considered a sin to eat the paska bread before it is blessed on Easter Sunday. 

The designs on the paska bread symbolize aspects of Christianity. The cross in the middle represents Jesus on the cross, while the spirals at the end of the cross symbolize Jesus’s crown of thorns and the braid symbolizes eternity.

Other designs on the bread can include stars, oak leaves, flowers, horns and birds. However, these designs can also be subjective to different families. For the Partsch family, the braid, instead, represents Jesus’s crown of thorns and the four dots on each section of the cross symbolize the nails on the cross. 

How to make paska bread (Partsch recipe)

Ingredients: 

  • 2 tablespoons of yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • ½ cup of warm water
  • ½ cup of milk 
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • ¼ cup of butter
  • 3 eggs 
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 4 ½ cups of flour

(This recipe makes three small paska loaves or two big ones.) 

Step 1: Preheat oven. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. This will help the dough rise when the time comes. 

Step 2: Mix the yeast mixture. Put the yeast, a teaspoon of sugar and warm water in a small bowl and mix. You want to do this first as the yeast needs time to rise. This will take about five minutes.

yeast
Yeast mixture rising on March 9, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Step 3: Mix the milk mixture. While the yeast rises, combine ½ cup of sugar, milk and butter in a bowl. Microwave the ingredients until the butter is melted. Take them out of the microwave and mix. 

Step 4: Mix all ingredients. Once the yeast has formed a significant amount of bubbles on the surface, it is ready to be mixed in with the milk mixture. Then add in the eggs one at a time, mixing intermittently. 

Add in salt and flour. Add the flour in portions, mixing after each addition. 

Step 5: Knead the dough. Lay out a cutting board and sprinkle flour on it. Grab the dough mixture and knead it for 5 to 10 minutes until it feels elastic. 

kneads
Irene Partsch kneads dough with her hands on March 9, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Step 6: Place dough in preheated oven. Butter a large oven-safe bowl. Put the dough mixture in the bowl, and place it in a preheated oven with a towel covering the bowl.  Once you put the dough in the oven, turn the oven off.

Take the dough out when it has doubled in size. We let our dough rise for about 1 ½ hours. Meanwhile, spray your baking pans with butter spray.

Step 7: Section off dough. Once the dough rises, take it out and section it off. We made three paska breads with this recipe. To do this, we sectioned off three large portions of dough and placed them in our prepared baking pans. The baking pans we used were roughly 6 inches round and 2 inches deep. 

You should still have a significant amount of dough left after sectioning off the three portions. This excess dough will be used to make the designs on the top of the paska bread. Before you begin making the designs don’t forget to preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Step 8: Roll out the designs. The designs we make for our paska bread are the cross, braid and dots. 

Side note: The length of the cross and braid strings depends on the size of the paska bread. The cross strings should be an inch or two away from the edge to leave room for the braid. For the braid, it should be big enough to go around the full circumference of the bread. 

Irene Partsch
Irene Partsch rolls out dough for paska bread designs on March 9, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Cross. To make the cross, grab a small portion of the dough. Roll out the dough into a very thin rectangle. To do this, you will need to stretch and roll the dough at the same time. However, don’t press on the dough too hard or else it can stick to the surface. If the dough sticks to the surface, toss a little flour underneath.

Once the rectangle string is correct in length, place it on the middle of the bread. Repeat the process for a second rectangle string and lay it perpendicular to the first one to form the cross.

Braid. To make the braid, you will repeat the same motions and process with the cross, except you will need to grab a larger portion of dough. The braid strings should be double the length of the cross stings. Repeat the rolling and stretching process to make a second rectangle string. 

braid
Irene Partsch rolls out dough for a braid on a paska bread loaf. (Liz Partsch photo)

Once both strings of the braid are rolled out, cut the strings at the midway point. Cutting the strings into four pieces will make braiding easier. Take the first two strings and braid them together. Attach the last two pieces to the already braided pieces and finish braiding. Then, take your finished braid and place it around the circumference of the dough. 

braid dough
Irene Partsch braiding dough together for a paska bread on March 9, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Dots. Take a small piece of dough and roll it into a ball using your hands. Place the dots on the four corners of the cross. 

paska bread
Unbaked paska bread ready to go in the oven on March 9, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Step 9: Bake. Before placing the bread in the oven, beat one egg and brush it on each bread. Let the bread rise for another 5-10 minutes before baking. Place the paska loaves into the oven and let them bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. 

Step 10: Let cool. Take the loaves out of the oven and lightly shake until they fall out of the pans. Place the loaves on a rack to cool off. 

paska bread
A paska bread loaf cooling off on a drying rack on March 9, 2024. (Liz Partsch photo)

Once completely cool, you are free to wrap them up, freeze them or dig right in! To properly store the bread so it doesn’t go stale, wrap it in plastic wrap first and then again in aluminum foil.

(Reporter Liz Partsch can be reached at epartsch@farmanddairy.com or 800-837-3419.)

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I loved reading this article about paska bread. I was shocked to see my Aunt in the pictures!! Great article

  2. Great article!
    While my Pascha recipe is different the meaning around the bread; the family traditions and the food memories are wonderful! Glad that you got to share time with your grandmother. And yes – what can Easter be without the butter lamb :).

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