Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Adventures in Paska

This year, I decided to make my first paska. A big deal in a Ukrainian woman's life, this is something that every generation before has painstakingly and lovingly created for their family, and now it was my turn to join the tradition. Admittedly, I'm starting rather late in life (almost mid 30s) - I just heard about a friend of a friend doing her first one at 17! - but better late than never, eh?

I decided to keep the decoration simple on this first one, and I'm glad I did - as it turned out, the braid swelled up so much during baking that it distorted to the point you can barely tell what it is. :) Oh well, better luck next year. (I read on the Byzantine Forum - a great source of info on all traditions Byzantine - that if you make the braid very thin, the rising will make it just about the right size than if you start off making it very thick).

I noticed a couple of things about the recipe that my mother uses, and that I have posted on that I think might have to be changed - I had to add a LOT of extra flour to the recipe, after adding all the liquid called for. I asked my mother and she said she often has to add several extra cups of flour to get the proper consistency. Now, from what I understand, at least in other forms of baking, adding too much flour makes for a dry result. I don't see why it should be different here, so I'm assuming something's off with the recipe - you just shouldn't have to add that much more flour than what's called for.

I see that you "proof the yeast" ahead of time in the recipe, and I'm wondering if perhaps the sugar, yeast and water that's used in the recipe is supposed to include the small amounts taken out to test the potency of the yeast ahead of time? So instead of:

1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp. sugar
1 pkg. yeast


1/4 cup sugar
3 cups lukewarm water

MAYBE, it's only
3 cups lukewarm water AND SET ASIDE 1/2 cup of that to test
1/4 cup sugar AND SET ASIDE 1 tsp of that to test

Even this might be too much liquid, so I would recommend trying what they do for most other recipes - add the water/yeast/sugar mix, and about half of the remaining water at the beginning, THEN add the flour. Then, if you still need more liquid, add it towards the end to get the proper consistency. That way, you don't have to add all this extra flour. I'll have to give this idea a test run next time around, and see if my theory is correct.

Also, from what I've read online, a little hotter than lukewarm water is best for yeast - you don't want it boiling hot, that will kill the yeast, but you do want it very warm. Think of yeast as a living thing (it is!) - do you like a scalding hot bath, or a lukewarm one? No, you like a nice warm bath, somewhere in the middle.

I ended up with a very sticky dough. After adding at least a couple of cups of extra flour, and still the dough was too sticky to work with, I decided to separate out the dough into two pieces. One, I left as is and put it in the bottom of the breadpan. The other half, I added more flour to, until it could be worked with, and this was the dough I used for the top braid decoration.

The bread browns REALLY fast, with the beaten egg brushed on top. So about halfway through the baking, check on it and see if it's the color you want - if it is, cover it with tinfoil so it won't brown further, and let it bake the full time.

Here's some pics of the process:

Here's the bread still doing its final rise - lookin' good!

Here I am adding the beaten egg to the top of the bread. As noted above, check the bread halfway through baking because this really does brown the bread beautifully and fast!

And here she is, the final product! And it tastes good too! :D As I mentioned, the braid distorted as it rose and baked, but I'll work on the decoration more next time. :D

All in all, it was an interesting experience, and I'm really glad I finally tried it! I have joined the ranks of breadmakers, and have done honour to my predecessors.