Each year as spring arrives with its bouquets of daffodils and hyacinths, its early tulips and clear sunshine, faithful Christians begin to celebrate the Easter season. The celebration takes on different guises, but it almost always includes fasting, eschewing rich foods in order to focus on more spiritual subjects. As Easter approaches, cooks get busy. And I am no exception.
Aside from the religious significance of Easter, this holiday has always represented the new, the hopeful, the emergence from winter’s short days to longer, sun-filled days. Easter Sunday is occasion for a festive brunch that celebrates all the new foods of the season. Depending on where you live and the date of Easter which changes each year, those foods might be strawberries and asparagus, tender new lettuces, thin new onions and garlic. And there are eggs in abundance and, if you’re oriented eastwards, the marvelous pudding like cake called paskha, or pasha.
Almost a cheesecake, paskha is traditionally made with a farmers’ like cheese that is freshly made and has the clear scent of cream. I make mine with either full-fat fromage blanc or yogurt, which too have their dairy-flavor integrity intact. Ideally, paskha is near-purely white, to represent the purity of the risen Christ, which is achievable with the recipe below, for it is light on butter, and on egg yolks! But of course, recipes for paskha abound, each with its own twist. I love this one, which is studded with pistachios, almonds, orange zest, and dates.
Traditionally, paskha is served with kulich, a dried-fruit filled bread. Because I have a blended-culture home, my sweet breads of choice are kougelhopf at one end of the table, hot cross buns at the other. Both have either raisins or dried currants, each has its own distinct flavor, and both are perfect foils for paskha.
Paskha is simple to make. Most versions including mine require no cooking, but just some waiting time, for the mixture has to drain in the refrigerator overnight. Please try it, and once it is unmolded on a serving plate, decorate as you see fit. You’ll fall in love with both the flavor and texture of paskha, and it will forever more find a place on your Easter brunch table!
- 8 ounces;250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup;200g vanilla sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1-1/2 pounds;750ml fresh cheese (fromage blanc) or full-fat, Greek style yogurt
- Zest of 1 small orange
- 2.5 ounces;45g lightly toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
- 4 ounces;120g dates, pitted, cut into ¼-inch pieces
- Prepare a 4 cup (1 liter) mold by lining it with cheesecloth.
- Place the butter in a. large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until it is light and fluffy. Slowly add the sugar and whisk until it is thoroughly combined, then add the egg yolk and mix well. Add the cheese or yogurt in thirds, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently, so all is thoroughly mixed. Add the vanilla and the orange zest, mix well, then fold in the almonds and the dates.
- Set the prepared mold in a shallow soup bowl or other recipient, and pour the paskha mixture into the mold, pushing down on it if necessary so there are no air holes. If the paskha mounds slightly above the mold, don’t be concerned. Fold the edges of the cheesecloth up and over the top of the mold, covering the paskha. Then, set a small plate on top of the mold, and a 1-pound (500g) weight. Refrigerate for at least 12 and up to 18 hours, checking on the paskha from time to time to empty any drained liquid from the bowl.
- To serve, unwrap the cheesecloth from the top of the paskha, and place a serving plate atop the mold. Flip the plate, and the paskha will fall to the plate. If it doesn’t, simply tug on the cheesecloth, gently, and it will separate from the mold. Remove the molkd, carefully remove the cheesecloth, and decorate the paskha as you like.