Prepare now: background and recipes
For the non-Orthodox readers of this blog, “Pascha” is the Orthodox name for our Easter, which we will celebrate on May 2nd this year. According to The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, “The First Ecumenical Council convened at Nicaea in 325 took up the issue. It determined that Pascha should be celebrated on the Sunday which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox-the actual beginning of spring. If the full moon happens to fall on a Sunday, Pascha is observed the following Sunday. The day taken to be the invariable date of the vernal equinox is March 21. Hence, the determination of the date of Pascha is governed by a process dependent on the vernal equinox and the phase of the moon.”
The ”Great Lent” for Orthodox began with Forgiveness Sunday’s Vespers on Sunday, March 14 and will end with the breaking of the fast at Pascha on May 2.
During this time we follow a strict fast, refraining from meat, dairy, eggs, oil, and alcoholic beverages. However, wine and oil are allowed on weekends.
During Lent different saints are recognized, including St. Gregory Palamas and St. Mary of Egypt. Recently we recognized St. John Climacus, author of The Ladder, and featured his life story in our blog. Since then we discovered some “ladder cookie” recipes to create fast appropriate ladder cookies to help us remember St. John Climacus and to use as a visual aid in teaching our children and others about him.
“According to folk beliefs, the “ladder” was supposed to facilitate movement upward to heaven, to paradise. In this regard, in some cases, the cookies had a memorial function, which was closely related to the notion of the soul leaving the earth for the other world at the end of a forty-day period after death. On the other hand, “ladders” often symbolized the spiritual ascent of the soul of a righteous person to heaven. Related to this same idea were the “staircases” that were baked on the day of John the Climber. His theological work described the “ladder” by which one was to ascend to moral perfection.”
From the website “Orthodox Gladness” Orthodox Gladness: Ladder cookies, which includes two recipes for ladder cookies.
76 recipes for leftover hard boiled eggs
We also appreciate special recipes for Pascha as we break our fast. First, we are always on the hunt for recipes to use the myriad of hard boiled eggs that we have accumulated. Southern Living offers “40 Recipes to Make With Hard-Boiled Eggs” at 40 Recipes to Make With Hard-Boiled Eggs | Southern Living and you will be glad to know they are not all for stuffed eggs and egg salad! How about some She-Crab Soup, Asparagus Mimosa, or Shout Hallelujah Potato Salad?
Taste of Home offers ”36 Recipes That Use Up Leftover Hard-Boiled Eggs” at 36 Recipes That Use Up Leftover Hard-Boiled Eggs (tasteofhome.com) A quick glance through doesn’t appear to show any duplicates of the 40 offered above. And most of them include the foods we had trouble refraining from (did someone say bacon?). And many of them can easily be adjusted for vegetarians.
Special Recipe tested and submitted by our own Nina Suntzeff
“Over the years, I’ve experimented with many recipes for KULICH, Russian Easter bread, from family recipes to Internet ones. I’ve found a new one that I think is truly successful. I’ve cut the recipe in half here.
“Now any KULICH recipe takes a long time to rise because it is a recipe rich in eggs, butter, and sugar. My advice: don’t try to rush it. A really good Kulich bread takes three risings as does this one. Natasha says it takes 6 hours of rising in two-hour periods. Yes, it does – I can attest – each rising really did take two hours pretty much to the minute. And those six hours are just for the rising – not mixing and baking. So make this recipe when you have a whole day. I followed her advice and made the first batch, using a 100 F degree oven for the risings, and I made a second batch by rising it in a large bowl on my kitchen counter. Both were equally successful. This recipe makes two loaves in my metal Crisco cans.”
Paskha Easter Bread Recipe (Kulich)
Prep Time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 7 hours 5 minutes
- 1 c. + 1 Tbsp. warm milk
- 3 whole eggs
- 1½ tsp dry yeast (not rapid rise)
- 1 c. granulated sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted (if using salted butter, omit salt)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 c. full-fat sour cream
- 1 vanilla bean or 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract. Vanilla bean is much more preferable! Penzey’s Spices has the best quality and price.
- 4½ cups flour, divided into 2 cups and 2½ cups.
- 1 c. currants soaked (You can use raisins – I cut them into smaller pieces though.)
- ¾ c. chopped candied orange peel (great quality at www.Nuts.com)
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together warm milk, eggs, yeast, sugar, melted butter (just warm, not hot!), salt, sour cream, and vanilla. Whisk in about half the flour. Your batter will be thick like sour cream. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise until doubled in a warm place or a warm oven (about 100˚F) for 2 hours. I cover the bowl with a thick towel to make a nice cozy warm environment for the yeast to do its thing.
Add rest of flour; one cup at a time. I use a mixer with a dough hook – it is by far the easiest way to knead the soft, sticky dough. I knead it until dough pulls away from sides of bowl.
Stir in currants and orange peel.
Cover and let dough rise in large bowl for another 2 hours in a warm oven (100˚F). I lightly oil bowl.
Divide dough evenly into two paper baking molds** or metal cans**; try not to mix it or punch it down too much. Let dough rise uncovered for an additional 2 hours or until dough has risen almost to the top (maybe 3/4 way to top). Preheat oven to 350˚F. (If you’re rising dough in the oven, take it out before you turn on the oven!!)
Bake at 350˚F for 35-40 minutes in the middle of the oven until the top is golden brown. Test doneness by inserting a thin wood skewer or knife in middle of each loaf, all the way down to the bottom, to make sure loaves are completely baked. Don’t overbake!
If using cans to bake in, cool loaves in can for 10-15 minutes, then carefully turn them out onto a cooling rack covered with a thick bath towel. Roll the loaves periodically, so they don’t flatten on one side. When cool you can stand them upright.
Once kulich is at room temperature, you can take wrappers are off and frost loaves. You can also leave the loave in the paper molds especially if they are the pretty decorated ones from Ukraine (see Amazon). Sprinkle wet icing with colored sprinkles if you like.
For the Icing:
- 2 c. powdered sugar
- 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice. Whisk together powdered sugar with lemon juice. Add a little water if it’s too thick or a little more powdered sugar if it’s too runny. Pour the glaze over the tops of each cooled Easter bread. Let icing run down the sides – at the right consistency, the icing will run down slowly. Traditionally, Kulichi are topped with colorful sprinkles before the glaze sets.
** Use panettone paper molds size 4.8″H x 6.75″ W. (I have 2 metal Crisco cans. You can purchase panettone paper mold on Amazon – they work just fine but make a less tall loaf, not the tall, round loaf that is traditional. It’s quite hard to get metal cans that give you the traditional tall round shape, so many bakers are now using the panettone molds. There are some beautiful panettone paper molds on Amazon that have gorgeous Pascha and Ukrainian designs.)
Russians will typically put a kulich loaf on a large serving platter and surround it with colored eggs.
Russian tip: instead of putting icing directly on the loaves, cut squares of clean, white sheeting material. Lay on a cutting board and frost with the icing (you will want icing thicker so it doesn’t run). I use a small paintbrush to brush the cloth all over with icing. Sprinkle iced cloth with colored sprinkles and drape over the loaf. When it hardens you can lift it off to cut the loaf.
Thank you Nina for testing this recipe, giving us special tips, and passing it on to us for our enjoyment!
Pascha Basket Tradition
One other tradition to prepare for is the blessing of the Pascha Baskets. Many families prepare their Pascha baskets to bring to church for a blessing, often covered with a special embroidered cloth. These beautiful cloths are available in our bookstore or you can fashion your own and bring the basket to the Pascha Liturgy at 12:00 a.m. (midnight) on May 2, 2021.
Writer Anna Glass is a member of Joy of All Who Sorrow and serves on the Parish Council.