Baking Paska Bread for Easter

What a beautiful, productive, sunny, springy day-before-Easter-Sunday. Beautiful, sunny and springy because the mid-50s warmth was a nice break from Cleveland’s blistery winter hangover. Productive because it brought several firsts for me:

  • First time hanging laundry on the new apartment clothesline outside
  • First time baking Paska Bread
  • First time zesting a lemon
  • First time proofing yeast

With the laundry started and towels already flapping in the wind, I got busy baking Easter goodies. First, proofing yeast and dissolving sugar for my first venture into Paska bread baking. With the first few ingredients rising in a warm, dark place (which happens to be in the bedroom), I get a head start on tomorrow morning’s breakfast. Out comes the trusty old pastry cloth and pin, rolling out dough for mom’s legendary cinnamon roll recipe – which I can never quite master to her standards.

Then spread and sprinkle, roll it carefully, and cut. Perfect cinnamon spirals ready for the oven.

Now, what the hell is Paska bread again?

Apparently, a light, sweet Ukrainian egg bread traditionally eaten at Easter – that my boyfriend has been requesting for weeks now. And that I’ve been putting off because I know I can’t bake it like his Baba did.

Baking my family’s traditional treats is one thing. And don’t get me wrong – I love experimenting with different ingredients and new recipes. But when you have a very specific memory of your grandma’s special bread – that I’ve never even heard of – well, I don’t want to set you up for disappointment, but…

Fortunately, thanks to Google search and a comment calling this the best quality of any Paska recipe, we have it. A recipe for Paska bread I can handle – using ingredients on hand. I cut the recipe in half because I don’t need three loaves of bread.

I’ve been wanting to bake more bread, and I don’t know what about those measly little packets of living yeast freaked me out. But I have no excuses anymore. Proofing yeast, it turns out, just means dissolving it in water. And you don’t need a special zesting tools, just a small cheese grater, to scratch the zingy top layer from a lemon. This is easy.

Paska Bread Recipe

1 (.25 oz) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees – warm, not hot)
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups warm milk
2 cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water until it gets frothy. Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in the warm milk. When the milk cools, add it to the yeast with the flour. Mix it up with a wooden spoon (remembering, from our AFB baking, that metal reacts with the yeast). Cover with plastic wrap or clean cloth, and let it rise in a dark, warm spot for a couple hours till it bubbles and doubles in size.

The whole idea of dough rising is like an exciting science experiment to me – but then again, I’m a big nerd. The yeast is feeding on the sugar and turning it to carbon dioxide and ethanol, so in essence, you’re fermenting alcohol before you bake. Which is exactly why I drink while I bake.

Use your 2 hours wisely. Then add:

3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon lemon zest

Mix well, then add 6 cups of flour, one cup at a time. Personally, I got in a little more than 5 before I started struggling, so I moved to my floured pastry sheet early and worked in more flour as I kneaded (for about 10 minutes).

Place the dough ball in a greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover it back up, and put it back to bed to rise for another couple hours.

Now, this is my favorite part – and it tells you what a violent soul I am. Punching down the dough. If the kneading wasn’t enough release for you, this nice calm pounding will get the aggression out. Back to rest, rising for another half hour.

Divide the dough in half, shape each into a rounded loaf and place on greased baking stones. Let rise another hour on the pan, rising till doubled. Beat an egg with a tablespoon of water to brush over the loaves before popping in a 350-degree oven.

The loaves will be gorgeous golden brown after, well, 20 minutes in my oven but 45-50 according to the recipe. Give or take.

By midnight, my day ended with 16 successfully dyed eggs, 12 plump cinnamon rolls ready to go for the morning, and 2 golden loaves of experimental Easter bread. Bring it on, Easter Bunny.

Marching Miles Bake Sale

A bake sale, at its core, is not about the cookies or the cupcakes or the pies or the sweets. Let’s face it – there are easier ways to raise money, ways that don’t involve “slaving over a hot oven.” A community only works when people contribute their talents, so it makes sense that when you give back to your community, you should give your talents. It’s easy to throw $5 in a donation jar, but it takes intention to donate the baked result of your time & creativity.
It’s not that I didn’t want to march in the 5-mile walk-a-thon instead…but if we’re talking talents, I’ll take my oven mitt over your running shoes any day!
So, it’s May 2012, which means the 6th annual “Marching Miles for Miracle Kids” fundraiser is back at credit unions. In statewide support of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, credit unions across Ohio aim to raise $135,000 this week through a statewide walk-a-thon and other donations. 
The Cleveland-area march leaves from my credit union’s downtown office tomorrow morning, and walkers who have been raising money for their feat (hehe, get it?) will walk the 5 miles to Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital to present a check for the money we’ve raised – one of those giant checks, I hope.
Before then, we need to sell some cookies in this Bake Sale, and raise some money for those adorable little kiddos who can’t afford all their medical bills. You ask me to bake something for a local cause like that…get outta the kitchen and look out! 
Disclaimer: I’ll admit, part of the fuel behind my baking fervor comes from an overabundance of Amish Friendship Bread starter. In my limited circle, it doesn’t take long for my few fellow baking acquaintances to tire of my persistent yeast peddling. I end up with dozens of bags of this goo needing to be baked – and then, I end up baking dozens of goodies. At least it’s for a good cause. 🙂
Don’t worry – I didn’t make all of that; that’s actually our entire spread. Now, mouth, get ready to water, and I’ll show you what I contributed to my first Bake Sale.
 AFB Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Almond Frosting

Peanut Butter Walnut Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

Amish Friendship Bread
And, yes, I’m trying to pawn off my extra starters, too. But I wouldn’t let anyone pay for it, because AFB starter is a gift – the gift that keeps on giving.

Banana Beer Bread

When I need to get rid of brown bananas, I think banana bread. When I think bread,
I think beer. Why not banana beer bread? What a lesson to be learned.I found this recipe for Vegan Banana Beer Bread here. Is beer really vegan though? I mean, I guess it’s more vegan than the milk and eggs it replaces in the banana bread recipe, but still, I’m skeptical.

No matter. On to baking…

I’m not usually this organized. But the fact that I could comfortably fit all seven ingredients,
plus the dishes for making this recipe, onto my tiny little counter for one photo shoot, is impressive.
Of course, the first step is setting the oven to 350 degrees.
Then mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking soda and salt) in one bowl.
Into the second bowl goes the other ingredients: half a stick of butter…
…and a mashed banana. The browner they are, the mushier they are,
so they’re easily destroyed with a fork. Good aggression relief, too.
Next comes the best part: das Bier. All I have in my fridge, still, is
Great Lakes Christmas Ale (stocked up for my own Christmas in July.)
I take several swigs off the top, then pour about 3/4 of a bottle into the dough.
Stir it up and stick it in.
Only one empty bowl to clean while the bread bakes for an hour.

Recipe for Banana Beer Bread

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 bottle beer

Results of Banana Beer Bread Recipe:
Apparently, as the original recipe states, the type of beer does matter. I’ve seen other similar recipes call for dark beer specifically, where this one recommended wheat beer. Christmas Ale is not a wheat beer, in fact, it’s pretty darn dark. A little too dark for this recipe, I think, even though I didn’t put in the entire bottle it called for.

I had problems with this baking evenly – which very well could be blamed in part on an oven that heats unevenly. But the crust of this bread was getting crispy while the insides just stayed gooey.

Once the insides settled, they tasted good, but I just couldn’t proudly present a loaf that looked burnt. So I cut off the too-done bottom and flipped the bread over to serve. It seemed more like a coffee cake this way, but still a little heavy on the beer — and this is me talking.

Recommendations for next time: Use a light beer, and no more than 3/4 of a bottle of it. Worth another shot.

Ginger-Sherry Pork Chops & Cheddar Rhubarb Biscuits

Last night on the phone with my mom, I had to explain why I own a cookbook called “The One-Armed Cook.” It’s designed as a cookbooks for new mothers — hence, baby in one arm and one left for cooking — or mothers in general, with quick recipes they can easily prepare and spend more time with the fam. Now, I’m not a mother, and I don’t have anyone gathered around my dinner table. But quick? easy? I’m all about it. And it was $1 at Half Price Books. And it’s spiral bound, which is a must for cookbooks and anyone who’s ever released an otherwise bound book is inefficient.

The first recipe I tried was for Ginger-Sherry Lamb Chops. OK, so “cheap” obviously wasn’t included in the “quick and easy” tagline, because the only lamb I’ve ever purchased are the lamb burgers at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. I can afford pork loins though, so I adapted it and soaked them in this marinade overnight: (their measurements are for 4 lamb chops. As usual, I eye-balled it)

pork chop pork recipe fresh domestic  ginger recipes fresh domestic

Ginger-Sherry Pork Chops
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 tsp chopped garlic (I used Pampered Chef’s Garlic Garlic)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp ground ginger (I used a few shakes of ground ginger and then chopped up these strange crystalized ginger slices my sister bought at an Amish grocery story in Shipshewana, Ind. Remember those gummi orange and lime slices we used to eat when we were little? They remind me of that, because they’re coated in sugar. We decided that they’re kind of horrible to eat plain because the ginger flavor is so strong, but they’re excellent prepared in a dish.)

So it sat in my fridge all night while I laid awake in bed until 2 a.m. watching my newest obsession, “Pawn Stars,” and the little crystalized gingers soaked up sherry – mmm. When I got home from work, I threw the pork on the Foreman and cooked the marinade (the one-armed ladies suggest bringing it to a boil over medium-high heat then simmering on low for 5 minutes. Yeah, something like that.)

Now, I’m not a huge pork fan. It’s only in my freezer now because Giant Eagle had a mix-n-match BOGOF with meat, so I stocked up on every animal I could find. But wow. These were delicious. It’s a very fancy but simple marinade/sauce. Especially with the chunks of ginger on top (and I served it all over leftover rice), it was a fancy little dish.

But even better, I had half a roll of Pillsbury seamless dough (like crescent rolls without the crescents) I needed to use up, so I greased a couple muffin tins and layered a circle of dough, a slice of cheddar, and another slice of dough and baked it at 350 until brown. They were like little cheese-filled biscuits. Pretty good, I thought, but could be better. Yesterday, a coworker brought in several jars of rhubarb jam her mother-in-law made, so I slathered some on top of a roll. I don’t know if cheddar and rhubarb go together. Maybe you’re gagging at the thought, and would do more than gag at the taste. I don’t know. But I thought it was freakin’ delicious. And really, how fancy does “cheddar rhubarb biscuit” sound?

Now time for the All-Star game. So I guess hotdogs and peanuts would have been more appropriate.