Pascha, Easter Sweet Cheese Spread

In 2009 I posted about Festive Easter Breads and Cheese. My cookbooks are full of margin notes, so I thought I would update the recipes a bit.
IMG_0474

We enjoy spreading Pascha, the Easter Sweet Cheese Mold on the Paska, just like in one of our favorite children’s books, Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco. At first I was a bit confused, as the name for the dessert cheese is Pascha (or Pashka), very close to the Ukrainian name for the bread. And “Pascha” is the Orthodox name for Easter. Once I got the names sorted out, I was convinced I had to try the cheese. I didn’t have an “official” mold, so used the clean clay unglazed flowerpot. Be sure to make ahead (the recipe says 2-3 days. Wednesday or Holy Thursday is probably the latest). I omit the candied fruit and the almonds, as I want a smoother, creamier texture. My husband always requests this so I have been working on improving this every year.

The recipe I use is from A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year by Evelyn Vitz. I’ve had the pleasure to meet her and some of her daughters (and even go on retreat with her and her daughter in law this month!). But I digress…

This is an absolutely beautiful and delicious dish; versions are prepared in Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and Latvia. It is made in a tall mold (or flower pot), then turned out onto a large platter and decorated. Cool and rich, it tastes like a cross between ice cream and cheesecake. It goes wonderfully with other the sweet Easter breads, such as Kulich, or Paska Or Easter Sweet Bread or with various Easter cakes.

There was some discussion of the “farmer cheese” from the previous post. This is a more difficult ingredient to find. My grocery store carries this, the brand is “Friendship”, but you can also try ethnic grocery stores. Some people have had success with Mexican queso fresco. It is NOT an aged hard cheese, but a soft and crumbly, almost like ricotta, or a softer version of feta. It is usually found near the yogurt, cottage cheese and/or sour cream, but not in the cheese section.

If you cannot find farmer’s cheese and need to use large curd cottage cheese or ricotta, rinse the cheese with cold water and drain well in a fine colander. Ricotta might need to just be drained. Then take a fine mesh strainer and press the cheese through to make it finely sieved and ready to mix.

I’ve had trouble over the years having the mixture drain well so it becomes firm. Last year was my most successful year. The flowerpot that works well for me is an 8″ clay flowerpot. But I have found the shorter and wide flowerpot drained better than the tall pot. The picture below shows the two 8″ pots, but the one on the left is the one I use for both the bread Paska and the cheese spread. These are just clay pots made in Italy that I found in my local gardening store. I cleaned well before using.

IMG_0665

After covering with cheesecloth, I place a small plate on top, then used a weight (literally, one or two of my husband’s free weights) and then put the pot in a large bowl. Last year the bowl was shaped that the pot was suspended above a few inches, instead of flat on the bottom. This allowed more draining.

For decorating I just keep it simple. And face it — no matter how beautiful the presentation, after one small serving it never looks “pretty” again. But that doesn’t matter, because it is super delicious and everyone will keep coming back for more.

IMG_0473

Pascha

1 whole egg
4 egg yolks
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 pounds farmer cheese (see comments)
1/2 pound sweet butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fruit: raisins and/ or dried currants, mixed candied fruit peel (I omit)
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped (I omit)
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange or lemon rind (I use both, enough zest from one orange and 1 lemon)
For decorating:
Candied fruit peel, maraschino cherries, or nuts
Fresh strawberries to place around the base and on top

Beat the egg and the yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add the sugar, and beat until the mixture is thick and creamy. Pour into a saucepan and add 1/2 cup of the cream.

Heat over medium-low heat, beating constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Do not boil. Remove the pan from the heat and continue beating until the mixture has cooled to lukewarm.

(NOTE: I use a wire whisk to beat while heating. I have a gas stove, and using fresh cream from the farmer the mixture is already very thick. On the heat this takes about 10-15 minutes. You know it’s getting thicker when you see the sugar dissolving. At the beginning it’s very grainy. After removing from the heat I either put back in the stand mixer and just beat until cooled to lukewarm, or keep in saucepan and stir with the whisk. I don’t do it constantly, but very regularly, while I’m beating the other ingredients.)

In a mixing bowl, combine the cheese, butter, the other 1/2 cup of cream and the vanilla. Cream until the mixture is smooth. Add the egg mixture, then the fruits, almonds, and orange or lemon rind. Blend thoroughly. (NOTE: At this point the mixture is very soupy.)

Line a flower pot or Pascha mold with 2 thicknesses of cheesecloth. Place the pot over a bowl (to catch liquid), and pour the Pascha mixture into the pot. Put a layer or two of cheesecloth over the top, set a plate on it and something heavy on the plate. (The purpose is to press the extra liquid out of the Pascha and into the bowl below.) (NOTE: After pouring into the mold, I put a plate and then weight it down. I gradually add more weights, my husband’s free weights, after the mixture has chilled longer. Try to place a plate that covers the whole top. There will be oozing over. Do not panic.) Chill overnight or for a day or two.

Remove the top cheesecloth. Unmold the Pascha onto a large platter, and remove the rest of the cheesecloth.

Decorate the Pascha with the candied fruit peel or maraschino cherries or nuts to form the letters XB or CR (Christ is risen) on one side, and on the other side a cross. You may use the Western cross form or the Orthodox cross, or any other cross design that you prefer. In Russia, Pascha is often decorated with an angel and a lily, as well as the cross.

Around the base and on top of the Pascha, place fresh strawberries. Serve chilled.

Yield: 14 to 16 servings

The best part after making these goodies, was arranging the Easter basket for a blessing at our parish by the pastor. I included our Easter eggs, pysanky, ham, wine, butter lamb, paska and pashka. This year I bought a simple Easter basket cloth made by some Catholic ladies in Johnstown, PA, which I can’t wait to use.

A blessing on the Paschal feast, and your celebration!

Paska Ukrainian Easter Bread Updated

In 2009 I posted about Festive Easter Breads and Cheese. My cookbooks are full of margin notes, so I thought I would update the recipes a bit.
IMG_0474

For the Ukrainian Easter Bread, Paska, I now use Celebration Breads: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions by Betsy Oppenneer. I highly recommend this cookbook– it is very detailed instructions and diagrams.

I find one of the most difficult aspects of baking cultural recipes is finding the right tools. This is an example — “Paska molds are somewhere between the height of a souffle dish and a 3-pound coffee can.” So this recipe uses either two 3-pound coffee cans or two 8-inch souffle dishes. I have neither on hand, and always forget this until it’s too late. So I’ve made due either with a Pyrex or Corning Ware casserole dish that is 8 inches across, or a wider mouthed (clean) flower pot that is also 8 inches across. (More on the flowerpot down below.)

The details on the recipes are two pages long, but basically you can compare the previous recipe for Paska. Here’s my adapted ingredient list:

Paska, Ukrainian Easter Bread
Ingredients
For the Dough:
1 scant Tablespoon or 1 (1/4 ounce) package of active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1/2 cup warm milk (about 100 degrees F)
8 large egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange peel, zested
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon brandy or rum
4 to 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 to 1 cup golden raisins (soaked in brandy or rum)

For the Pan:
Butter
1 cup dried bread crumbs (I skip this and just use butter)

For the Topping:
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon cold water

Using a mixer: Sprinkle the yeast in the water to soften in the mixer bowl. Add the milk, yolks, butter, sugar, zest, vanilla, salt, brandy and 2 cups of the flour. Beat on medium-low for 2 minutes, adding the flour 1/4 cup at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides. Change to the dough hook and and continue kneading on medium low, adding a tablespoon at a time.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl and coat the ball of dough with oil. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (This is one of my frustrations with my kitchen. This always takes longer for me, almost double the amount of time. I’m hoping my “proof” setting in my new oven will change this.) Meanwhile, heavily grease the pans, and if desired sprinkle the sides and bottoms with bread crumbs.

On an oiled surface, turn out the dough and set aside about one-fourth (1/4) of the dough and cover it. Divide the remaining dough and shape each piece into a smooth ball. Place the dough in the prepared molds. Divide the remaining piece of dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each one into a short dough equal to the diameter of the molds. Snip the ends of each rope about 1 inch. Lay 2 ropes at right angles to each other (the shape of a cross) on each loaf and curl the ends outward.
The decorations on top of the loaf are very individual, and can be ornate. These hints from Ukrainian Easter by Mary Ann Woloch Vaughn are extremely helpful. I did a simple cross and made an Alpha and Omega on either side of the cross, reminiscent of the Paschal Candle decorations.
Easter_Paska-Designs-1
Easter_Paska-Designs-2

Cover allow a second rise for about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. with 10 minutes remaining. Right before baking beat the egg with the cold water and brush over the top of each loaf.

Bake for 25 minutes until the internal temperate of the bread is 190 degrees F. Remove the bread from the pans  immediately let cool on a rack.

IMG_0475

The Family Meal at Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Eucharist was established within the Passover meal by Jesus with His Apostles. A wonderful way to bring home the richness of this feast is to imitate the Last Supper by recalling some aspects of the Passover meal, and a foot washing ceremony with the family in imitation of Jesus. This a wonderful tradition to start in the family. If things are rushed on Holy Thursday, move the meal sometime before Holy Thursday (Wednesday night, for example) so that the whole family can participate in imitating Christ at the Last Supper. I went into deep detail in this post, so for this one I’m only using excerpts and focusing our menu and traditions. I also found pictures from last year that I haven’t posted.

We do not try to recreate a seder meal or imitating an element of Judaism. We are only imitating Christ at his Last Supper as He was following the description in Exodus. Elements of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, such as the Mass readings and foot washing, are included to prepare us for participation at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Incorporating the various senses in this meal really helps active participation, particularly for children.

IMG_0413

IMG_0414

Holy Thursday is one of the biggest feasts in the Church year, since it commemorates the institution of Holy Orders and of the Holy Eucharist. Our table is beautifully decorated, with a white tablecloth (in imitation of the white vestments used at Mass) and the good china, silver and crystal. I was inspired by this section of In This House of Brede to add flowers at each place, although last year I forgot.

We serve dessert (since this is a special feast day, no Lenten abstaining here) sometimes a cake in the shape of a lamb (there are numerous types of lamb molds available at craft stores or baking supply stores). Before or during the dinner, Exodus 12:1-20 is read —- the story of the first Passover. Then the New Testament reading about the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist is read from either Matt 26:17:30; Mark 14:12-26 or Luke 22:7-20.

Outline of Menu Suggestions:

These foods loosely follow the instructions in Exodus, “A lamb…a year-old male lamb without blemish…That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs….”

  • Bitter Herbs: Cooked spinach and raw celery sticks dipped in salt water, mixed green salad (the greens also incorporate the “Green Thursday” tradition)
  • Unleavened bread: Crackers or store-bought matzohs, pita bread or homemade unleavened bread
  • Wine: red wine and/or grape juice
  • Lamb: Leg of lamb, or roast lamb, lamb chops, or meatloaf baked in shape of lamb (use a lamb cake mold)
  • Haroset: Applesauce with raisins, reminding of the bricks and mortar the Jews laid in Egypt. (This is an additional element we have added.)

Our Holy Thursday Dinner Menu:

  • Roast Beef (Reminder of the Passover Lamb, and Christ the Paschal Lamb)
  • Mashed Potatoes (allergy free, made with dairy free spread, chicken broth, salt and garlic powder)
  • Cooked Spinach (reminder of the bitter herbs)
  • Mixed Lettuce salad and raw carrots (because we want them)
  • Applesauce (reminder of the Charoses, the bricks and mortar in Egypt)
  • Bread (reminder of the Unleavened Bread and the Eucharist)
  • Grapes (reminder of the wine of the Last Supper which becomes the Blood of Christ)
  • Dessert (Because it’s a festive day in the eyes of the Church)

Since we leave for the Mass that evening, we usually don’t have wine, but I will serve grape juice, and everyone has the nice crystal to drink a toast.

Our family doesn’t like the taste of lamb, so I’m actually serving roast beef. It looks similar to lamb. It seems Holy Week has extra constraints, so while I want to make a festive meal, sometimes time, energy, (and nowadays) and budget is lacking. One year my mother actually made a meatloaf in the lamb cake mold pan. Definitely memorable.

We’re saving the lamb cake for Easter, and I will choose a dessert that won’t have leftovers to taunt us during Good Friday. Depending on my time, I might make unleavened bread, following Maria von Trapp’s recipe. If I use regular bread it will be small individual loaves at each place setting. For my son with food allergies, I will serve gluten free bread sticks. Another alternative is serving Hot Cross Buns, again, like Maria Von Trapp.

IMG_0415

IMG_0420

IMG_0424

Before or after eating, the family gathers for the “Washing of the Feet”, which I’ve described here in a previous post.

The boys are reminded that this meal is different than what the Jews celebrate because Christ already died and saved us, so we are not still awaiting a Messiah. We are not obliged to follow the directives for the Passover meal, we are merely doing it in imitation of Christ, so we can use all of our senses to know, love and serve Christ. While eating  Exodus 12: 1-20, the story of the First Passover, is read aloud. This is the same first reading at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

The meal is simple, joyful, and family-friendly, and wonderful preparation to enter more deeply into the liturgy of the Sacred Triduum.

Holy Thursday in the Home

I posted this over at Catholic Cuisine but am repeating it here. Originally published in 2009.

borras-last-supper

In a few days we begin the holiest days of the year, the Sacred Triduum.

In planning for Holy Week, my first thoughts go to menu planning. Is it good that I’ll be doing extra things in the kitchen to prepare for Holy Week? Am I being more of a Martha than Mary and detracting from the feast? I watched Joanna Bogle’s Feasts and Seasons on EWTN and she also mentioned something about being in the kitchen more during holydays such as Holy Week than the rest of the year. She had an opposite opinion and allayed my fears — spending the extra time making these treats for the holy days marks the time and food as special, unique. She said it more eloquently, but it made me feel more confident to continue.

Holy Thursday is marked with many food traditions. I’m sharing my Holy Thursday meal traditions, but also wanted to mention a few cultural ones from around the world.

Traditions of Holy Thursday

Father Francis X. Weiser, S.J., The Easter Book (1954) explains the popular names of Holy Thursday:

The second day of the celebration of Tenebrae bears the liturgical name “Thursday of the Lord’s Supper” (Feria Quinta in Coena Domini). Of its many popular names the more generally known are:

  • Maundy Thursday (le mande; Thursday of the Mandatum) — The word Mandatum means “commandment.” This name is taken from the first words sung at the ceremony of the washing of the feet, “A new commandment I give you” (John 13, 34); also from the commandment of Christ that we should imitate His loving humility in the washing of the feet (John 13, 14-17). Thus the term Mandatum (maundy) was applied to the rite of the feet-washing on this day.
  • Green Thursday — In all German-speaking countries people call Maundy Thursday by this name (Gründonnerstag). From Germany the term was adopted by the Slavic nations (zeleny ctvrtek) and in Hungary (zold csutortok). Scholars explain its origin from the old German word grunen (to mourn) which was later corrupted into grün (green). Another explanation is that in many places, before the thirteenth century, green vestments were used for the Mass that day.
  • Pure or Clean Thursday — This name emphasizes the ancient tradition that on Holy Thursday not only the souls were cleansed through the absolution of public sinners but the faithful in all countries also made it a great cleansing day of the body (washing, bathing, shaving, etc.) in preparation for Easter. Saint Augustine (430) mentioned this custom. The Old English name was “Shere Thursday” (meaning sheer, clean), and the Scandinavian, Skaer torsdag. (Because of the exertions and thoroughness of this cleansing in an age when bathing was not an everyday affair, the faithful were exempted from fasting on Maundy Thursday.)
  • Holy or Great Thursday — The meaning of this title is obvious since it is the one Thursday of the year on which the sacred events of Christ’s Passion are celebrated. The English-speaking nations and the people of the Latin countries use the term “Holy,” while the Slavic populations generally apply the title “Great.” The Ukrainians call it also the “Thursday of the Passion.” In the Greek Church it is called “The Holy and Great Thursday of the Mystic Supper.”

In some Latin countries sugared almonds are eaten by everybody on Maundy Thursday. From this custom it bears the name “Almond Day” in the Azores. In central Europe the name “Green Thursday” inspired a tradition of eating green things. The main meal starts with a soup of green herbs, followed by a bowl of spinach with boiled or fried eggs, and meat with dishes of various green salads.

Easter the World Over by Priscilla Sawyer Lord and Daniel J. Foley (1971) mention the Czechoslovakian traditions for Holy Thursday. I’m not sure if this is a Czech or a Slovak tradition:

On Green Thursday (Holy Thursday) the Czechoslovakians eat “Judases” and greens–a soup of green herbs followed by a green salad. Housewives busy themselves with the preparation of the Easter foods that will be consumed on the holy weekend. They say:

Soon will come Green Thursday
When we shall bake the Lamb;
We shall eat Judases farina
And three spoonfuls of honey.

“Judasas” are served with honey at breakfast in Czechoslovakia. These are breakfast cakes of twisted dough, made to look like rope, suggesting the fate of Judas the Betrayer, who “went and hanged himself” in remorse after he had identified Jesus to His enemies. Honey is considered a preventive against disaster (p. 58).

I have searched through all my books and on the Internet, and I cannot find any recipes for Judases in the English Language. If I had the Czechoslovakian word perhaps I’d have better luck. It’s been mentioned as a bread, sometimes a cake, but no recipe.

Jennifer already mentioned the tradition of eating green for Green Thursday, including a wonderful recipe for Spinach Pie. Evelyn Vitz in A Continual Feast suggests a Seven-Herb Vichyssoise, and fish with a green herb butter, spinach, a mixed green salad, and green desserts such as Mint or Pistachio Ice Cream or Lime Sherbet. The custom of the green foods can be traced to the Jewish Passover meal with the bitter herbs, but also a health focus, as spring is arriving, and the green herbs provide a healthy spring cleansing. Since some people serve all green meals on St. Patrick’s Day, that would be another place for inspiration for serving green foods.

Passover Meal

Since I was a young girl my family has gathered to celebrate a Holy Thursday meal. We never called it a Seder, sometimes we called it a Passover meal. But the purpose was to remember Jesus’ Last Supper, and to prepare the family for their participation at the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. I did try to learn more about the Jewish Seder meal, and over the years we would try to be more “authentic”. But the men in my family were always a good barometer — “Why are we doing this? We’re not Jewish.” We are Catholics trying to unite with Jesus, not necessarily the Jewish faith. I found in my reading that the current Seder meal wasn’t established until after 70 A.D., and most sources say 500 years after Christ’s death. So after thinking about it, why would I implement a ritual that was written after Christ, still awaiting the Messiah when He has already come? Wouldn’t it make more sense to look back at the Old and New Testament and just imitate what Jesus the Messiah did at His Last Supper?

So while it was interesting to study, I realized I wasn’t sharing the night with Christ. I respect the Jewish religious ritual of a Seder meal, but not something to implement in my home. I used the Old Testament and New Testament as inspiration. Francis Fernandez (In Conversation With God, Volume 2) mentions that the Last Supper is “to be the last Jewish Passover and the first Passover in which her Son is both Priest and Victim” (p. 252). (See also The Hunt for the Fourth Cup by Dr. Scott Hahn.) So I want to look forward to our Paschal Feast, which is the Mass, and particularly the Easter Vigil liturgy.

I found it so interesting that in Celebrating the Faith in the Home: Lent and Easter in the Christian Kitchen by Laurie Navar Gill and Terea Zepeda (available from Emmanuel Books) that Mrs. Gill came to a similar conclusion:

The “Christian Seder” or Passover meal on Holy Thursday has become popular in some circles in the past few decades. I have attended such dinners and have even tried to put one on myself. I enjoyed learning more about the Jewish Passover traditions as Our Lord observed them — the symbolic foods, the toasts, the questions and the beautiful Jewish blessing prayers.

Yet my own sense is that too closely to imitate a Jewish Passover rings falsely at my table. Our Holy Thursday menu does include some symbolic foods from the Passover meal. We
read about both the Exodus of Jews and the story of the Last Supper, but we do not imitate the narrative and blessings from the Jewish observance.

Instead, we try to concentrate on the fulfillment of the Passover in Jesus. Through His blood, He has saved us from death. And in the Holy Eucharist, He feeds us with His own flesh and blood. The high point of our Holy Thursday observance is our participation in the true carrying on of that last Passover
meal. No re-enactment around our table, no matter how authentic, can compare with the Truth that we encounter in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

While reading Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, I was struck by the description of Holy Week in the Benedictine Monastery. While this is a fictitious work, the author based the writings on actual convent life. I have the whole quote here but I loved this description of the table for Holy Thursday dinner, and have used it as inspiration for my own table:

On that same day, the Abbess, following her Master’s example, became the servant of the whole community, serving them at midday dinner. The sight of the refectory was inviting: each place was laid with a snow-white napkin, a glass of wine, a bunch of grapes, a small wheaten loaf, and a brown earthenware bowl of vegetable soup. Apricot puffs and cheese were laid along the side tables. When the nuns were seated, the Abbess came in, wearing a white apron and white sleeves, and with her came the kitchener, Sister Priscilla, bearing a great silver salver of fish. The Abbess went to every nun, serving her and laying beside her plate a nose-gay of small flowers: violets, wood anemones, primulas, grape hyacinths, tiny ferns, pink heaths.

Father Francis Weiser from his Religious Customs in the Family gives some wise instructions on a family celebrating a Passover-type meal on Holy Thursday:

In many homes the memory of the Last Supper is brought out by the arrangement of the main meal in the evening. Of late the custom has been suggested in various books and pamphlets, of imitating the ancient Passover meal even in its details. A yearling lamb is to be roasted and served with bitter herbs and a brown sauce. Jewish matzos, together with wine, are to be distributed by the father in silence to all members of the family, thus commemorating the institution of the Blessed Sacrament.

The use of some pious “ritual” at the supper on Holy Thursday is surely to be recommended. However, an imitation of the Last Supper of our Lord in its details does not seem to be advisable. Children, with their gift of keen and faithful observation, might easily conceive the ritual at the family table as a “photographic” reproduction of the Last Supper and thus acquire inaccurate and unhistorical notions about it. To mention only one example, are we sure that Christ used massah (unleavened bread) of the shape and size of modern Jewish “matzos”?

Our Holy Thursday Meal

I love how Florence Berger in Cooking for Christ answers the apostles’ question:

Whenever I hear Peter and John asking the Lord, “Where wilt Thou that we prepare the Pasch?” I want to interrupt and say, “Come to our house, please do.” But even today we, as Catholics, can bring Christ and His friends home with us. When we receive the Holy Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, He lives within us. When we gather guests at our tables to re-enact the last supper, Christ is in our midst. For, as the antiphon of Holy Thursday sings, “where charity and love are, there is God.” There is a divine bond between our altar and our home.

Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Eucharist was established within the Passover meal by Jesus with His Apostles. A wonderful way to bring home the richness of this feast is to imitate the Last Supper by recalling some aspects of the Passover meal, and a foot washing ceremony with the family in imitation of Jesus. This a wonderful tradition to start in the family. If things are rushed on Holy Thursday, move the meal sometime before Holy Thursday (Wednesday night, for example) so that the whole family can participate in imitating Christ at the Last Supper.

The idea is serving foods reminiscent of the Passover meal as the Jews did in Egypt and Christ did in imitation of the Exodus, not in imitation of Judaic religion. Elements of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper are included to prepare us for participation at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Incorporating the various senses in this meal really helps active participation, particularly for children.

Holy Thursday is one of the biggest feasts in the Church year, since it commemorates the institution of Holy Orders and of the Holy Eucharist. Sunday-best should be worn by participants and the table should be beautifully decorated, with a white tablecloth (in imitation of the white vestments used at Mass) and even the good china and silver. For dessert (since this is a special feast day, no Lenten abstaining here), bake a cake in the shape of a lamb (there are numerous types of lamb molds available at craft stores or baking supply stores). Before or during the dinner, Exodus 12:1-20 is read —- the story of the first Passover. Then the New Testament reading about the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist is read from either Matt 26:17:30; Mark 14:12-26 or Luke 22:7-20.

Simple Menu Suggestions:

These ideas are loosely following the instructions in Exodus, “A lamb…a year-old male lamb without blemish…That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs….”

  • Bitter Herbs: Cooked spinach and raw celery sticks dipped in salt water, mixed green salad (the greens also incorporate the “Green Thursday” tradition)
  • Unleavened bread: Crackers or store-bought matzohs, pita bread or homemade unleavened bread
  • Wine: red wine and/or grape juice
  • Lamb: Leg of lamb, or roast lamb, lamb chops, or meatloaf baked in shape of lamb (use a lamb cake mold)
  • Haroset: Applesauce with raisins, reminding of the bricks and mortar the Jews laid in Egypt. (This is an additional element we have added.)

Our Holy Thursday Dinner Menu:

  • Roast Beef (Reminder of the Passover Lamb, and Christ the Paschal Lamb)
  • Mashed Potatoes (allergy free)
  • Spinach (reminder of the bitter herbs)
  • Applesauce (reminder of the Charoses, the bricks and mortar in Egypt)
  • Bread (reminder of the Unleavened Bread and the Eucharist)
  • Grapes (reminder of the wine of the Last Supper which becomes the Blood of Christ)
  • Dessert (Because it’s a festive day in the eyes of the Church)

Since we leave for the Mass that evening, we usually don’t have wine, but I will serve grape juice.

Our family doesn’t like the taste of lamb, so I’m actually serving roast beef. It looks similar to lamb. It seems Holy Week has extra constraints, so while I want to make a festive meal, sometimes time, energy, (and nowadays) and budget is lacking. One year my mother actually made a meatloaf in the lamb cake mold pan. Definitely memorable.

We’re saving the lamb cake for Easter, and I will choose a dessert that won’t have leftovers to taunt us during Good Friday. Depending on my time, I might make unleavened bread, following Maria von Trapp’s recipe. If I use regular bread it will be small individual loaves at each place setting. For my son with food allergies, I will serve gluten free bread sticks. Another alternative is serving Hot Cross Buns, again, like Maria Von Trapp.

Before eating, the family gathers for the “Washing of the Feet”, which I’ve described here in a previous post.

The children are reminded that this meal is different than what the Jews celebrate because Christ already died and saved us, so we are not still awaiting a Messiah. We are not obliged to follow the directives for the Passover meal, we are merely doing it in imitation of Christ, so we can use all of our senses to know, love and serve Christ. While eating the reading from Exodus 12: 1-20, the story of the First Passover, is read out loud. This is the same first reading at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

The meal is simple, joyful, and family-friendly, and wonderful preparation to enter more deeply into the liturgy of the Sacred Triduum.

Easter Sweet Bread

While preparing my plans for Holy Week, I realized I had taken multiple pictures last year of my Easter Bread and then didn’t post anything!

To accompany our Paska Cheese Mold I made Easter Sweet Bread from Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger. Although published originally in 1949, this recipe is foolproof and delicious!
Easter Sweet Bread

2 cakes yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup scalded and cooled milk
7 cups sifted flour
Melted butter
Sugar
Raisins
Cinnamon
Nuts
1 beaten egg
Milk
Confectioners’ sugar icing

Dissolve yeast and one tablespoon sugar in water.

Cream butter, one-half cup sugar. Add eggs. Stir in yeast mixture and salt. Alternate milk and flour until the dough is moderately soft.Knead until smooth. Cover and let rise until double in bulk.

Roll out in oblong strip one-fourth inch thick. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar, raisins, cinnamon and nuts. Roll up length-wise.

Place in circle on greased cookie sheet. Cut three-fourths inch slices almost through roll with scissors. Turn each slice partly on its side — pointing away from the center. Cover and let the bread rise again until double in bulk.

Brush on beaten egg diluted with milk. Bake in moderate oven (350º) for 30 minutes. While still hot, frost with confectioners’ sugar icing and sprinkle with nuts.

IMG_0430

This makes a large amount of dough. Kneading is very therapeutic.
IMG_0432

Letting the dough rise has been my difficulty over the years. My kitchen is drafty. But I have a new oven with a “proof” setting. We’ll see if that improves the rise. Usually I have to allow double the usual rising time.

IMG_0434

IMG_0433

I get sad when I bake breads or other wheat containing foods, because my oldest can’t help without having an allergic reaction. I usually have to mix when he’s in bed, because the airborne flour makes him miserable.

But my youngest son has no allergies, so he’s excited and willing to help. As long as it’s not too messy for him. He doesn’t like sticky hands.

Rolling out the dough. I should have measured, but I think this is around 22″ x 35″IMG_0438 IMG_0437

Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, raisins and chopped nuts. Roll and pinch closed. Then join in a ring.

IMG_0440

Place the ring on greased cookie sheet. Cut three-fourths inch slices almost through roll with scissors. Turn each slice partly on its side — pointing away from the center. Cover and let the bread rise again until double in bulk.

This sounds complicated, but really not that difficult, and it looks beautiful!

IMG_0456 IMG_0459

Brush on beaten egg diluted with milk. Bake in moderate oven (350º) for 30 minutes. While still hot, frost with confectioners’ sugar icing and sprinkle with nuts. Delicious! the photos don’t do it justice.

Serve warmed or room temperature for Easter breakfast slathered with Paska or sweet butter and Easter hardboiled eggs.

Festive Easter Breads and Cheese: Paska and Pascha

Cross-posted at Catholic Cuisine
See updates and hints for recipes for the Easter bread Paska and cheese Pascha .
Since my family has no dominant ethnic heritage, I love to dig up cookbooks and be inspired by different cultural traditions for feast days. Florence Berger echoes my thoughts:

Being American Catholic, we can choose the best of the cultures of all the nations of the world and make them ours in Christ. We can call the songs, the stories, the dances and the foods of all peoples our own because in our American heritage there is blood and bone and spirit of these different men and women. If America is a melting pot, it can also be a cooking pot from which we women can serve up a Christian culture. (Cooking for Christ, NCRLC, 1949)

My favorite area is through festive breads (although I confess I haven’t been as adventurous since my son was diagnosed with food allergies). My interest in Ukrainian psyanky (and Polish pisanki) made me interested also in the Ukrainian and Polish foods used to celebrate Easter.

One year I made this very simple Paska, Ukrainian Easter Bread, from The Festive Bread Book by Kathy Cutler (1982). It’s festive, but not heavy, and a perfect accompaniment to the sweet Easter cheese mold. This is usually included in the Easter Baskets brought to church for a blessing (also the Roman Ritual). I simply used a Corning Ware 1-1/2 quart round covered French White Casserole without the lid and it worked out fine (use what you have!).

Paska (Ukrainian Easter Bread)

1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 1/2 – 3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup golden raisins (I used more, up to one cup)
1/2 cup milk
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
melted butter, if desired

Beat egg and egg yolk until fluffy and light. Add 2 cups flour, sugar, salt yeast, lemon peel, orange peel, vanilla and raisins. Mix thoroughly.

Heat milk and butter to hot (120 to 130 degrees F). Add to flour mixture. Mix thoroughly.

Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth — about 10 minutes.

Place in greased bowl, turning to coat top. Cover; let rise in warm place until double — about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Set aside a little of the dough to be used as decoration on top for the loaf. Shape the rest into a ball.

Place in greased cake pan 3 inches deep and 6 inches across or 1 quart souffle dish. Make cross of remaining piece of dough; place on top of loaf.

Cover; let rise in warm place until double — about 30 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 45-60 minutes or until done. Cool on wire rack. While still warm, brush with melted butter if desired.

The decorations on top of the loaf are very individual, and can be ornate. These hints from Ukrainian Easter by Mary Ann Woloch Vaughn are extremely helpful. I did a simple cross and made an Alpha and Omega on either side of the cross, reminiscent of the Paschal Candle decorations.

We enjoyed spreading the Easter Cheese Mold on the bread. At first I was a bit confused, as the name for the dessert cheese is Pascha (or Pashka), very close to the Ukrainian name for the bread. And “Pascha” is the Orthodox name for Easter. Once I got the names sorted out, I was convinced I had to try the cheese. I didn’t have an “official” mold, so used the clean clay unglazed flowerpot as per other’s directions. Be sure to make ahead (today or tomorrow). I omitted the candied fruit. My cheese did not mold (it didn’t drain), so I ended up serving from the flowerpot. It was still delicious.

Pascha

This is an absolutely beautiful and delicious dish; versions are prepared in Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and Latvia. It is made in a tall mold (or flower pot), then turned out onto a large platter and decorated. Cool and rich, it tastes like a cross between ice cream and cheesecake. It goes wonderfully with the sweet Easter breads, such as Kulich, or with the various Easter cakes.

1 whole egg
4 egg yolks
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 pounds farmer cheese (see comments)
1/2 pound sweet butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fruit: raisins and/ or dried currants, mixed candied fruit peel
1 cup blanched almonds, chopped
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange or lemon rind
For decorating:
Candied fruit peel, maraschino cherries, or nuts
Fresh strawberries to place around the base and on top

Beat the egg and the yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add the sugar, and beat until the mixture is thick and creamy. Pour into a saucepan and add 1/2 cup of the cream.

Heat over medium-low heat, beating constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Do not boil. Remove the pan from the heat and continue beating until the mixture has cooled to lukewarm.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cheese, butter, the other 1/2 cup of cream and the vanilla. Cream until the mixture is smooth. Add the egg mixture, then the fruits, almonds, and orange or lemon rind. Blend thoroughly.

Line a flower pot or Pascha mold with 2 thicknesses of cheesecloth. Place the pot over a bowl (to catch liquid), and pour the Pascha mixture into the pot. Put a layer or two of cheesecloth over the top, set a plate on it and something heavy on the plate. (The purpose is to press the extra liquid out of the Pascha and into the bowl below.) Chill overnight or for a day or two.

Remove the top cheesecloth. Unmold the Pascha onto a large platter, and remove the rest of the cheesecloth.

Decorate the Pascha with the candied fruit peel or maraschino cherries or nuts to form the letters XB or CR (Christ is risen) on one side, and on the other side a cross. You may use the Western cross form or the Orthodox cross, or any other cross design that you prefer. In Russia, Pascha is often decorated with an angel and a lily, as well as the cross.

Around the base and on top of the Pascha, place fresh strawberries. Serve chilled.

Yield: 14 to 16 servings
From A Continual Feast by Evelyn Vitz

The best part after making these goodies, was arranging the Easter basket for a blessing at our parish by the pastor. I included our Easter eggs, pysanky, ham, wine, butter lamb, paska and pashka. I loved seeing all elaborate cloths and baskets and beautiful breads and goodies, and it inspired me to do more the next year.

Pictures from easteuropeanfood.about.com and FoodNetwork.com .