Thursday, June 13, 2013

Potato shmatato

Last month, my friend Vanessa came over to make Ukrainian Easter food. It was maybe a bit ironic because I'm pretty sure her forefathers made life hell for my forefathers, but there must have been some mixing at some point because Ashkenazi Jews make really similar food, though we keep the milk and meat far away from each other. Vanessa and I made very large quantities of borscht, pyrogies, "cabbage" rolls, and paska, the only one of the bunch which I hadn't tried before. Paska is Ukrainian Easter bread, very similar to challah except that is uses dairy and is round. The "cabbage" rolls were not actually make out of cabbage because Vanessa wanted to try using collard greens, which are ubiquitous in Brazil, and they turned out quite nicely. 


She also got a kick out of making all the gut-busting food in a miniskirt in Brazil-- the weather hardly suggested hot soup and carb-stuffed carbs, but it sure beats the hell out of actually having to deal with sub-zero temperatures. 

We divided the work up by comfort zone, meaning that I wrangled the doughs while Vanessa dealt with the borscht and cabbage rolls. Her grandmother's original paska recipe was enormous, calling for 15 cups of flour, so that was halved, and lacking a large springform pan or the equivalent the bread turned out rather freeform. "Artistic", I like to call it, a.k.a. "Thank God we no longer live in an icy tundra so who cares what it looks like as long as it tastes good." L'Chaim/whatever Ukrainians say!

     adapted from Vanessa's grandmother

1 1/2 c. whole milk
1/3 c. unsalted butter
1/2 c. water, lukewarm
(1/2 packet) dry yeast
1/2 c. sugar
4 eggs (reserve 1 egg for the egg wash)
1/2 Tbsp. salt
~8 c. all-purpose flour

Heat the milk in a small saucepan just to scald it, then set it aside to cool down. Do the same with the butter in a different pan or in a bowl in the microwave, heating just until it has melted. Set aside to cool down. 
In a large bowl, combine the water, 1/2 tsp. of the sugar and the yeast. Let stand for 10 min. When the scalded milk has cooled down to lukewarm, add it along with the sugar to the yeast mixture, stirring well, then add in 3 of the eggs, one at a time, stirring well. Add in the salt and the flour, a cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the dough is too heavy to stir, flour your hands and turn the dough out onto a clean, floured surface to knead for ~10 minutes, until you have a smooth dough, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the counter and your hands. Form the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl to double, covered with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Depending on how hot your house is, rising will take take between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 hours.
Once doubled, punch down the dough, cover and let it rise until it doubles again, ~1 hour. 
Oil a large springform pan. Divide the dough into two uneven pieces, one 3 times bigger than the other. Form the larger piece into a round so that it lines the bottom of the pan. With the smaller piece of dough, make decorations for the top-- braids are popular, or you can make designs with small balls (Google for ideas). Remember that everything is going to expand as it rises. Cover lightly, leave to rise until doubled once again, ~ 45 minutes. 15 minutes before the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 400F. 
Beat reserved egg, and paint egg wash onto the dough. Place dough in oven. After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350F. Bake 40 minutes or until dark gloss brown (but not burnt!)