Paska – The Best Sweet Easter Bread My Grandma Made

One of the biggest Easter traditions in my family is Paska bread. My grandma made this holiday bread hundreds of times for Easter and other holidays throughout the year and would mail me a loaf or two every time! So to say this bread holds a special place in my heart is an understatement. This sweet bread is a staple of my childhood and I finally learned how to make it myself. With Easter right around the corner, I wanted to share this very special traditional Easter bread with all of you. Homemade bread can be a little tricky to make, but I have several tips and tricks I learned along the way and I am sharing them so you can make it right the first time. Full recipe card below.

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What is Paska?

In my opinion, Paska is the best Easter bread! It is a dense Slovak, Ukrainian, and eastern European sweet bread most similar to a brioche or challah bread. The word Paska in similar spellings actually means Easter in Greek and Russian. You will often see Paska as a braided loaf containing raisins. Unlike traditional Italian Easter bread, Paska does not center around a dyed egg or contain colorful sprinkles. Aside from the similar braids, they are not a like in taste or consistency.

My Grandma the Baker

I cannot share this family tradition with you without telling you about my grandma. My grandma was Czechoslovakian and I am not sure if she learned to make this from my great grandmother or if she learned at church. But she and I were very close and my biggest regret was not having her teach me herself how to make Paska. She made this bread all the time for family members and at her church where they would make mass quantities and sell them as fundraisers. My grandma ran the kitchen at her church and you did not want to cross her, lol.

Even though I did not learn from her, I learned how to make this from her cookbooks. One in particular that has all the recipes the church would make for different occasions. And let me tell you, old school recipes are written with very little instructions!

Two years ago I decided to try my hand at my grandmas famous Paska. So I opened her cookbook only to realize there were probably 10 different recipes for the same thing and they were all different! But then I found a hand written version tucked between the pages and knew that was her handwriting.

From there I made this recipe over and over trying to decipher the lack of specific instructions because it was really a list of ingredients rather than steps. But I finally got it right! It tastes just like the bread she used to make. I hope she would be proud and I dedicate this post to her.

Paska Ingredients

This bread is a sweet yeast bread and uses basic bread dough ingredients. I will walk you through what I used and why.

Flour  – For this recipe I used all purpose flour. Even though this is bread, I don’t think bread flour would be a good choice here. Bread flour contains more protein than regular flour and will develop more gluten. Based on the amount of yeast and the rise time in this recipe, I do not think bread flour would produce the same results.

Whole Milk or Half and Half – My grandmas recipe called for whole milk which I do not usually buy. So I used half and half instead. Either whole milk or half and half should be fine. I do not recommend skim milk because it is just too thin.

Yeast  I always use active dry yeast because I buy large quantities for pizza making but instant yeast will work as well. You can use them interchangeably in a 1:1 ratio as long as the yeast is being dissolved in water. Active dry yeast needs to be activated in water where instant yeast does not need water to activate. Either way, yeast is required here.

Sugar – Paska is a sweet bread and not only needs sugar for sweetness in the dough but it also aids in activating the yeast mixture.

Butter – For this recipe I use unsalted real butter but my grandma’s recipe said oleo. And if you don’t know (I had to google it) oleo is what people called margarine back in the day. So while I have not personally tried margarine, it looks like my grandma used it and it can be used interchangeably.

Eggs – In most baked goods eggs are the binder and add moisture. This bread is no different. The eggs make it moist and are used for the golden brown color using an egg wash.

Salt – To offset some of the sweetness you always want to add a bit of salt.

Olive Oil – I use a small amount of olive oil to coat the bread dough while it rises so it stays hydrated and doesn’t dry out.

Mixing Options for Paska Bread

I feel like my grandma would say you should use your hands and knead the dough manually, but I am a wuss and think that is really hard! So I use my stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. You can use an electric hand mixer with a dough hook as well but it might be difficult to mix since they don’t have as much power. I can only fit enough dough for a single batch in my mixer. So unless you have a large KitchenAid mixer I recommend only making a single batch at a time.

Making the Bread Dough

Since this is a sweet bread, there are a few unique steps here that I want to cover in detail with pictures so there is no confusion. There are two components that are prepared separately and then combined with the flour and raw eggs to make the bread dough.

First you will need to prepare the yeast mixture. In a medium bowl whisk together warm water, yeast, and sugar. Make sure you use warm water not hot because you do not want to kill the yeast. Let this sit for about 10 minutes while you prepare the next component. It will become very foamy and look like this when it is ready to use.

While the yeast activates, you will need to make what I call the milk mixture. On the stove top in a medium saucepan you will melt the butter over medium low heat. Then you will slowly whisk in room temperature milk with the melted butter. It is important that the milk is not too cold so it does not curdle in the pan. Once the butter and milk are combined, add the sugar and salt. You want to keep this warm and maintain a low heat but do not allow this to boil. It will look like this when it is ready and will have a rich sweet buttery flavor.

Now you are ready to combine all the ingredients. First I add half of the flour to the bowl of a stand mixer. Then I add the eggs, the milk mixture, and the yeast mixture and mix on low speed with a dough hook until all the ingredients are combined. Then I add the remaining flour and mix on low speed occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. Your dough is ready to rise when it is no longer clumpy or sticky dough and bounces back when poking it.

The Dough Rise

The dough rise is a very important part of this recipe. This is a dense bread because of the long rise time. When you are rising dough you normally place it in a warm place. But since this is such a long rise, I usually rise mine covered with plastic wrap on the counter.  Before I start the first rise, ball up the dough and spray it with olive oil in my Misto sprayer. This helps keep the dough from drying out during the rise.

This dough requires three rises. After each rise you will punch the dough down and let it rise again. The first rise is 2 hours and the dough should double in size during that time. The second rise is 1 hour and the third is 45 minutes. After the first rise this is what my dough looks like.

Baking Pans

The first time I made this I used a metal baking pan and the bread cooked too fast. I think glass or ceramic baking dishes are better for this recipe because the metal pans get too hot. My grandma always made her Paska in these Pyrex bowls. These are her actual bowls that my mom and I share for different recipes. I also like to make mini Paska rounds which work really well in my small souffle dishes.

Prepping for Baking

Once the dough has gone through all three rises, on a lightly floured surface divide dough into separate dough balls. Then add the balls to the greased bowl or bowls. The dough should sit in the baking dish as a dough ball to achieve the signature rounded top. If you push the dough down into the bowl it will come out very mushed down. I learned this the hard way.

Traditional Paska bread has a signature golden brown color that is achieved by using an egg wash. Crack one egg into a small bowl and beat with a whisk. Then use a kitchen basting brush to brush the egg all over the top and down the visible sides.

One batch will make one large round braided loaf or one round medium loaf and four minis give or take depending on how much you fill the bowls. In my experience it is best to fill the baking dishes about 2/3 full.

​Braiding and Shaping

Full disclosure, I have not mastered this part yet. My Paska tastes just like my grandmas but it is not quite as pretty. While I did braid one of my rounds here, it was a bit sloppy and I definitely overfilled my bowl. And looking back, my grandma rarely braided her loafs probably because it is more difficult than it looks.

An alternative to braiding which she did often was making three dough balls per bowl placed in a triangle shape. This bakes up with a fancier look on the top of the bread.

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Paska – The Best Sweet Easter Bread My Grandma Made


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  • Total Time: 5 hours
  • Yield: 1 loaf 1x

Description

Paska is the best Easter bread! This dense bread has a sweet flavor perfect for Easter brunch, French toast, or even a sandwich. No holiday would be the same in my house without this Slovak eastern European tradition just like my grandma used to make. Bake it for Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving or just because you can’t get enough.


Ingredients

Units Scale

Yeast Mixture

4 1/2 tsp Active Dry Yeast

1/2 tsp Sugar

1/2 cup Warm Water (not hot)

Milk Mixture 

1/2 cup Unsalted Butter

1 1/2 cup Whole Milk or Half and Half (room temperature)

3/4 cup Sugar

2 tsp Salt

Dough

6 cup All Purpose Flour (divided)

2 Eggs

Rise

1 tbsp Olive Oil

Egg Wash

1 Egg Beaten


Instructions

Yeast Mixture

  1. In a medium bowl whisk together warm water, yeast, and sugar. Make sure to use warm water not hot because you do not want to kill the yeast.
  2. Let this sit for about 10 minutes while you prepare the milk mixture.
  3. It will be very foamy when it is ready to use.

Milk Mixture

  1. On the stove top in a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat.
  2. Slowly whisk in room temperature milk with the melted butter. It is important that the milk is not too cold so it does not curdle in the pan.
  3. Once the butter and milk are combined, reduce heat to low and whisk in the sugar and salt. You want to keep this warm (not hot) and maintain a low heat but do not allow this to boil.

Dough

  1. Add half of the flour to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Add the eggs, the milk mixture, and the yeast mixture and mix on low speed with a dough hook until all the ingredients are combined.
  3. Add the remaining flour and mix on low speed occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  4. The dough is ready to rise when it is no longer clumpy or sticky and bounces back when poking it.
  5. Ball up the dough and coat with olive oil.
  6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and rise for 2 hours. The dough should double in size.
  7. After 2 hours, punch the dough down and let it rise for a second time for 1 hour.
  8. After 1 hour, punch the dough down again and let it rise for a third time for 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 for large and medium size loafs and 325 for minis.
  10. Divide dough into balls and place in greased baking dishes.
  11. Beat one egg and brush onto the tops of each dough ball.
  12. Bake for 45-50 minutes for large and medium size loafs and 20-25 minutes for minis. When the bread is done it will be golden brown in color and a tooth pick will come out clean.
  13. Store Paska at room temperature in a Ziplock bag or covered in plastic wrap for up to a week or freeze. See below for freezing instructions.

Notes

For best results watch baking time closely. You can always add more time but you cannot take it away. Baking times will vary depending on the size of your dough balls.

  • Prep Time: 30
  • Rise Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45
  • Category: Side Dishes
  • Method: Bake
  • Cuisine: Slovak, Ukrainian, Eastern European

Freezing Paska

Making homemade bread like this is definitely a time investment. But rest assured, you can bake a bunch of these and freeze them. I have frozen mine two different ways. The first way is to place the loaf in a freezer safe Ziplock bag and remove all the air. This will preserve the shape of the bread but it will only last about 3 months in the freezer.

The second way is to vacuum seal the loaf. These will last longer but it will smash the loaf down and ruin the shape. Last year I made Paska for Easter and vacuum sealed a loaf for when my dad visited. The good news is six months later it tasted exactly the same. The bad news is it was sadly misshapen.

The last way, is my grandma’s method. She used to wrap her Paska in plastic wrap and then wrap it again in aluminum foil and then freeze it. I am not sure how long this method would last but she used to mail me loafs packaged like this!

When to Make Paska

This is my all time favorite bread and I can literally eat it with anything! Not only is it a great recipe for Easter Sunday, it is a great side for any holiday! It also makes delicious French toast, grilled cheese, regular toast, or sandwiches. I love using my sweet butter on it, as well as cream cheese, or jam. No matter when you make it, I know you will love it and it will become your family’s recipe of choice for the holidays!

Looking for more Easter recipes for your next family gathering or holiday meal? Check out my deviled eggs and corn casserole perfect for any holiday!

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