Easter bread bursting out of bakery ovens, doors
That tasty soft bread baked to a golden crisp is paska.
But many fans refer to it by the season it’s most heavily consumed — Easter bread.
Area bakeries’ ovens and shelves are filling with the loaves — plain, raisin and fruit — as the holiday approaches.
Depending on one’s nationality, Easter breads may be referred to by different names and may be very specifically decorated.
They are a traditional part of Easter holiday celebrations in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Romania, Moldova, Georgia and parts of Bulgaria and Slovakia.
Typically prepared with milk, butter, eggs, flour and sugar, the hearty bread makes for a delicious breakfast.
It’s also a special accompaniment to Easter brunches and dinners.
Christian symbolism associated with paska-type breads can include a swirl of yellow and white said to represent the resurrection of Jesus, while the white represents the Holy Spirit.
One version made with maraschino cherries is said to symbolize royal jewels in honor of the resurrection of Jesus.
How Grandma does it
At Grandma’s Country Oven Bake Shoppe in Penn Township, owner Kathy Young sells small, medium and large paska breads, plain and raisin, iced and uniced.
Prices range from $4.85 for 1 pound, $6.95 for 1½ pound, and $9.25 for a 2 pound bread.
“I’ve sold them as long as I’ve had a bakery. … I think a lot of it is tradition. A lot of people grew up with them,” Young says.
The breads are most popular during the Easter season, when she estimates the bakery sells more than 400.
They are requested over the Christmas holiday as well, she says.
“They are a breakfast and brunch bread, like a sweet roll. … My father-in-law made sandwiches with them. And it makes great French toast,” Young says.
And if you get a hankering for paska after Easter, buy an extra one. “They freeze nicely,” Young says.
Paska for 70 years
At Latrobe’s Dainty Pastry Shoppe, Juanita Colaianne recalls the bakery making paska bread since the Colaianne family started the business in 1947.
The third generation — her and her late husband, Bob Colaianne’s children — now run the business, with Colaianne still working two days a week.
“The reason we sold it is it is very popular with Orthodox Christian churches,” she says.
“And a lot of people from Derry and around this area are of Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian and Slovakian heritage. We put a cross on the top (of the bread). Many people take it in their Easter baskets for blessing (at their churches) the Saturday before Easter,” Colaianne says.
“The only difference between paska and other breads is the amount of eggs and butter. That gives you the sweetness — the doughnut around the stomach,” she says, laughing.
The bakery sells more than 100 paska breads during Easter season. The most popular are raisin ($3.90), followed by plain ($3.80) and candied fruit ($3.99), Colaianne says.
Customers enjoy serving the bread with their Easter dinner. “What’s left you have on Monday morning for breakfast,” Colaianne says.
In the 1960s, she says, the bakery started a tradition of making a 3 pound paska bread for a social the night before Easter at Trinity Lutheran Church in Latrobe.
“Now, it’s 39 pounds and 7 feet long. Every year we take it for after the vigil,” Colaianne says.
Early to rise
It’s 2 a.m. and Giuseppe Lopreiato rises.
The 85-year-old owner of Vibo’s Italian Bakery in Brackenridge has bread to bake, especially this time of year. He’s been making Easter bread for more than 50 years and this week will be no different. Having to fill 100-plus orders, he has to get an early start.
“I love to make bread,” says the man who with his wife Mary opened Vibo’s in 1984, and he’s been baking for most of his life. “It’s good and people like it because it’s fresh and we don’t add any preservatives.”
He makes the breads and hot cross buns without measuring the ingredients because he’s done it so often. Customers should place an order for Easter bread by April 18. Cost is $4 for a long or round loaf. Ingredients include flour, trans fat-free shortening, yeast, salt, water, raisins, sugar and light food coloring. Vibo’s is a family business and one that’s embedded in Brackenridge community because its members live and work there, he says. They make limited quantities, but it’s top quality, he says.
“This is an old-school bakery,” he says. “It’s all made by hand and made with love.”
From the beginning
Mazziotti Bakery in Lower Burrell began as a bread-only business, so they know dough. Customers can buy a braided ring which is symbolic of the crown Jesus wore on the cross or two choices of Easter bread with or without raisins, baby doll bread and hot cross buns.
A braided bread with egg is $8.50. Orders should be placed by April 14. Buying from local bakeries helps support the community and keep the businesses going, says owner Carlo Cimino. They offer quality products because they use the best ingredients, he says.
“Easter bread is a tradition,” says Cimino. “And it’s delicious. Each holiday has its meaning and Easter bread is an important food for this time of the year. We make ours from scratch and we make small batches so everything is fresh.”
Bake your own
If you want to try baking your own paska bread, try this recipe from slaviccooking.com.
1 package active dry yeast — 2¼ teaspoons (0.25 ounce)
1 teaspoon sugar — used to proof yeast
1 cup water — warm (about 110 F degrees)
¼ cup sugar (1.95 oounces)
1 ½ cup milk (scalded and cooled)
2 cups bread flour (9.6 ounces)
Add to above starter:
3 large eggs, beaten
½ cup sugar (3.90 ounces)
1 cup Crisco
1 teaspoon salt
5-6 cups bread flour (24 to 28.8 ounces)
1½ to 2 cups raisins, as needed
Place the raisins you plan to use in very warm water with about a cup of dissolved sugar (not included from above ingredients) to soften for about 30 minutes before using.
Into 1 cup of warm water dissolve 1 teaspoon sugar with the yeast in a mixing bowl until frothy.
Scald 1½ cups of milk, then dissolve ¼ cup of sugar in the hot milk.
Allow to cool, then add milk mixture to yeast mixture and add 2 cups of flour.
Mix well, cover and allow to proof for 60-90 minutes or until almost double.
After the dough doubles, stir in the beaten eggs, ½ cup sugar, Crisco and salt. Then slowly add the remaining 5 cups of flour.
Reserve a cup of flour in case needed. Knead well to form a soft dough.
Rising and baking
Cover with loose plastic wrap to prevent drying, then top with a towel to hold in heat and moisture.
Allow to rise until doubled, about 1-2 hours.
Deflate and fold in drained raisins.
Divide into 2 or 3 balls, shape, place in greased and floured bowls.
Let rise until doubled about 45-60 minutes.
Brush tops with an egg wash.
Bake at 350 for 30- 50 minutes (depending on size) or until internal temperature is 190 degrees.
Allow to cool before removing from the bowl.