Sunday, April 4, 2010

Recettes Secrètes: Pashka

Pashka - or "pasha" - is a sweetened fresh cheese mold made for Russian Orthodox Easter. Tasting something like cheesecake, contemporary Pashka recipes often combine cream cheese and farmer's cheese (the driest form of cottage cheese).Pashka is properly packed into a special mold that shapes it into a pyramid embossed with the letters "XB," which stands for Khristos voskres ("Christ has risen"). A clay flowerpot has become the modern stand-in for the metal mold.
Pashka is generally eaten spread on a very lightly sweet yeast cake called kulich. If you can't find kulich (or babka), the Pashka is delicious spread on other eggy yeast breads, such as challah and brioche. But you can't beat a good dollop on a fresh strawberry.

After reviewing many varying recipes, I decided on this one below which seemed equally authentic and relatively easy to make. I was not disappointed! (Although if I did it again I would use a heavier weight and chill longer then 24 hours - my Pashka lost its flower pot shape within an hour. It hardly mattered though, it tasted delicious!)


2 pounds homemade cottage cheese or farmer's cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into pieces
6 large hard-cooked egg yolks, crumbled
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
3/4 cups ground almonds
1/2 lemon, zest grated
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 cup golden raisins
Chopped candied fruits, for decoration

In a large bowl, combine the cottage cheese or farmer's cheese, sugar, cream cheese, and egg yolks, stirring to mix.
In batches, process the mixture in a food processor, adding an equal amount of cream to each batch, until completely smooth. Transfer back to the bowl.
Stir in the ground almonds, lemon zest, lemon extract, and vanilla extract. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them to the cheese mixture along with the raisins. Mix thoroughly.
Line a clean, unused 8-cup flower pot (7x7) with a double layer of rinsed and squeezed-dry cheesecloth. Spoon the cheese mixture into the lined pan, then fold the ends of the cheesecloth neatly over the top.
Place a saucer on the cheesecloth, then a 2-pound weight, such as a can, on the saucer. Put the flower pot in a bowl for any liquid to drain into. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
Empty the bowl. Unmold the pashka onto a serving plate and carefully remove the cheesecloth. Decorate with candied fruit, pressing some of the fruit into the pashka to form the letters XB, which stands for Khristos voskres ("Christ has risen").
Serve with strawberries and/or challah bread.

Pashka will hold up chilled in the refrigerator, well wrapped, for up to two weeks. But it is best enjoyed at a temperature closer to room temperature.

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