Pasha, kulitsa & mämmi / pasha, kulitsa & memma
Easter is one of the seasons when you really feel the Russian influence on Finnish food traditions: mämmi, a truly strange-looking (and tasting, it has to be said) malted rye pudding, is our own, but paskha and kulich are both of Russian Orthodox origin.
My aunt supposedly tried to make mämmi herself once (read more about making it at Axis of Ævil) and never repeated the experience, and quite frankly, I'm not that wild about it (nor do I have enough people to serve it to to make it worthwhile), but paskha, a creamy, eggy, buttery, Lent-busting quark concoction is easy to make as well as yummy, and so it gets made every year. I've used a fine sieve to drain it in previous years, but this year I am in charge of THE paskha and got to use my aunt's wooden mould, decorated with Orthodox crosses.
Almost every recipe available would have you contaminate this fabulously tangy-creamy dish with either raisins, candied lemon peel, crushed almonds or a combination of the above. I'm going to flout public opinion here and state that they are wrong. And not just because I hate raisins.
We usually have our paskha spread on top of slices of plaited sweet pulla bread, but this year I was inspired to try out the saffron-scented round kulich instead. I'm borrowing the form from Marianna* but deviating a bit from her great-grandmother's recipe in favor of a firmer, more conventional dough, mostly because I didn't have the time to do otherwise.
To cap this post off (I'm heading out to our cottage in just a few minutes and won't be back until Monday, so happy Easter!), here is a Mignon - the quintessential Finnish chocolate egg. It looks just like a regular egg, you may think, and that's because it is - Fazer has sold these nougat chocolate-filled egg shells since 1896.
*whose Nordic Recipe Archive I really can't recommend enough - her recipes aren't necessarily exactly like the ones I use, but they always seem right. Besides, she agrees with me on the evil of crunchy bits in paskha. So there.
600 g quark (look for tvorog in East-European specialty shops or make your own)
150 g sugar (I used about 50 g from my vanilla bean repository and the rest normal caster sugar)
200 g butter, softened
3 egg yolks
200 ml thick cream
Drain the quark in cheesecloth or a coffee filter overnight. If you're using a wooden mould, soak it overnight.
Whip the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, still beating. Mix in the quark and, you guessed it, beat some more. You want everything to be smooth and airy.
In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it's thick and heavy. Fold it into the buttery quark mixture (no more beating!).
Line your mould (or strainer, sieve) with a single layer of dampened cheesecloth and spoon in the paskha batter. Fold the edges of the cheesecloth over the paskha, top with a plate or two for weight, and place in a bowl (to catch the drippings). Refrigerate for about 24 hours, then unmould and serve spread over slices of kulich or other sweet bread.
25 g yeast
200 ml milk
pinch of saffron
100 ml sugar
about 425 g all-purpose flour
100 g ground almonds
125 g softened butter
almonds for decoration
1 egg for eggwash
Heat the milk until it's lukewarm and dissolve the yeast and saffron in it. Mix in eggs and sugar, then ground almonds and finally about 375 g of the flour. Stir with a fork until everything is evenly mixed, then add the softened butter. Work in the rest of the flour, kneading until you have a soft, springy dough.
Let rise in a covered bowl for about half an hour, then shape into a flat disc about the size of your cake mould. Line the sides of said mould with buttered parchment paper that comes a fair bit over the edges of the mould (but not so high it won't fit in the oven *cough*), transfer dough to it. Cover with a towel and let rise for another half-hour.
Decorate with whole almonds, brush with the lightly whipped egg (er, I totally forgot), and bake at 200°C for about 30-35 minutes. Cool on a rack, then keep wrapped in foil, cutting slices to serve with paskha.