Moldovan cuisine combines specific authentic dishes with those of other cuisines. Culinary traditions vary not only from one region to another, but also from one village to another.
This is mainly due to its geographical situation, as Moldova is a bridge between the culture of the Balkans and Asia on one side and the European culture of the other, sharing borders with a Slavic country and a European country. This European country is Romania, with which Moldova substantially shares the same cuisine.
Last June, when Maria, our Romanian Orthodox Christian maid guided me to prepare chiftele as I was preparing challah bread, she surprised me with some tips on dough braiding techniques she has been practicing since a young age.
Indeed, Maria told me that day that in Romania and Moldova, braiding leavened doughs is almost a national sport, whether they are savory or sweet. And this is when she told me about pasca, the recipe I chose for today’s post. She did not have to twist my arm too much for this one. I just love to bake bread. My passion goes way back, to the time that I narrated on my Estonian kringle post.
Today, I embark on the Orthodox Christian tradition challenge, which is how a hostess is judged during Easter: pasca! Pasca is a brioche with a dough called cozonac dough that is stuffed in the center mainly with cheese, cream and nuts.
The majority of Moldovans are Orthodox Christians. Thus, the Sunday of the Resurrection, which is the holiest of holidays in the Orthodox religion is a national holiday in Moldova. Easter is a festival of light and joy, accompanied by several traditions and rituals determined as much by the specificity of the religious festival as by local customs. Pasca and painted eggs are the main symbols of this holiday.
Pasca is a liturgy. It has its secrets, its mood and its rules. Moldovan women force themselves to focus and prepare with love and care, in a warm kitchen where the doors are not slammed and where there should be no drafts (the dough would not rise!) Finally, the ceremony of preparation of the dough should be done by a hostess, pure in her body and peaceful in her soul. Because if the cake is not a success, she would have broken an ancestral rule…
Pasca must be round, like the sun. Baking is a sacred and mysterious action that Moldovan women perform with love and piety. They say that the cake is good only if the woman who baked it is calm and especially if there is peace in her home! That’s what they say! What chances are we leaving to the homes where spouses argue all the time? The story doesn’t tell…
Anyway, it was a unanimous success for the Pasca in my home! We didn’t eat pasca during Easter but Hanukkah, which is also a celebration of light!
Recipe of Pasca
For the dough
- 8 cups flour, sifted
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons active dry yeast
8 tablespoons soft unsalted butter, diced
8 tablespoons soft salted butter, diced
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
1 tablespoon rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
To brush dough
- 2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon creme fraiche or sour cream
For the filling
- 16 oz farmer’s cheese
1 tablespoon of heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup currants
3 tablespoons ground almonds
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a bowl, mix the yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour in a small glass of warm water. Wait until the mixture doubles in volume.
Whisk the eggs with half the sugar and salt, add the zest of citrus and set aside.
Heat the milk and dissolve the remaining sugar.
Place the flour in the bowl of the food processor.
Add the whipped yolks and yeast.
Mix at low speed.
Gradually add milk and sugar, rum and vanilla.
Knead for 2 minutes.
Increase the speed to medium/high.
Stir in butter gradually.
The dough should absorb the butter.
Reduce speed to medium.
Knead about 10 to 15 minutes until the dough pulls away from sides of bowl.
Put the dough in a large container, cover and let rise for about 5 hours in refrigerator. It should triple in volume.
Remove dough from refrigerator.
Degas the dough on a floured surface.
Spread a circle of about ½ inch thick dough and 8 inches in diameter.
Then form a long braid.
Surround the edges of the circle of dough with this braid to form a kind of well where you will put the filling.
Repeat until all the batter is used.
Cover with a cloth and let rise again for about 25 minutes, while you are preparing the filling.
Beat the eggs and sugar with electric beater at maximum speed until the mixture whitens and becomes firm.
Decrease to minimum speed.
Gradually add cream, cottage cheese, cornstarch, sugar and salt.
Finally add the currants, almonds, slivered almonds, and vanilla extract.
Assembly and Baking
Preheat the oven at 350 F for about 20 minutes.
Beat 2 egg yolks with a teaspoon of cream. Emulsify.
Brush the surface of the dough with this emulsion.
Pour the filling in the center of the dough.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes at 350 F.