Pasca is a festive Romanian Easter Bread made up of a soft, panettone-like bread that is filled with a cheesecake center. It is the perfect recipe for a celebration!
Romanian Easter Bread: Bread Meets Cheesecake
Many cultures have their own, traditional Easter breads, and Romania is no exception. Theirs is called Pasca, after the term for Easter in the Eastern Orthodox faith.
What makes Romanian Easter Bread unique from the Easter breads of other cultures is that it has a farmer’s cheese, cheesecake-like filling that is studded with raisins. This filling blends in with the light and fluffy bread so that it is hard to tell where the cheese filing ends and the bread begins.
The base bread another traditional Romanian celebration bread called cozonac. This bread has a flavor like a light Italian panettone, with the texture of Jewish challah. It is traditional for Easter tables in Romania to have loaves of both cheese-filled pasca and fruit and nut studded cozonac. What a celebration!
Easter Symbolism in Pasca
While cozonac is eaten during many Romanian celebrations, Easter calls for something special to be added to the bread. As with most Easter breads, Romanian pasca carries religious symbolism. The white cheese filling that is added to the traditional cozonac dough symbolizes the risen Christ, as well as the Holy Spirit.
Making Romanian Easter Bread
This bread does take a long time to make, but the good thing is, most of the time is waiting time. So, pick a day when you have some things to do around the house to make the bread. (As a bonus, your house will smell amazing while the bread is baking.)
The Sponge: This bread starts with a process called a sponge, where flour, sugar, liquid, and yeast are mixed together and then left for a while for the yeast to do its thing. The sponge helps develop the flavor of the bread, so it is not a step that you want to skip.
The Dough: After the sponge has set, you will see bubbles beginning to pop on the surface of the mixture. Now it is time to add the remaining ingredients to create the dough. After mixing the ingredients together with most of the flour, the dough gets turned out onto the counter to be kneaded by hand. (You can also make this dough in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, and it will take slightly less time.)
After kneading (by hand or with the mixer) the dough should be soft and smooth. It should be slightly tacky to the touch, but it shouldn’t stick to your hands. (Although it might stick to the counter if you leave it in one place for too long.)
Now it’s time to cover the dough and let it rise. This bread gets quite a long rise time. Don’t skimp on this, it’s all a part of creating that authentic flavor and texture.
The Shaping: After rising, the dough is divided into two (roughly equal) portions. Half of the dough goes into the base of a buttered 9 1/2 or 10 inch spring-form pan. The remaining dough gets divided into three pieces, rolled into ropes, and braided.
The braided dough is nestled around the outer edge of the spring-form pan, on top of the base layer of dough.
Then, the shaped dough is left to rise one final time, while we make the filling.
Filling and Baking: After the bread has risen, is brushed with an egg wash and the sweetened ricotta cheese filling is poured into the center.
If you are used to baking cheesecake, you will be familiar with the way we bake this bread: hot at first, then low and steady through the end. Finally, the bread is cooled in the oven (that has been turned off) to avoid drastic temperature changes that can affect the cheese center.
Our Pasca Recipe
We love the fluffy bread and the sweet cheese filling of this pasca. It’s hard to tell where the soft bread starts and the cheese filling ends, until you take a bite and are greeted with the unmistakable sweet and smooth texture.
This is a stunning recipe that is definitely worthy of an Easter table!
Yield: 1 (10 inch) loaf
- 6 oz ricotta cheese or farmer’s cheese
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 Tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
- ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- ¼ c raisins
- In a large bowl, mix together 1 ½ cup of flour, warm milk, sugar, and yeast. Cover the mixture and place it in a warm place for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly.
- Separate ONE of the eggs, placing the whites in a separate bowl and setting it aside. (We will use this later to brush the bread before it goes into the oven.)
- Once the flour and yeast mixture is nice and bubbly, mix in the 2 eggs and one egg yolk. Add 2 ½ c of flour, the soft butter, vanilla, and salt. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Then, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until it is smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes, adding only as much of the remaining 1 cup of flour as is necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands. (Alternately, you can mix the dough in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook for 2-3 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the sides of the bowl.)
- Place the dough into a clean, well greased bowl and cover it with a damp tea towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft free place until it has roughly tripled in bulk, 2 hours.
- Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times. Divide the dough in half.
- Press one half of the dough into the bottom of a well-buttered 9 ½ or 10 inch spring-form pan.
- Divide the other half of the dough into three even pieces and roll them into thin ropes, about 2 feet long. Press one end of each of the ropes together and braid the ropes gently. Arrange the braid into a ring, connecting the two ends. Stretch the braided ring gently and place it into the spring-form pan along the outside edge of the pan.
- Cover the spring-form pan with your damp tea towel and let the dough rise again in a warm, draft free place until doubled in bulk, roughly 30-40 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- While the dough is rising, make the cheese filling by beating all of the filling ingredients (except the raisins) together with an electric hand mixer, until smooth and pour-able. Gently stir in the raisins.
- In the small bowl with 1 reserved egg white, add 1 tsp water. Mix the egg whites and water together and brush the dough with the egg whites once it has risen.
- Then, pour the cheese filling into the middle of the braided circle. (Only pour enough in to fill the cavity, do not let it run over.)
Bake the bread at 375F for 15 min. Reduce the heat to 325F and bake for an additional 40 minutes, until the bread is nice and golden and the center is set, but still jiggles slightly.
- Turn off the oven and let the bread cool in the oven for 1 hour with the door shut.
- After cooling 1 hour, remove the bread from the oven and serve or let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.