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The beautiful pysanka above is actually a delicious torte. It was made by a guest at my 1996 Easter party. Thank you, Natalia, for the fantastic dessert and the wonderful memory. Click here for torte recipes.

Ukrainian Easter Food

Ukrainian Easter food consists of certain ritual foods that are placed in a basket, covered with a rushnyk, and taken to church to be blessed. These are breakfast foods - literally, the foods that will break the fast - typically, hard boiled eggs, kovbasa, baked cheese, paska bread, babka bread, butter, and horseradish and beet relish.

For Easter dinner, all of the above blessed foods may be served plus a wide assortment of appetizers, ham or roast pork, vinegared vegetables salads, sweet cheesecake, tortes, and other festive pastries.

Easter Syrnyk

This non-sweet cheesecake is served as an accompaniment for the main dish. It can also be cut into tiny portions and served as a zakuska dish.

24 ounces dry curd cottage cheese
2 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 beaten egg yolk

Place cottage cheese in a fine sieve and press out the water. Put cheese and eggs in a blender or food processor and process until very smooth and free of any lumps. Stir in sugar and lemon zest.

Spread the mixture in a greased 8-to-10-inch pie plate. It's customary to stencil a small cross in the center. Either cut a cross out of aluminum foil or insert a greased cross-shaped cookie cutter into the center of the pie. Brush the egg yolk around the cross, covering the pie surface surrounding the cross with the egg wash. (See syrnyk in foreground of photo.)

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove and let cool. Carefully remove the cross, taking care not to pull away any of the yellow surface.

Serves 10 to 12 as a side dish, more as an appetizer.

Paska (Ukrainian Easter Bread)

Adapted from Traditional Ukrainian Cookery, Savella Stechishin, Trident Press, Winnipeg.

Although this round-shaped Easter bread is not sweet, it's richer than ordinary bread. The top is decorated by dough ornamentation in the form of an ornate cross.

1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon granular yeast (1 package)
3 cups scalded milk, lukewarm
5 cups flour
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon salt
9 to 10 cups sifted flour
1 egg

Dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm water and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let sit for 10 minutes. Combined the softened yeast with the lukewarm milk and 5 cups of flour. Beat well until smooth. Cover and let the batter rise in a warm place until light and bubbly. Add the beaten eggs, sugar, melted butter, and salt; mix thoroughly. Stir in enough flour to make a dough that is neither very soft nor very stiff. Knead until the dough no longer sticks to the hand.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead until smooth and satiny. Place in a bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down and let it rise again. Divide the dough into 3 parts. Wrap one in plastic and set aside. Shape the remaining two parts into round balls and place in greased, round pans, such as a 9-inch springform pan. Cover the pans with towels and let rise in a warm place until dough reaches the tops of the pans.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Divide the reserved dough into 4 equal parts. Shape each into a 20-inch rope. Cross the center of each pan of dough with the ropes. With a scissors, make a 6-inch slit lengthwise down the end of each rope and twist the ends into swirls, forming a stylized cross. Once the cross is in place, use additional dough to fill in spaces with rosettes, birds, or other designs.

Brush loaf tops with a beaten egg diluted with 2 tablespoons of water. Bake in a moderately hot oven (400 degrees) for about 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 25 minutes or longer, or until done. It may be necessary to cover the top with aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning. Remove the loaves from the pans and allow them to cool.

Makes 2 large loaves.

Ukrainian Sausage

This recipe for home-made kovbasa comes from Festive Ukrainian Cooking, Marta Pisetska Farley, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990. According to the author, it was first published in Zhinocha Dolia in 1927.

5 pounds pork shoulder
2 pounds beef check or arm
1 pound pork fat
4 - 6 ounces coarse salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon allspice
1 small head of garlic
3 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons peperivka (spiced whiskey, see instructions below) or to taste
3 yards natural hog casing (or as needed)

Grind pork coarsely, once. Bone and chill beef. With a very sharp knife, dice into 1/4 inch cubes. Dice 1/2 pound fat similarly and grind the rest. Mix meats and fat in a large bowl. Mash peeled garlic with salt in a mortar, and add pepper and allspice. Mix all ingredients. Add 1 cup water for each 2 pounds of meat, then add whiskey. Cook a small sample in a little boiling water. Taste and adjust seasoning (be conservative with the salt).

Wash casing in cold water, rinsing several times. Carefully thread 1 yard of casing over a sausage funnel and stuff, taking care not to live air pockets. Do not pack or sausages will burst while cooking. Tie ends with string. Repeat until all meat is used. Refrigerate, loosely covered with towel, for 48 hours. Sausage may be smoked (following smoker directions) or cooked fresh. To cook, simmer gently in a wide pot 0one-third- third full of water until cooked through, about 30 to 45 minutes. Drain, cook, and refrigerate loosely covered.

Alternatively, divide meat and roll into 4 cylinders about 10 inches long. Seal tightly in lightly greased foil and refrigerate (for up to a week) or freeze. To cook, poach sausage rolls until done, about 1 hour.

To serve, saute in a little fat for color, Or serve cold in thin diagonal slices.

Note: peperivka, cayenne-flavored whiskey, is made by soaking 10 whole peppers in a pint of blended whiskey or bourbon for a least 46 hours.

Beet and Horseradish Relish

This traditional Easter relish goes well with the main course of ham or roast suckling pig. Harvest your horseradish root in early spring about the time the leaves start to poke out of the ground. Commercially prepared horseradish and canned beets may be substituted for the fresh.

Wash horseradish root and cut off the tough, fibrous parts. Peel and grate it. Cook, skin, and grate the beets. Combine with the horseradish. Moisten with vinegar, and add a bit of sugar and salt. The proportion of horseradish to beets is arbitrary; the Stechishin book specifies 1/2 cup horseradish to 10 medium beets, but I prefer a much greater concentration of horseradish.

Studenetz - Jellied Meat

from Ukrainian Easter: Tradition, Folk Customs, and Recipes, Mary Ann Woloch Vaughn, Ukrainian Heritage Company, Munster, Indiana, 1983.

4 pork hocks, fresh
1 pound veal
1 veal shank and bone
1 stalk of celery, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon mixed spices, tied in a cloth bag
1 to 2 cloves garlic (to taste)
salt to taste

Scrape hocks; wash well, place in a pot; add the veal shank and veal; cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Lift the meat out and rinse thoroughly; put in a clean pot. Strain stock and cool. Cover the meat with stock. Bring to a second boil, skim the scum off, let boil slowly for 1/2 hour.

Simmer until the meat and bones fall apart, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours in all. One hour before end of cooking, add celery, carrots, onions, spices, garlic and salt to taste.

Remove the spice bag, strain the drained stock. Cut the meat in small pieces (if desired leave in large pieces) taking care to remove all the bones. Place meat and cooked vegetables in glass casserole or pan; pour the stock over the ingredients and let stand until cold; place in refrigerator to set until firm.


Molded cheesecake is a tradition in eastern Ukraine. A clay flower pot, about 6 inches across, makes an ideal mold.

2 1/2 pounds dry curd cottage cheese
15 tablespoons butter
7 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup chopped candied fruits
3 tablespoons slivered blanched almonds
1/4 cup currants or golden raisins

Scrub a six-inch clay pot (measured across the top) thoroughly and rinse inside and out with hot water. Wipe dry and bake in a 300 degree oven for an hour. Meanwhile let the cheese, butter, and egg yolks stand covered at room temperature for 2 hours. Place the sugar and yolks in a mixing bowl and beat until light and lemon-colored. Set aside briefly.

Break up the cheese and put half of it in the container of an electric blender. Add half the yolk mixture. Blend together until smooth at low speed. Scald the heavy cream and add half to the blender. Blend until smooth. Empty into a pan. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Heat the mixture, stirring until it thickens slightly. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat and add the candied fruits, almonds and golden raisins. Refrigerate until cool. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla and beat mixture thoroughly with a rotary mixer. Beat the butter until fluffy and beat it into the mixture.

When the flowerpot is thoroughly cooled, line with a double thickness of dampened cheesecloth. The cheesecloth should extend over the sides and all excess moisture should be squeezed out.

Place the pot on a rack over a shallow pan. Pour in the paska mixture. Fold edges of cheesecloth over top. Cover with foil. Fit a small sauce pan into top of flowerpot and weight it to press down on mixture. Place in refrigerator 24 hours. Whey will drain out the hole in the pot into the shallow pan.

To remove dessert, run a knife around between the cheesecloth and the flower pot to loosen. Turn a serving plate upside down over the pot. Reverse both the pot and plate and ease out the paska. Remove the cheesecloth gently. Garnish with fresh or glazed fruits. A traditional decoration is the letters XB for "Khrystos Voskres" which means "Christ is risen." (I always use red jellybellies to spell out the letters XB.)

Baba or Babka

This traditional egg-rich sweet bread is baked in tall round containers such as a coffee cans. Care should be taken not to disturb it while it's baking so that it doesn't fall. To serve, slice in rounds across the loaf. Here are two babka recipes:

Cossack Baba with Vanilla

This recipe is from Festive Ukrainian Cooking, Marta Pisetska Farley, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990.

4 envelopes dry yeast or equivalent fresh yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1 tablespoon sugar
6 cups flour
1 cup heavy cream
30 large egg yolks
2 cups sugar
zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1/2 to 3/4 cup milk
1 cup golden raisins (optional)
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water for glaze

Dissolve yeast in milk and add 1 tablespoon sugar. Stir and set aside until bubbly. Mix in heavy cream and 1/2 cup sifted flour. Beat egg yolks until thick, and gradually add 2 cups of sugar, orange zest, and vanilla extract. In a large bowl combine yeast mixture with egg yolk mixture. Add 4 1/2 cups sifted flour and raisins. Knead, alternately adding milk and cooled melted butter until dough is satiny. It will be loose, as for very rich yeast rolls. Cover and allow to rise again.

Butter 3 or 4 cans (about 6 inches in diameter) and dust with dry bread crumbs. Divide dough into parts and form each into a smooth ball a little larger than a third of the volume of a can. Fill cans without disturbing crumb coating. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until dough reaches the rim. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, not allowing cans to touch oven sides or each other, then reduce heat to 325 and bake about 1 hour. Brush with egg glaze about 10 minutes before babas are done. Gently remove from cans and cool on their sides on a pillow covered with tea towels, rotating every so often.

Easter Babka

from Ukrainian Easter: Traditions, Folk Customs, and Recipes, Mary Ann Woloch Vaughn, Ukrainian Heritage Company, 1983.

3 cakes fresh yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
2 tablespoon flour

Mix yeast cakes, sugar, and flour in lukewarm milk; stir until dissolved. Cover bowl and let stand in warm place to work until bubbly, about 1 1/2 half hours.

15 egg yolks
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
8 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
grated rind of 1 lemon
1 1/4 cups butter, softened
1 cup golden raisins, lightly floured

Beat the egg yolks until thick; add confectioners' sugar, mixing in until thoroughly blended. Add yeast mixture to yolk mixture; mix well. Stir in flour, salt, vanilla, and grated lemon rind; knead together until the mixture is smooth. Add the softened butter, kneading it in a little at a time. Continue kneading the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands. Knead in raisins, Cover with plastic wrap and a bath towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in height.

Punch dough down to release air. Grease hands with butter and shape dough to fit greased round baking containers (four 1-lb coffee cans work well) approximately 1/3 full. Let rise until doubled in height. Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 8 minutes; turn oven down to 300 degrees and continue baking for 45 minutes.

Variation: if desired, use only 1/2 cup raisins and add 2 ounces blanched chopped almonds and 2 ounces finely diced candied orange peel; mix these in near the end of kneading.

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