Slovak soul food - Paska for Easter
April 6th, 2012
02:00 PM ET
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CNN photojournalist John Bodnar is a second-generation Slavic-American whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Slovakia, and his mother’s Carpatho-Rusyn ethnicity is the prominent influence for his cultural and family traditions. Previously, he wrote about haluski.

Spring in Western Pennsylvania was all about the sounds of the birds, the smells of renewed life, and sights of the buds and green surrounding us. All of this seemed to happen suddenly, and with these changes we knew that Easter was soon upon us. The traditions of my mother’s Byzantine Catholic and my father’s Roman Catholic church were prevalent in our lives, and the sound and smells of these traditions were as stunning as spring.

The author's mother grates cheese for the Paska dough.

After the Lenten fasts, prohibition of meat on Fridays and religious customs like the Friday Stations of the Cross, the Easter feast was always eagerly anticipated. The feast’s traditions, modified some over the years, were initiated by the blessing on the food baskets. The baskets of food were taken to the church and blessed by the priest. Only the foods that were blessed were eaten on Easter Sunday. Traditional foods like ham, kielbasa, cheese, eggs, butter and bread were in the basket for the blessing. Though they weren't eaten, the baskets were adorned with artful Pysanka eggs.

I’d like to introduce you to the Easter bread that we called Paska. It is a two dough bread that incorporates cheese and raisins, and the arduous process that can take up to SIX hours to prepare. There in no wonder that this bread was made only once a year. I can’t imaging how my grandmother, who had 10 children, could find time for anything, let alone spending so much time for baking bread, plus the rest of the meal preparation.

It will always be one of my favorite foods. I will occasionally make a small loaf, but it is never as good as Mom’s. When I visit her, frozen Paska is always “forced” upon me and I take it home with me. Outside the Easter tradition, it is amazing when toasted and covered with butter. Oh yes, did I mention Paska with a hot cup of coffee?



Cheese Dough

6 cups flour
24 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
7 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins
1 Tablespoon salt
1 cup warm milk
3 packages dry yeast (mix with 1/2 cup warm water)

White Dough

6 cups flour
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 half cups milk
1 cup raisins
2 packages dry yeast (mix with 1/2 cup warm water)


Cheese Dough

Start the cheese dough first, since it will take longer to raise.

Grate the cheddar cheese

Put dry yeast into a small bowl with 1/2 cup of warm water to activate. Then add cheese to three cups of flour with the eggs in a large bowl and mix together. Once mixed, add the remaining 3 cups of flour and the activated yeast and finish mixing the ingredients, then add raisins.

Leave mixture in the bowl and let raise for an hour.

White Dough

Mix and raise the same as the cheese dough.

After the dough raises, take dough and make six equal sized dough balls, three white and three cheese.

Flatten the dough with a rolling pin into 12”-14” ovals. Place the flattened cheese dough on top of the flattened white dough, then roll the two into a 2” wide braidable roll. Repeat, and finish with six rolls.


Braid the three rolls, then let the braided dough raise again for an hour.

Brush with butter or egg glaze, and bake for 45-60 minutes at 350 degrees until it is golden brown.

More on Easter foods and traditions
Chilling with my Peeps - make Peeps ice cream at home
Everybunny loves beer
Hop on these Easter wines
Slovak soul food – Paska for Easter
The bitter truth behind the chocolate in your Easter basket
Easter candy overload!
Easter lamb: It's Greek to me
How to confront a country ham
Vintage egg cocktails for Easter afternoon and evening

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Filed under: Baked Goods • Easter • Family Recipe Index • Holidays • Make • Recipes

soundoff (175 Responses)
  1. Shirley U. Jest

    What a great article. This is what a food blog should be about, not some corporate blather promoting their foody magazine, website or tv show. Job well done John Bodnar.

    April 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm |
  2. Yvonne

    Ahhh... 1) when do you incorporate the sugar into the mixture?

    1) 6 doughs (3 cheese; 3 white braided): 1 bread with more cheese than the other and vs.

    April 10, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Yvonne

      8 cups of flour to liquid (including cheese) for the cheese dough. 8 1/2 cups of flour to liquid for white dough. Otherwise, cut back on liquid amount. Author fail dreadfully in the directions section on incorporation of milk and sugar.

      April 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  3. justicer1

    To the Jewish fundamentalist rantmeister, go stick your head in the oven.
    To everyone else, happy Easter. I have always admired the Easter paska.
    By the way, Jewish Chalah is not Jewish. It's the Jews who borrowed the recipe from their neighbors.

    March 31, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  4. jake P.

    I think it's great that you keep up your religious and family traditions. Not many people do anymore. I think more families should "go old school" and bring back family time and getting together on sundays and holidays.

    These holidays are about coming together with family and friends and celebrating the love you have for each other.- that's what it's all about – no matter what religion you are- or aren't.

    PS- That bread looks delicious

    March 31, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  5. magdalena48

    Love that your Mom is wearing a hairnet. I remember being required to wear a hairnet in Home Ec in High School.

    March 31, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  6. cynthia

    Πάσχα = Paskha is Greek for Easter. Pascua, in Spanish
    Which was borrowed from Hebrew פסח (Pesakh) = Passover.
    Which means to pass-over, when the angels passed over from harming the first-borns in the households whose entrances were marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb in Egypt, when Moses was attempting to lead israel out of Egypt.

    March 31, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  7. bendrawvegan

    Your Looney Tunes God is going to send you directly to the make believe Hell when he finds out you all died from eating chocolate, break, milk, butter, and everything else that is OBVIOUSLY KILLING PEOPLE FASTER THAN AIDS! Some people will never learn.

    March 31, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • PS

      Gimme a T! Gimme an R! Gimme an O-L-L! What's that spell? TROLL, TROLL, TROLLLLLLL!!!!!

      March 31, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • Marlin

      Wow.. so hateful. For all that atheists say that they are tolerant all it takes is someone's bread recipe to get your venom and bile up.

      March 31, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • catwatching

      ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, trolls are such sad people, well we will enjoy our lives without you, bye bye

      March 31, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  8. bendrawvegan

    Looks "amazing"? Also looks like about the most unhealthy food I've seen today....YUK

    March 31, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • tmac

      Wow! You are not exactly my idea of a tolerant soul. Why are you so angry? Could it be hunger? I want you to be happy, Sweetie. I don't think getting angry at a thousand year old tradition is going to put you on the road to vegan enlightenment. But what do I know? You should ask your therapist.

      April 1, 2013 at 2:04 am |
    • Troll Patrol

      Then you've been staring at your carrots for too long, Bugs.

      April 1, 2013 at 6:52 am |
  9. frank thomas

    thanks for adding the raisins, raisins are dried grapes as you know and 90% of the worlds raisins are grown here in the great fertiile San Joaquin vally of California, very few places in the world have the climate necessary to grow fantastic raisins. The raisin capital of the world is near Fresno called sanger, selma and Kingsburg. We will be going to a Gay bar for a pot luck,E aster Bonnet parade and egg hunt.My Portugese friend makes a baked bread dough basket with eggs inside, Boiled and coloured

    March 31, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  10. Jake

    Great, now they are stealing our Challah and calling It their Easter bread.

    Nothing changes.

    March 31, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • LL

      It's bread, calm down.

      March 31, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • Jake

        Make me

        March 31, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
        • Jake

          you're not the boss of me

          March 31, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  11. Sarah

    My grandparents were born & raised in Johnstown PA as well. I grew up Russian Orthodox as many people there did..and Paska is an Easter staple. Although my grandmothers was always the best...had no cheese in it or raisins but boy was it yummy & sweet. She used to toast it with butter for breakfast. They went to church at St. John the Baptist. Many memories in that town & that church.

    March 31, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
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