Romania: Pască

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Next is Romania!

I’ve recently taken a low key interest in Romania, for some reason. I find the place kind of fascinating, and I’ve considered starting to learn the language (haven’t yet). No apparent reason, other than I like learning stuff and Romanian is a beautiful sounding language! Years ago, when I was in high school, my brother got a hold of this “Romanian Hits” cd from a classmate, and while I didn’t understand a word of it, I would often listen to it, because it was so catchy! Fast forward to about two years ago, I somehow figured out the songs were by this Romanian boyband called O-Zone, and they’re so wonderfully weird. Some of you may remember in the early 2000’s I think, this song that was randomly popular for a while, it was called “Dragostea din tei” but no one knew it as that, it was more commonly known as “Numa numa” or the “numa numa song” or even “maya hee maya hoo” haha. I still have a few of those songs on my computer and have pretty much memorized them, and have an odd nostalgic attachment to them, even though I still have no idea what they mean! But you can bet I’ve had them on repeat this week! 🙂
(last time I took interest in music from a foreign country, I ended up living in South Korea for 2 years. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up moving to Romania at some point! haha!)
And if you’re wondering what other great things have come from Romania, here’s another one: Sebastian Stan. Can we just talk about him for a sec? Good cuz I’m gonna. If you don’t know his name, you may recognize him from a variety of movies and shows, including “The Covenant,” “Once Upon A Time” (played the Mad Hatter), and my personal favorites the Captain America movies, playing Bucky/the Winter Soldier. A versatile actor, and charming personality, let us all take a minute and appreciate one of Romania’s great gifts to humanity. 😉

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Apparently he likes the color blue. I support it. *swoon*
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That metal arm tho…

Ok I’ll stop talking talking about attractive men and start talking about attractive food.

Pască! It is Romanian Easter bread! And it’s great. And almost as pretty to look at as Sebastian Stan. Almost.
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But for real, it’s really good.

I really like soft, sweet breads, and this is like a braided sweet bread with a cheesecakey filling in the middle. NOMS. The recipe for the bread was the same recipe that’s used for Cozonac, another Romanian holiday sweet bread with a nut filling. It was a very interesting method of making bread dough to me. It’s generally a pretty common yeast bread recipe, that involves activating the yeast, mixing it with flour and stuff, and kneading it into dough. But then this recipe used a butter/oil mixture to add moisture I guess, but that was incorporated by kneading it into the dough by hand. Am I the only one that thinks that’s odd?? It was rather messy, and took a while to get it all mixed in, because it kept squishing out! It was kind of like trying to mix water into play-doh! But alas, it worked out, even though it was a bizarre method! I cheated a bit and used my mixer and dough hook to get the kneading process started a little, and to work more flour into it, since it was still pretty sticky at first. It’s a nice soft dough, and it was oddly satisfying to knead! But then it got weird with the addition of the oils. But who am I to judge a ball a dough?? It worked, so I guess Romanians have something figured out.

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I also rejoice in my execution of this recipe because I once again made a yeast dough work! It rose, and rose a lot! In fact, I feel like it may have worked a little too well. I got the bottom layer of dough into the pan, and the braid ring around the outside, and left it to rise. Aaaaand it kind of rose a lot. As in, there was hardly any room in the middle to pour the filling into, so I kind of had to press the bottom layer back down and scooch the braid back out towards the edges as well as I could without damaging it! Also, the pretty twisty thing that went on top, puffed up more than I expected, and it didn’t turn out as pretty as I wanted. 😦

There is a lot of volume to this bread, what with the bottom bread layer, the braid and the dense filling. I didn’t bake mine to the full time, and the outside got very dark. I took it out to find that the center seemed like it could have used another 5-10 minutes….but the outside looked like it could have used 10 minutes less! I’m not sure if that was just my oven, or the fact that there’s so much in it! Probably some of both, actually… I guess just be weary of that if you try this bread at home too!

I made three changes to the recipe. 1. The recipe called for ricotta cheese for the filling, but I decided to be a rebel and use cream cheese this time. Cuz cream cheese is great. That may have made the filling a little heavier, but I don’t care, it was a delicious decision. I even had a little filling left over, since it wouldn’t all fit into the bread, so I made a little mini cheesecake! #winning. 2. Instead of using raisins in the filling, I used dried cranberries, again cuz I felt like being a rebel, I guess.  3. I also didn’t use fresh yeast, I instead used a mix of dry active, and rapid rise yeast, cuz..well, that’s all I had on hand….

I’m not sure what kind of pan was supposed to be used for this, but I used a 9″ springform tin, since the edges were high. I did see a video where the maker simply used a baking sheet, laying down the bottom layer, and then the braid around the edge on top, without any sort of walls or barrier to keep its shape. I feel like that may almost have been a better option, just because the dough rises so much, and it needs space to rise, which my spring form pan only had so much of.

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As I was making the dough, heating up the milk, I realized I forgot to half the amount of milk until after I had heated it. I was like “shoot, what do I do with this extra hot milk??” I decided there was only but one logical thing to do with it. Make hot chocolate!

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yeasty stuff

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If only I had Sebastian here to taste test it for me hehehe !

Here are some Romanian current events and/or facts:
-not so much a current event, more a fact- There are but a few professional Yiddish-language theaters left in Europe, and one of them is in Bucharest. It’s small, but still going, despite the small Jewish population in the city. There was a time around WWII, when Romania was under Communist rule, the theater was still allowed to give performances in Yiddish, but few people who came to performances actually understood Yiddish. The actors used that as an opportunity to get around tight censorship. The audience would have headphones through which they would listen to translations during the performance. The actors would often say things that weren’t allowed to be said in Romania, and the translators would just sort of skip over the “sensitive” parts, haha. That’s kind of awesome. More on that here.
-Romania was the top producer of honey in all of the EU last year, producing around 35,000 tons of honey! The EU distributes funds to beekeepers in Europe depending on how many hives are in each country.  In 2014 and 2015, it was 66.2 million Euros that were distributed. Never knew Romania was a big honey producer.
-Romania’s currency is Leu, which means “Lion” in english. $1 USD is a little over 4 Leu.
-Romania is the most gold-rich country in Europe, and in the small city of Brad, they have a gold museum.
-The city of Timisoara was the first city in continental Europe to be lit by electric street lamps, in 1884. Second in the world, after New York City.

I’m also stopping myself from pasting all kinds of pictures of Romania in here, because this post would go on forever, but if you have a moment to look up Romania, just image search it. IT’S SO PRETTY.

Ok. Recipe time!

Since this bread is made of two separate recipes, I will give you the links, so I encourage you to check those out. But I’ll copy them both below into one, with the proper amounts (since the bread recipe needs to be halved for Pasca).
Here is the recipe for the bread (Cozonac bread)
Here is the recipe for the filling/assembly of a Pasca

Pasca

For the bread:

  • 500g flour
  • 150 g sugar
  • 250 ml milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 100 g butter
  • 25 g fresh yeast (I used dry active)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 spoons sunflower oil (i used vegetable oil)

 

Cheese Filling:

  • 500 grams ricotta (I used cream cheese)
  • 2 tablespoons soft butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks + 1 large egg yolk, slightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 100 grams light or dark raisins (I used crasins)

Begin by separating the eggs, put aside the egg yolks and the egg whites. Warm the milk on medium heat. When the milk is warm, remove about 3 tablespoons and continue heating the milk. Place 3 tablespoons of milk in a small bowl, add the yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar and a about 1 teaspoon of flour. Mix until it is the consistency of a thick cream, cover and set aside for about 5 minutes.

Once the milk comes to a boil, remove it from the heat. Add the vanilla, mix and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, egg yolks and salt. Slowly stir the warm milk  into the sugar and egg mixture and mix well. Then stir in the yeast mixture and 3 egg whites. Gradually add the remaining flour until it forms a dough, using all the flour.

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead. In a small pan, begin by melting the butter and then stir in the oil. Once melted, slowly add the mixture of warm butter and oil until the dough forms bubbles and easily comes off the hands. Cover bowl with a towel and let rise in a warm, draft free place until it has tripled in bulk.

Heat oven to 180 ℃/350 F. Beat cheese with a mixer and add all the ingredients except the raisins. Beat until smooth, add raisins and mix again.

Coat a 25 cm round pan with cooking spray or butter. Roll out half of the dough and line the bottom of the prepared pan. With the other half of the dough make 3 long ropes and braid them together. Place it around the edge of the dough. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 1 hour.

When dough has risen, pour in the cheese filling, making sure it doesn’t go over the edges. Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack and then remove from pan.

 

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