"Easter cake (with sweet cow’s cheese)"
This traditional sweet cheese-filled Easter cake is usually made either on Great Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) or, these days, on the Saturday before Easter Sunday so that it’s fresher on the day. The filling is made with fresh cow’s cheese, something like a dry cottage cheese, which is sweetened with sugar and spotted with raisins or sultanas. There are other versions that use cream or milk for the filling, which can also be flavoured with rum, walnuts, cinnamon or other spices. It’s usually eaten as a dessert with the Easter meal or, if people intend to have cozonac for dessert, as a snack during the day. Personally, I don’t think you can beat eating it straight out of the oven - ok, maybe give it a quarter of an hour to cool a little first! Pasca takes a long time to make so make sure you have plenty of time and patience. Nowadays you see many other recipes using more filling and a thinner, more easily-prepared base, but a traditional pasca is more like a stuffed bread than a flan.
Time: 5-6 hours (including preparation, proving, and baking)
Servings: 6-8 slices
For the dough:
500g of plain flour
200ml of milk
A pinch of salt
1 packet of dry active yeast
200g of caster sugar
100g of butter, melted
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
For the filling:
500g of fresh cow’s cheese
30g of butter, melted
2 egg, separated
120g of caster sugar
2 tablespoons of sour cream (or thick cream)
Grated zest of one lemon
2 packets of vanilla sugar powder (or use fresh vanilla and add about 15g more sugar)
1 tablespoon of semolina flour
1 tablespoon of plain flour
80g of raisins
A pinch of salt
Preparing the yeast starter
1. Warm a little milk, about 50ml, pour it into a coffee cup or glass, and dissolve the yeast in it with a couple of pinches of sugar and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes or so. If the yeast is active it’ll start to foam up on top*.
2. Bring the rest of the milk (150ml) to the simmer in a pan and just before it starts to boil stir in 3 tablespoons on the plain flour and keep stirring until the flour has dissolved.
3. Pour the milk/flour mixture into a bowl and leave the milk to cool, and once it has cooled, mix in the hopefully now frothing yeast and milk mixture. Cover the pan with a damp cloth or a loose piece of foil and leave in a warm place until it starts to rise to double its original size, probably about 45 minutes.
*If nothing happens then it might be a dud batch of yeast – just redo this step with a new packet.
Preparing the dough
4. Separate the egg whites and yolks into two bowls. Beat the yolks with a pinch of salt and step by step mix in the 200g of sugar until you get a smooth pale yellow creamy mixture. Beat the egg whites until fluffy.
5. Pour the rest of the flour into a large mixing bowl, make a well in the centre, and add the yeast starter, the yolk mixture, the egg whites, and mix well. Following this, add the oil and the melted butter and mix.
6. Knead the dough for about 20-30 minutes (this is where a spare pair of hands or a mixer comes in handy) and when you have a well-combined dough, which should be more on the soft side, put it into a bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and leave in a warm place for an hour to rise. You really need to knead it quite aggressively, apparently, beating it more than massaging it, and stretching it out and throwing it back down on the table. This seems to be the trick for getting a nice fluffy end result rather than one that’s rather stodgy in consistency.
Preparing the cake
7. Once the dough has risen to double its original size (about an hour or so) then you can prepare the pasca by buttering a round deepish cake tin; of about 4-5cm depth and of a diameter of around 20-25cm.
8. Break off about half of the dough and roll it out to the size of the cake tin and about 1cm in thickness. Lay this in the baking tray.
9. Break the remaining dough into three* equal parts and roll each one into a snake about 80cm long. These can then be braided together and arranged around the inside edge of the cake tin, on top of the previously positioned layer of dough.
10. Leave the prepared cake tin and dough covered in a warm place to rise again, for an hour or so.
*You might also break it into four parts, keeping the fourth for decorating the top of the cake (after adding the filling) with other traditional motifs, such as a cross.
Preparing the filling
11. Prepare the filling by first squeezing any excess liquid out of the cow’s cheese. If it’s not completely dry, you might end up with a soggy filling which won’t stick to the bread casing. Then, mix the cow’s cheese together with the egg yolks, melted butter, cream, icing sugar, vanilla sugar, lemon zest and a pinch of salt.
12. Once these are well combined, beat the egg whites until fluffy and add them, along with the two types of flour. Stir in the raisins but keep a few to one side for sprinkling on top.
13. Put the filling into the centre of the dough-lined cake tin (after it has finished proving) and spread it out to the side in an even layer. Sprinkle the rest of the raisins on top.
Cooking the cake
14. You can beat another egg together and brush the pasty with this, pouring the remaining egg over the top of the cheese mixture to give it some colour.
15. Put the assembled cake into a preheated over (moderate heat – 180-190C/350-360F) and cook until the dough has puffed up nicely and turned a golden brown colour, approximately 50-60 minutes, depending on the oven. Check it regularly so as not to let it burn.
16. Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes and then remove it from the cake tin and serve warm or keep well wrapped up for the next day.
My first attempt turned out pretty well. It was a lot of hard work, but the bread mixture (I was told) was very authentic, light, and fluffy, but maybe could have done with an extra five minutes in the oven. Perhaps the braiding was a little too large and the base a little thin, next time I might try using about two-thirds of the dough for the base and making the braiding more delicate as by the time it had proved and puffed up in the oven it had virtually covered the filling. The filling was tasty and light, but because I had forgotten to squeeze the cheese thoroughly before making the filling, there was a little too much moisture in there with meant it didn't bond to the bread casing completely. It tasted good though!