Thursday, April 20, 2006
Its time to begin cooking for Pascha. The first thing that must be prepared is the Pascha cheese so that it has adequate time to drain in the fridge. When I became Orthodox in an Antiochian church, no one made this delectable soft cheese. In fact, I clearly remember the first time I had it -- my friend Diane brought a huge (and I do mean HUGE) Pascha cheese to my house for Pascha dinner. She has an enormous traditional pyramid-shaped mold, probably a foot or more high, and when it is unmolded, it is really spectacular. Tastes spectacular, too! The traditional flavoring is vanilla, but years ago, I sampled a pale brown mocha-flavored pascha cheese at the Teshin's, and I fell in love with it, as did my family, so now I always make two - one vanilla and one mocha. But this year, I decided to make a third - a hazelnut flavored one. I havent' tasted it yet, but it SMELLS heavenly!
Since I moved from California to the deep south, I haven't been able to get farmer's cheese and have been using ricotta instead, which works alright. I've been experimenting with different recipes, some cooked and some not, and haven't found "the one" yet. If you have "the one" please share it! This is what I did this year:
1 vanilla bean (can substitute 1 1/2 Tbs pure vanilla extract - the highest quality)
1/2 lb unsalted butter at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 C confectioners sugar
16 oz part cream ricotta (can use whole milk ricotta instead)
2 Tbs finely chopped candied orange peel (optional)
3 new 5 inch flower pots with two saucers each, scrubbed clean with a brush
3 lengths of cheesecloth
Place the ricotta in a sieve which is lined with two layers of cheesecloth and weight it to press out as much liquid as possible. Let sit for at least overnight until ready to put the Pascha cheese together.
Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Save the bean to flavor sugar or vodka. In a food processor fitted with the sharp steel blade, beat the butter, vanilla seeds or extract, cream cheese and sugar until perfectly smooth. Add in the drained ricotta and beat again until perfectly smooth.
Dampen the cheesecloth and wring out well. Use to line the three flower pots. Firmly pack 1/3 of the vanilla flavored cheese into one of the pots, stirring in the candied orange peel as you go. Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over, place the pot in a saucer, and weight the top with a can or jar.
Divide the remaining cheese in half. Into one half, stir in 1 Tbs of hazlenut syrup, then pack as above into the second flower pot. Into the remaining portion of cheese, add 1 tsp instant coffee, 1 1/2 tsp cocoa powder and 2 Tbs more confectioner's sugar, then pack as above into the third flower pot.
Let drain in the fridge for about 3 days, more if you have the time. Empty the sweet and sticky syrup that exudes from the pots about twice a day. Unmold onto a pretty plate when you are ready to serve, and surround it with slices of kulich or panettone, strawberries, or cookies.
Diet another day - you will want to eat every bit of this yourself!