Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pascha Cheese

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:

Paska Cheese
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!


Denise said...

Its Bright Monday, and I just looked at the remains of the three pascha cheeses I brought to the Agape meal following Liturgy. It is CLEAR that the favorite was the hazelnut (only a spoonful or two left), with the mocha a distant second (about half left), and the "regular" vanilla one is a distant third, with only about 1/2 Cup gone. Next year, I may not make any plain at all, though I'm thinking that maybe I'll make an orange-almond flavored one that will taste like the pizza dolce my grandmother usually made for Easter. It seemed silly to make the pizza dolce (a kind of ricotta cheesecake in a pie crust) when I was making another cheesecake-like dish (the pascha cheese), so I haven't made it in probably five Easters. But next year, I think I'll make a pascha cheese to duplicate the flavor. Ciao bella!

Reader Benedict said...

Cristo e' risorto! Veramente risorto!

Hi, Denise!

I live in Florida, and have been able to find Farmer's cheese in Publix and sometimes in Albertson's; I don't know if these stores are in your area, but if so you might have a look. In Publix, the FC is often near the cream cheese, but there's not much of it at any time, and it is sometimes hard to spot -- I've had to ask.

Also, some stores are willing to try a special order; you might approach the manager with the suggestion.


Anonymous said...

Some years ago, I had a cheese pascha made with pineapple. I wish I had a recipe for that....Don't know whether is was dried pineapple, moistened by the cheese, or whether it was crushed, drained pineapple. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

In California you can get farmer's cheese at Bristol Farms.

When I was little we did not have a Pascha mold and my grandmother had a press made -- just two flat boards and a screw on the end to tighten them. Her cheese Pasha was round and about 2 inches deep. It was on the dry side and we sliced it in thin pie-like wedges. I wish I could find her old recipe; it was delicious.

Michael Lapko said...

I made your cheese paska recipe today and divided it into 3 sections. One with candied fruit, the next with dried cranberries, and the last with orange extract and dark chocolate shavings (omg!). It was easy to make, tastes great! The only thing I did different was to put it an extra 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, and used farmer's cheese (here in Michigan it's easy to find)

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