My friend Michele was opining about pascha cheese on Facebook today, which got me thinking about when I need to start my pascha cheese this year. Pascha is in..... gulp.... only four weeks! Now, if you think I'm crazy for thinking so far ahead, then you don't know what an Orthodox Choir Director's life is like during Lent and Holy Week. For example, between Lazarus Saturday (the day before Palm Sunday) and Pascha itself, a time period of only 8 days, I will direct/sing about 17 services, all of which are basically nonstop singing of music which is completely different for each service and sung only once a year. Yep. To prepare a choir for this liturgical marathon takes a number of extra practices during the month prior.... probably five rehearsals in all this year. And don't forget the regular weekly services during Lent: Vespers on Saturday night, Matins and Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning, Presanctified Liturgies on Wednesday and Friday evenings. It pays to be organized and to look ahead.
Last year, I used my online friend Rebecca M's pascha cheese recipe with real farmer's cheese, and it was a winner. It set up wonderfully in my little red plastic pascha cheese mold. I think the plastic molds don't work as well as the wooden ones for some reason - maybe the wood wicks the moisture away from the cheese better. Maybe someday I will get a beautiful carved wooden mold, but not this year. This year I will use the red plastic mold and little flower pots for the overflow.
Here is Rebecca's original recipe so that I don't lose it, along with her comments:
Sure -- my version is a raw egg recipe. I've never had an issue with this, but I've begun to worry that I should shift it a bit. I'm considering trying making the egg yolks into a custard and cooking them that way -- but I hesitate to wing it with a batch the size I make. Although, I got much, much less careful about being exact with this recipe when I read somewhere that the butter and cream and egg yolks are in the recipe to compensate for the fact that the cheese they use in Russia is much higher in fat -- so it's just basically taking farmers cheese and fattening it up. With all of those caveats, here's the recipe.
Rebecca's Sirnaya Pascha
In a large bowl, put:
3 lbs of farmer’s cheese
Break it up with a spoon or potato masher (or pass it through a sieve if you are both a perfectionist and a masochist).
In a separate large bowl:
12 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Beat until pale and ribbon forms.
1 tspn vanilla extract
1 tspn almond extract
1 cup heavy cream
Beat for a minute or two.
1 pound butter (melted and cooled)
Add the cheese to the egg mixture.
Add nuts and dry fruit as desired:
1/2 cup crushed, thinly sliced almonds
3/4 cup yellow raisins
[other dried fruit according to personal preference]
Line a large flower pot or wooden mold with cheese cloth. Fill with the sirnaya pascha. Cover with a dish, weight down, set in a bowl (to catch liquid that drains) and leave it until ready to serve.
(Best if prepared 2 days in advance)