This is another traditional Romanian Easter dessert: Pasca de pasti or Easter Cheesecake. Basically a typical cheesecake made with the so called “cow’s cheese – branza de vaci”, but untypically baked in a sweet bread case.The name of the cheese doesn’t only mean that the cheese is made with cow’s milk, it is the name of a certain kind of cheese, some kind of light, mild tasting cheese, similar to quark, I would say. I did actually use quark instead of the “cow’s cheese” because that is not something I can buy outside Romania. And it worked just like it was supposed to, so no worries here, if you would like to bake this cheesecake.
Pasca together with the sweet bread filled with walnuts, the lamb and the eggs are the most important culinary and spiritual components of the Orthodox Easter. The sweet bread represents the joy of celebration, that is why it is something that is baked not only for Easter but also for Christmas, weddings or christenings. The lamb represents the Christ, the innocent sacrificing himself for the other, and the eggs represent life, the red eggs symbolize the sacrifice that Jesus made for the people.
This cheesecake represents the blessed bread, originally the bread eaten by the Jews when they left Egypt. In the Christian symbolism it represents the promise of resurrection and of eternal life. Traditionally the cake must be brought to the church on the Easter night to be blessed by the priest. It is then sprinkled with red wine by the priest, becoming through this ritual a representation of Jesus’ sacrifice. It is normally adorned with a dough crucifix on top, but I didn’t want to overdo it.
It is a wonderful cake, delicious to eat not only on Easter Sunday but whenever you want. I love the soft yeasty dough and that creamy cheese filling. I love raisins but I know many people who don’t care for them. If you are not a fan, you can just leave them out. I did not add too much sugar in the filling, you can add more to your taste. Otherwise the dough is made in the kitchen machine (Thermomix in my case), which makes it lots easier to do than the sweet bread from the previous post. You could use exactly this same dough recipe to make the sweet bread as well, it will be a bit different than my grandma’s used to be, but the work is less and the result still absolutely delicious.
Because I was a bit uncertain about the way of building this cheesecake, I searched and found a video on You Tube, which makes a wonderful job in explaining this recipe. It is in Romanian, but you will be able to understand the procedure by just watching the video, the words are not that vital in this case. I ended up using Jamila’s recipe as well, after two failed attempts of making another recipe found in a Romanian cookbook. The taste of that cheesecake was amazing, but unfortunately the first time I made it, I had way to much filling in the pan, so the half of it ended in the oven, giving me one hour of “delightful” oven cleaning the next day. The second time, I tried to make the dough used to make the sweet bread in the kitchen machine. It was a complete failure!
So the third time, I decided to let that recipe be and start anew. I deliberately looked for a recipe made in the kitchen machine because I wanted to offer an alternative to those people (me – most of the times), who don’t have the patience to knead dough for 15 minutes.
I wish you all a Happy Easter!
Serves: 14 slices
- For the dough:
- 500 g/ 4 cups/ 17.6 oz all-purpose flour
- 120 g/ scant ⅔ cup/ 4.2 oz sugar
- 250 ml/ 1 cup milk + 2-3 tablespoons more if necessary
- 50 g/ scant ¼ cup/ 1.7 oz butter
- 50 ml/ ⅕ cups/ 1.7 fl.oz. vegetable oil
- 2 egg yolks
- zest of 1 organic lemon
- 1 sachet dry yeast (7 g/ 0.2 oz/ 2.5 teaspoons)
- 1 vanilla pod
- a pinch of salt
- For the filling:
- 400 g/ 2 cups/ 14 oz light quark (or Romanian cow's cheese)
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons sugar or more to taste
- 100 g/ ⅔ cups/ 3.5 oz raisins
- 3 tablespoons semolina
- a few drops vanilla essence
- 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
- zest of 1 organic lemon
- 1 small egg for brushing
- some sugar to sprinkle on top
- To make the dough start by scraping the seeds of the vanilla pod. Set aside. Add the empty pod to the milk and bring to a boil. Leave to cool until lukewarm.
- Place the yeast into a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the flour and 1 tablespoon of the sugar and 3-4 tablespoons of the lukewarm milk, enough to be able to stir a paste. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for about 10-15 minutes or until doubled in size in a warm place.
- In the meantime sieve the flour in the bowl of your kitchen machine. Give the remaining sugar to the remaining lukewarm milk and stir until dissolved. Melt the butter, give the oil to it and stir together. Leave to cool until needed.
- Pour the yeast mixture over the flour, add the egg yolks, vanilla seeds and lemon zest. Mix shortly, then start adding the milk little by little to form the dough. Stir for a couple of minutes and add a little more milk if necessary to obtain a softer dough. I added about 3 tablespoons more.
- Add the salt and little by little the melted and cooled butter-oil mixture. Only give the next splash when the previous is completely incorporated. Knead the dough in the kitchen machine for about 15 minutes. The dough will be quite soft and sticky. Transfer it to a bowl and bring it briefly in shape with the hands. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- To make the filling mix together the quark, eggs, semolina, raisins, sugar, vanilla sugar, lemon zest and vanilla aroma. Taste and add more sugar if you find it necessary.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare the spring form pan 26 cm/ 10 inch by buttering it and covering its bottom and margins with baking paper.
- Oil your hands lightly and take the dough out of the bowl. Divide it in two. Form one half to a fat sausage and cut this sausage into 3 parts. Roll each of these balls into long, thin strings about 40 cm/ 15 inch long. Plait these strings into a braid.
- Take the other half of the dough and place it in the spring form. Press it down to cover the bottom of the pan completely. Prick it with a fork all over to make sure that the dough will not rise too much in the oven. Take the plait and place it in the pan to form a nice rim. Pour the filling inside. Brush the top of the plait with the whisked egg and sprinkle with a bit of sugar. Bake for 40 - 50 minutes until the cheesecake is nicely risen and golden.
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