I’ve told you before how Romanians love to enjoy a big feast and how we prepare special dishes on important religious holidays. If at Christmas the main ingredient on our table is pork, at Easter the main ingredient is lamb. If at Christmas we sacrifice the pig, at Easter we sacrifice the lamb, and we use all parts of the animal to create a festive meal for Easter Sunday including a lamb soup, lamb haggis and a braised lamb main course. Besides the lamb dishes, always present on the Easter table are the Easter eggs, hard-boiled, and either elaborately hand painted with various floral or national motives, or just tinted plain deep red. Before eating the eggs everyone around the table knocks an egg with that of the next person, and the winner is the one whose egg doesn’t break after all the others are cracked.
Now that you get an idea of the savory dishes at Easter, let me tell you about the sweet ending of our Easter meal. The traditional dessert at Easter is called Pască, which is mainly the Romanian Panetone with Cheese. It’s a must on every Romanian Easter table and this year I made it too. I have to say that I was a little apprehensive of the way it would turn out especially because I had to make a substitution. I didn’t have any farmers cheese on hand, so I used ricotta cheese instead. I had seen my Grandma make this cake before but that it was a long time ago. Since Pască is made only at Easter, I haven’t seen Grandma Vicki make it in years, so I had to refresh my memory with the steps I had to take and the way it was supposed to turn out.
To be honest, I was pretty much trying a brand new recipe. My recollection of my Grandma’s creation was nebulous to say the least, only bits and pieces, and all I had was her recipe and her encouragement that it will come out great. Easy to say when you’ve done it a hundred times, Grandma! But I was equipped with a winning recipe, strong will, and confidence, and I was determined to succeed and make my very own Pască. And I was poised… until I saw the really runny custard. For a split second that terrifying lousy, mediocre baker feeling came back to haunt me. How would that liquid custard ever cook through? Truth be told, I had no idea. I just threw it in the oven and hoped for the best.
The best, in fact, the extraordinary came out of the oven over an hour later. The top was glossy and golden brown, and the filling was fully cooked through. The outside fragile dough that surrounds the cheesy custard like a fortress, turned into a sweet, crunchy and flaky crust. The inside was moist, velvety with a subtle gritty consistency from the ricotta cheese, and the vanilla infused raisins added a delicate chewiness and a lovely perfume. This is not one of those fancy, complicated and richly decorated Pască that Romanians are known to create for Easter. It’s an easier cake to make but one that still incorporates fantastic flavors, which simply shine through.
Pască (Romanian Panetone with Cheese)
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki
Serves: 10 servings
Special Equipment: 9-inch round springform pan
Ingredients for the crust:
· 100 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to coat the pan
· 100 grams granulated sugar
· 1 egg, at room temperature
· 1 heaped Tablespoon sour cream
· 300 grams all-purpose flour
· ½ teaspoon baking powder
· 1/8 teaspoon salt
Ingredients for the custard:
· 500 grams ricotta cheese, at room temperature
· 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
· 200 grams granulated sugar
· 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
· 100 grams raisins
· Lemon zest from 1 lemon
Instructions for the crust:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat the bottom and sides of the springform pan with butter.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar using an electric hand mixer, for 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Beat in the sour cream. In batches, beat in the flour, baking powder and salt mixture until well combined. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the ricotta cheese, eggs and egg yolk (mixing well after each egg addition), sugar, vanilla extract and lemon zest. At the end, fold in the raisins. Set aside.
Roll out the dough into a ¼-inch-thick round. Place the dough in the springform pan making sure that it also covers the sides of the pan. Pour the custard over the dough. Bake the Pască for 80-90 minutes or until the custard is cooked through and golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean (check the cake after 60 minutes). Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly for 10 minutes. Remove cake from the springform and let it cool completely.
We’ll be going home for Easter, tomorrow. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to be in the kitchen with my Grandma, cook with her, and savor all those mesmerizing Easter aromas. I can’t wait to watch my Grandma make Pască again. I can’t wait to take part in all those beautiful Easter traditions. I’ve missed all of this and now it’s time to experience it again. But, I’ll be back soon and I’ll tell you all about it.
Until then, Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!) and Happy Easter!