My Family Easter

We had a hot Easter this year; it was 80 degrees in Keene, NH and we actually ate Easter dinner on the deck, something we’ve never done before. The cousins were there, and of course the neighbors too, with their adorable six children in tow. My sisters and my cousins and I are getting a bit too old to hunt for eggs now, but we still do. Well mostly the little kiddos do, but we help some too. This year there were five dozen eggs to find and then destroy in our annual “Egg Games” involving egg-in-spoon relay races and rolling-down-the-steep-hill egg tosses. Dying eggs is a family affair that always seems to go late into the night on Easter Eve: we sing along to oldies and sip cocktails while carefully dipping and dripping and soaking hard boiled eggs in vibrant colors.

Easter Sunday morning we had breakfast in the backyard while the egg hunt took place. Two towers of paskha cheese, one made by Aunt Ginny, and one made by me, presided over the picnic table. My mom made sweet kulich bread to eat with the paskha, and there was fresh fruit salad, and plenty of coffee, juice, and tea.

The paskha I made was a fusion, based on my own personal taste preferences, between the recipe that Aunt Ginny usually makes, and the recipe that was developed by the Saveur test kitchen to accompany my little piece on paskha cheese in this month’s issue. I loved the way the Saveur recipe used ground almonds and lemon zest, but thought it was too sweet. So I picked and choose proportions and ingredients from both recipes, and came up with this version here, which we all really liked. My recipe here makes enough for 2 quarts of paskha, which I made in two separate 1 quart traditional paskha molds (a gift from the test kitchen!). You can buy the plastic version here, or you can just as easily make this recipe in one (clean!) 2 quart terra cotta flower pot, which is what Aunt Ginny always does. Two quarts will feed 10-12 people, so if you want less, divide the recipe in half and use one 1 quart flower pot (but it’s always nice to have leftover paskha).

Paskha Cheese
serves 10

1 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup brandy (I used B&B)
2 lbs farmers cheese
4 oz. cream cheese, softened and cut into cubes
4 oz. (or 1/3 cup) sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 hard boiled egg yolks, crumbled with your hands
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sliced almonds, finely ground in a food processor
2 tsp. lemon zest

Place the raisins and brandy in a small saucepan and heat until simmering, then remove from heat and let sit for at least 15 mins.
In a food processor, mix together the farmers cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, salt, and egg yolks until smooth and well combined.
In a large bowl, using a hand held electric mixer, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form, add the vanilla, then beat until it holds stiff peaks.
Using a silicone spatula, fold the cheese mixture, the ground almonds, and the lemon zest into the whipped cream, gently lifting the whipped cream from the bottom of the bowl until everything is well combined.
Line two 1 quart paskha molds (or one 2 quart flower pot) with damp cheesecloth, making sure there is enough cheesecloth hanging over the edges to use to cover the top.

Spoon the cheese mixture into the prepared molds (or flower pot) and fold the cheesecloth over the top.
Place the molds (or flower pot) into a pan or tray (to catch drips) and cover the top of each with a small plate, making sure that the plate is not larger than the interior of the mold (or flower pot) (I found that yogurt tops worked well for this).
Place the tray in the fridge, then weigh down the top of the molds by placing bricks or canned goods on top of each plate on the top of each mold.
Refrigerate, with weights, for at least 24 hours.
To unmold, remove the weights and the plate, open the cheesecloth off the top, then invert over a serving plate.
Garnish with strawberries or dried fruit or nuts if you wish, and serve with sweet bread.

Our Easter “Dinner” was served in the kitchen and eaten on the deck at 2pm. We had to hang tapestries up to block the bright sunshine. There was a turkey breast roast, served cold. There was asparagus, potato salad, egg salad, green salad, lots of breads and cheeses, a goat cheese-tomato-leek-eggplant tart made with puff pastry, and champagne punch. For dessert I made a flourless chocolate “nest” cake full of malted eggs.