4 mins

Recipe: How to make pască, Romania's favourite Easter treat

It might not do your cholesterol levels any favours, but this Romanian brioche baked cheesecake is a real feast for the spirit, taken from Irina Georgescu's Carpathia…

Butter up your taste buds with a slice of this sweet cheesecake (Jamie Orlando Smith)

On the eve of Easter Sunday, travellers strolling the streets of Romania may detect a welcoming scent: a sharp hint of rum or orange liqueur, wafts of warm vanilla and the wonderful aroma of a cake baking, as locals celebrate spring’s moveable feast with their traditional brioche-baked cheesecake: pască.

Part of the appeal of this cheesecake is its buttery richness, perfectly suited for its annual role decorating baskets at Easter (and deprived mouths following the 40-day fasting period). Food writer Irina Georgescu, author of Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania, says that the Romanian’s like to bake “to mark moments of happiness, togetherness, [and] merry-making” and that this cake is the “equivalent” to chocolate eggs.

How the traditional cheesecake came to define Easter in Romania is not so clear, but if it’s a symbol of unity, it certainly works well. Millions of these cakes are sold over the busy Easter period, but traditionally, locals bake their own to be blessed by a priest during the Easter sunrise service. Afterwards, it’s taken home to be feasted on by family and friends, a joyful reminder of the importance of coming together.

But baking has long influenced Carpathian culture, dating back to the grand Austrian Empire and the Habsburg rule. Pretty pâtisseries (cofetării) and cosy coffee houses are more than a dime a dozen in most cities and towns, tempting visitors with everything from carefully crafted cream puffs to chocolate mousses.

Follow your nose to capital Bucharest, though, and you can tuck into your own sultana-studded slice of pască, before wandering down the old town’s cobbled streets to admire the city’s blend of old-world elegance and modern delights.

Ingredients for pască

(Jamie Orlando Smith)

(Jamie Orlando Smith)

Serves six

For the brioche:

300g (11oz) strong white bread flour

30ml (one fl oz) milk, at room temperature

Seven grams (.oz) fast-action dried yeast

One tbsp caster sugar

Three eggs

150g (five oz) butter, diced and softened

 

For the filling:

200g (seven oz) fresh ricotta

or 100g (three oz) shop-bought ricotta

Mixed with 100g (three oz) creme fraiche

Three egg yolks

Three tbsp sugar

100g (three oz) sultanas

15ml (.fl oz) orange liqueur

or rum (optional)

One tsp vanilla

 

For baking:

One egg yolk mixed with one tsp milk

Zest of one orange

10g (.oz) diced butter

Method

 

To make the brioche dough, put the flour, milk, yeast and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on a medium speed until combined, then add the eggs one by one and mix again.

When the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl, start adding the butter, dice by dice, ensuring that each addition is well incorporated. Cover and leave to rise for one and a half to two hours in a warm place, at around 21 to 22°C (70 to 72°F). Refrigerate for two to three hours or overnight and it will be ready to roll.

To make the filling, thoroughly combine all the ingredients together to form a smooth mixture.

Divide the dough into two pieces. Grease a 25cm (10in) pastry ring or springform tin with the base removed. Roll one half of the dough to a circle slightly larger than the ring or tin, and place it onto a nonstick baking tray. Place the ring or tin on top of the pastry (you will trim the edges later).

Divide the remaining half of the dough into two pieces. Roll into two long ropes, measuring 85 to 90cm (33. to 35.in). Loosely twist the dough ropes together, leaving room for the dough to expand. Place inside the ring or tin, creating a beautiful border around the sides. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark five. Brush the border with the egg wash, then pour in the filling. Scatter the orange zest on top and dot with the diced butter.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the filling is soft and wobbly in the middle. If the dough becomes too dark, cover with foil. Cool on a wire rack trim around the pastry ring and then carefully remove it. Serve for dessert or as a treat for a breakfast. Scatter any leftover sultanas on top.

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Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu (Frances Lincoln, £22) is out on 17 March

Buy it now

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