Easter Pasca: A Traditional Cake for A Special Occasion

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The Romanian Traditional Recipe

slice of pasca

Pasca is a specific Romanian Easter cake filled with sweet cheese and raisins. The recipe consists of a basic Romanian cozonac dough or the Italian version of it, Panettone, with added sweet cheese filling. 

Pasca has a deep religious symbolism that revolves around Jesus’ resurrection. The name of the cake itself has prehistoric roots. In the past two millennia, it has been associated with the Christian feast that commemorates the miracle of resurrection.

Pasqua in Italian means Easter, and derivates of the word mean the same thing in all Latin languages. In Romanian it would be Paşte (pronounced Pashte), hence the special cake to celebrate the occasion: pasca.

Many would call it bread, but this might sound a tad demeaning to the Romanians. To us, bread is never sweet and is purely a side for main dishes. Something that requires extended time, a lot of care in preparation and includes sugar is definitely a cake.

As there are three days of Easter, Romanians prepare in advance for the celebration.

A forty-day long lent leading to Easter is strictly observed mainly in countryside Romania and allows people to reflect on the meaning of life or death and find their religious roots.

Towards the end of the lent, the ladies would get busy preparing traditional holiday food that includes appetisers (Boeuf Salad is one) and main lamb courses. Of course, desserts cannot miss from the festive Easter table. Lots of nut, poppy or chocolate-filled cozonac, a large, rounded pasca and red-painted eggs would be the centrepiece.

Although the process of baking can sound tedious, it consists mainly of resting time. The dough contains yeast that needs time to activate and rise, so should you decide to give it a go, make sure you plan a day off to make the treats.

Traditionally, Romanians would make cozonac and pasca on the Maundy Thursday, the day Jesus asked his disciples to love one another as He loved them. There is a lot to discuss here, and everything has way wider historical, philosophical, religious and political implications, but this is a mere recipe, so let’s get on with it.

sliced pasca

Ingredients for Pasca

For the dough:

White Flour (I used strong bread flour)

Coconut sugar

Tepid water

Yeast

Butter

Orange/lemon zest (or in combination)

Milk

Eggs

Vanilla essence

Salt

For the sweet cheese filling:

1kg of cheese. The best option would be farmer’s (cottage) cheese or ricotta. It is essential to drain the cheese well before use. For this try, I used homemade cheese that I prepared in advanced (it is pretty easy, and I will upload the recipe and technique soon, keep posted!)

Coconut sugar

Raisins

Orange or lemon zest (or a mix)

Semolina

Eggs

Essences (I prefer rum in combination with raisins)

A pinch of salt.

baked pasca

Method

To make the starter dough, mix the sugar with yeast, a little sieved flour and tepid water and allow 10-15 min to activate the yeast, preferably in a warm place.

Once the yeast has activated and started making tiny bubbles, add the butter (melted and cooled previously), milk, eggs, the zest of organic orange, salt and the rest of the sieved flour.

Depending on the type of flour, the exact quantity might vary. Add it gradually while kneading, either with a standing mixer or using your hands. When the dough makes little air pockets as you fold it, you will know it has enough flour. Even if it is still a bit sticky, no extra flour is necessary. The dough has to remain soft and supple.

At this point, I heat the oven to 50°C/122°, then turn it off and place the bowl on the middle rack to let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes. Typically, it has rested enough when the volume has doubled.

You can use the waiting time to prepare the filling by mixing the well-drained cheese with sugar, raisins, eggs, semolina, essences and orange zest, plus a pinch of salt to enhance the taste.

The composition has to be similar to a regular cheesecake. If it is too soft, you can add more semolina. If it is too hard, it might require another egg.

When the resting time is up, use a part of the dough for the braided wall and keep a larger amount for the base.

Before you start, preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F.

I rolled three thin threads from the smaller dough piece to braid the wall as I prefer to taste more the filling than the paste. Be aware that the dough will expand further during the initial stage of baking.

The rest of the dough will go on the base of the baking mould. It is OK to use a rolling pin to shape it in a 1-1.5 cm thick round form; it will still fluff once in the oven.

I used a 24 cm diameter loose base baking tray with parchment paper fit on the base and well-oiled walls.

You might need extra hands to help fit the braided dough to the mould’s wall; I certainly appreciated the involvement of a little helper!

As the helper holds the braided dough in place, add the cheese filling in the middle and spread it evenly using a large spatula.

Separately, beat an egg with a teaspoon of sugar and brush the entire surface of your pasca.

cheese-filled teddies

Because I had some dough left, I used it to make two little cheese-filled teddies using some small moulds included in my baking set. Needless to say, they turned up way more exciting than my pasca, laden with deep metaphysical meaning! Something like the chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies hidden around the house! The times are ever-changing, although some traditions carry on, even two thousand years later.

The tray goes on the oven’s middle rack. Also, reduce the temperature to 150°C/302°F. As each oven is slightly different, the baking time might vary, but it should be around 30-40 minutes or until the dough turns golden brown. If it burns too early, you might need to cover it with another tray.

My mould was quite full, and as it started to bake, my pasca raised a bit too much, so I could not cover it. Luckily, it did not burn either.

You should not open the oven’s door during the first 20 minutes, but it is OK to turn the tray after this initial time to allow thorough baking.

Perform the toothpick test to check if the cake is baked thoroughly and cool on a rack before removing it from the tray.

If you are baking on Holy Thursday, Easter is still a few days away. You can keep the pasca in the fridge, preferably in a cake box.

If desired, bring to room temperature before slicing and serving.

Happy Easter!

Romanian Easter Pasca Cake

Traditional Easter Pasca

Pasca is the traditional Romanian Easter cake specific to this religious holiday only. A culinary delight for a special occasion!
4.94 from 15 votes
Prep Time 1 hr 15 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Resting time 45 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 40 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Romanian
Servings 10 portions

Ingredients
  

Pasca Dough

  • 600 g white flour plain or strong bread
  • 120 g sugar coconut
  • 125 ml tepid water
  • 10 g dried yeast
  • 125 ml tepid milk
  • 3 eggs plus 1 for coating before baking
  • 60 g butter melted and cooled
  • 1 pcs orange/lemon zest organic
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tsp rock/sea salt

For the filling

  • 1 kg cheese cottage, ricotta or homemade, drained
  • 150 g raisins
  • 3 pcs eggs
  • 70 g semolina use gradually
  • 4 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp rum essence
  • 1 tbsp orange zest organic
  • ¼ tsp salt

Instructions
 

Pasca Dough

  • For the starter dough, mix the sugar with yeast, a little sieved flour and tepid water. Allow 10-15 min to activate the yeast, preferably in a warm place.
  • Once the yeast has activated and started making tiny bubbles, add the butter (melted and cooled previously), milk, eggs, organic orange zest. Mix well.
  • Add the salt and the rest of the sieved flour and start kneading. Depending on the type of flour used, the exact quantity needed might vary. Add it gradually while kneading either with a standing mixer or using your hands.
  • When the dough makes little air pockets as you fold it, you will know it has enough flour.
    kneaded dough
  • At this point, heat the oven to 50°C/122°, then turn it off and place the bowl on the middle rack to let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes. Typically, it has rested enough when the volume has doubled.
    raised pasca dough
  • Before the last stage of preparation, preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F.
  • When the resting time is up, use a part of the dough for the braided wall and keep a larger amount for the base.
  • Depending on how many threads you want to use, roll thin ones and braid them. I only used three and rolled them up as thin as I could.
  • The rest of the dough will go on the base of the baking mould. Use a rolling pin to shape it in a 1-1.5 cm high round form; even if you press the dough, it will still fluff up once in the oven.
  • Prepare your baking mould. I used a 24 cm diameter loose base baking tray with parchment paper fit on the base and well-oiled walls.
  • Place the base dough in the tray and the braided dough vertically on the wall. You might need extra hands for this step, as the dough is elastic and will tend to fall and shrink.
    dough in tray
  • As the helper holds the braided dough in place, add the cheese filling in the middle and spread it evenly using a large spatula.
  • Separately, beat an egg with a teaspoon of sugar and brush the entire surface of your pasca.
  • Reduce the oven's temperature to 150°C/302°F and place the baking mould on the middle rack (position 3).
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes or until pasca turns golden brown. If it burns too early, you might need to cover it with another tray.
  • Do not open the oven's door during the first 20 minutes. After that, you can turn the pasca to allow even baking.
  • Perform the toothpick test to check if the cake is baked thoroughly and cool on a rack before removing it from the tray.

Cheese Filling

  • In a large bowl, mix the well-drained cheese with sugar, raisins, eggs, semolina, essences and orange zest, plus a pinch of salt to enhance the taste.
  • The composition has to be similar to a regular cheesecake. If it is too soft, you can add more semolina. If it is too hard, it might require another egg.
    cheese filling for pasca

Notes

Pasca can be kept in the fridge for up to five days, preferably in a cake container. I never tried to freeze it, and I don’t recommend it, as the cheese might go crumbly or too wet when defrosted. After all, this is a cake we make once a year, for an exceptional occasion, so I don’t see the point in preserving it.
Before serving, bring to room temperature.
Enjoy!
Keyword Pasca, Romanian Easter Cake, Traditional Easter Cake, Traditional Easter Cheesecake Recipe

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24 Responses

  1. Andra says:

    5 stars
    I haven’t had Pasca in a while, I need to try your recipe! I now also realized I need to get some teddy bear moulds, they look so cute 😀

  2. Freya says:

    5 stars
    I love your Easter cakes and you’re right, to call them bread isn’t giving them enough credit! They look beautiful

  3. Patrice says:

    5 stars
    I’ve never tried the Romanian version of Easter cake. Looks delicious and a great option for trying something different this year!

  4. 5 stars
    I’ve never had this. Love the Teddy bears too. What a perfect dessert for Easter!

  5. Denise says:

    I’ve never had this Romanian version. It sounds even better than Panetone! Can’t wait to try it!

  6. Jessica says:

    This is great! We are studying Romania right now!

  7. Emily says:

    5 stars
    This looks so delicious and perfect for a holiday! I always love your posts because they are so full of information.

  8. 5 stars
    Loved reading your story and the recipe. This is a recipe that sounds delicious and the ingredients are simple. A perfect cake for a special Holiday.

  9. Sarah says:

    I’ve never heard of Easter pasca before but it looks like a simple and delicious recipe. I should give this a try as I love trying new foods and recipes.

  10. Casey says:

    4 stars
    Looks delicious!!! Thanks for sharing

  11. Francy says:

    5 stars
    This recipe is delicious and l can see your love to make this traditional Easter cake😃

  12. Ana says:

    5 stars
    I’ve never had Pasca before but it surely looks delicious!

  13. 5 stars
    I’ve never met a cheesecake I didn’t like and this one is spectacular, delicious and so pretty with the braided edge. Love this recipe.

  14. Gabriela Herrera says:

    5 stars
    What a beautiful creation and how wonderful is it for an edible centerpiece in the Ester dinner table.

  15. Jeannie says:

    5 stars
    what a great delicious bread, love the braiding in the side 🙂

  16. Marita says:

    5 stars
    Oh this recipe looks delicious. I do not know much about Romanian Easter Traditions, so I found this post very interesting.

  17. 5 stars
    What a beautiful cake. I’d love to have a slice with a cup of tea. Perfect for easter

  18. Leah says:

    Those teddy bears are so cute! I’d love to try this cake. It sounds delicious with the cheese filling!

  19. Sue says:

    5 stars
    What a lovely and unique recipe. A wonderful way to celebrate Easter!

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