German-From-Russia Tradition Announces Easter
Swift, Tammy. "German-From-Russia Traditions Announces Easter." Forum, 31 March 2002, sec. B-3.
At the Swift house, we always knew Easter was around the corner
when Mom brought up the coffee cans from the basement.
Those old Folgers cans would soon be loaf pans for what we called
"baska," a meltingly light, frosted Easter bread.
Grandma Gartner passed this German-from-Russia tradition on to
Mom. The closest relative I can find to it in food dictionaries
is "kulich," a Russian anise-tinged bread that is baked
in coffee cans to form tall, cylindrical loaves. The rounded tops
of the loaves, when frosted, resemble snow-covered rooftops.
Around Easter, kulich is traditionally served with paska, a pyramid-like
Perhaps the bread's affiliation to paska is why it became known
as baska in our family. Or maybe it's a Germanized derivative of
the Polish Easter bread, bapka.
Whatever the case, it will always be known as baska in our family--as
sit is in many German-from-Russia homes in western North Dakota.
Mom's baska-making process continues today, and it is an all-day
ritual. Potatoes have to be boiled and riced; the dough has to be
worked and "punched down" several times in a day.
The bread owes its sweet, delicate flavor to a variety of ingredients:
the subtle licorice bite of anise, apricot brandy, real butter and
cream. My arteries nearly slam shut thinking about it. The recipe
also calls for saffron--which will give the bread a yellowish hue--but
Mom usually skips this expensive spice.
Baska-making is truly physical. When Mom worked the dough, we would
giggle when she "spanked" each round of dough to rid it
of air bubbles. On occasion, she would let us try--probably glad
we were willing to pound on something besides each other.
Mom would drop the sticky blobs of dough into well-greased coffee
cans, then cover them with cheese cloth and allow them to rise.
After their stint in the oven, the light brown loaves would be
ready for frosting. They would slide out of the coffee cans and
topple onto the counter; looking like giant mushrooms with extra-thick
The rounded sides and top were slathered with thick, white, still-warm
frosting--also scented of anise.
The "rooftops" of our edible churches were garnished
with Easter finery: jelly beans, nests of tinted coconut, candied
sprinkles, sugar-spun chicks.
When finished, we would place the "mushrooms" on their
sides and cut round, white slices from the loaves. A taste of the
yeasty, feather-light bread was heaven, especially when toasted,
then slathered with butter and honey.
Mom's massive recipe made 16 loaves at a time. Still, it never
seemed like enough. She would give away loaves to friends and relatives
(usually the ones with the raisins, which we hated).
Mutiny practically erupted whenever she would donate a couple of
loaves to a local bake sale. In exchange, she would bring home something
she had bought at the sale. We usually got the raw end of the deal.
Somebody's cake-mix cupcakes buried in store-bought frosting could
hardly compete with Mom's baska.
Baska fit every definition of a family tradition. Below, I've listed
the recipe for it. Maybe--if you've got eight hours to do it and
some bread-baking know-how--it will become one of your traditions,
Makes 16 loaves.
1 cup butter (not margarine)
10 eggs, beaten until foaming
2 teaspoons anise flavoring
1 pint sweet cream
2 packages active dry yeast
2 small potatoes
1 cup apricot brandy
1 small bottle liquid or 1 small
package dry saffron (optional)
3 tablespoons salt
Raisins or dried fruit (optional)
If you wish to use saffron, dissolve it in the brandy. Soak the
yeast in 1 cup of lukewarm water. Cook the potatoes in eight cups
of water; do not drain. Put the potatoes and water through a ricer,
then through a strainer, saving the liquid each time. If you do
not have a ricer, you can mash the potatoes as you put them through
the strainer. Eliminate the big lumps.
Mix the sugar and butter, add the eggs. Add the anise, cream, yeast,
potato water, brandy (with or without the saffron), salt and fruit.
gh flour, a portion at a time, to form a dough. Place the dough
in a large container (Mom used a canner) and set in a warm place.
Let rise and punch down four or five times throughout the day.
Divide dough and roll it into balls. Place the dough balls in well-greased
shortening or coffee cans. (Cans should be only one-fourth full.)
Make sure there are no air bubbles in the dough. Let rise until
it reaches the top.
To ensure a nice, light-brown color, place an aluminum foil tent
over the dough. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, depending
on the size of the can.
Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes, then remove from the
can and let cool. Frost.
2 pounds powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup butter, melted
4-5 drops anise flavoring (you may use
almond or lemon flavoring instead, if
Mix ingredients with enough hot water to thin icing to spreading
consistency. Stand the bread vertically on a plate and frost the
sides and top, while icing is still warm. (It will harden as it
cools.) Decorate with jelly beans, colored coconut or candy chicks
and bunnies. To slice, place bread horizontally and slice as you
would a regular loaf of bread.
Reprinted with permission of The Forum.