I came across a recipe for this Russian Easter dessert in Dad’s old cook books; it was given to him by a friend from England in the mid-1970s. Oddly enough it does seem to be better-known in England than here.
Essentially, this is a kind of unbaked cheesecake; really just a flavoured and molded cheese in fact. I stopped to wonder why it should be associated with Easter, but then the answer was obvious: it isn’t just eggs that are starting to show up again as the days get longer, milk is reappearing again after several long months without any. Oh well, not any more, but traditionally that would have been pretty much the case. Of course the first milk of the season would have been celebrated and treated with ritual respect.
I have scaled this down considerably from the original recipe. It’s quite rich and small portions are a good idea. You can really use whatever dried fruits and nuts you like to enrich it, but I like the combination below very much.
36 hours – of which about 20 minutes are actually prep time
1/4 cup dried apricots OR candied peel
1/4 cup dried cranberries
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons sherry OR rum
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
300 grams ricotta or dry cottage cheese
a pinch of salt
2 to 3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sour cream OR thick yogurt
1/4 cup chopped nuts; almonds, hazelnuts OR pistachios
Chop the apricots, if using, to about the size of candied peel, and chop the cranberries a little too. Mix them – whatever combination you are using – in a small bowl. Grate in the lemon zest, and add the lemon juice. Add the sherry or rum, and cover. Soak overnight.
Cream the butter thoroughly in a small mixing bowl, and work in the ricotta or cottage cheese with a pinch of salt. Mix in the honey and sour cream or yogurt. Mix in the chopped fruit and any liquid still unabsorbed. If you like, mix in the nuts. I dislike the texture of nuts in an otherwise smooth composition, so I saved mine to sprinkle over the pashka at serving time.
Line a mesh strainer big enough to hold the mixture with a piece of cheesecloth, or an old, clean handkerchief or thin tea towel ready for a second career. Scrape the mixture into it, and fold the cloth over it to cover. Put the strainer into a bowl which will allow the strainer to stay level, and for liquid to drip into it with good clearance. Put a plate and a weight on top of the pashka, and place it in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Discard the whey, etc, which has flowed out of the pashka. Turn it out onto a serving dish. Serve it garnished with nuts, more dried fruit, or fruit preserves. A very small dollop of thick rich sour cream might work too.
Last year at this time I made Cumberland Sauce.