Early Spring in our house is a time for cooking and crafts
projects as we celebrate both Passover and (Russian) Easter. Both of
these holidays are great excuses to cook lots of tasty recipes that we
learned from our parents and grandparents, and then to enjoy this food
surrounded by friends and family. This year was no exception, and was
also the first year in over a decade when we were blessed to have my
parents in-town for both holidays.
Back in Russia, one of Ksusha's family traditions was to make Paskha
and Kulich, and she has been making them here for Russian Easter for
as long as I remember. Both are very tasty! Pascha is made from tvarog
(similar to farmers cheese) with various other items such as brandied
raisins mixed in. Kulich is a cake similar to panettone (and even
tastier from my biased viewpoint, causing me to pretend that Passover
has ended a few days earlier than it actually ends). To make the
Paskha, Ksusha makes her own curd through a process involving whole
milk, a bit of sour cream, a slow cooker, and then draining out the whey
through cheese cloth. To make the final Paskha, the curd (and other
flavorings) is pressed into a specially-made box lined with
Alas, Ksusha's family Paskha molds ("пасочница" or
pasochnitsa) are back in Russia. (A google image search shows some
examples of some.) As such, I've been meaning to make one for the
past few years, so this year was my first try.
I used a mixture of 1/2" and 1/4" white ash from Rockler (both 5" wide),
as that's what they had available. I played with a few different design
ideas initially, and then I made templates in qcad and then went down to
the shop to make the parts.
In the end, I had two of the sides (with the routed grooves) be 1/2"
thick and the other two sides (with the tabs) were 1/4" thick. I then
used a dremel tool to carve designs into the wood. One of the
traditional designs is an Eastern Orthodox cross, and the other "XB"
stands for "Christ has Risen". The resulting side panels:
The various pieces fit together by putting the tabs through the slots
and then using the wood pins to hold everything together. (One of the
tabs broke when drilling a hole for a pin, but I was able to
improvise.) When assembled the box looks like:
After pressing the curd in the mold overnight, we removed it from the
mold and while the Paskha was a little soft, it held its shape and the
design were clearly visible.
In retrospect, I would have been better off making everything
from 1/2" thick pieces as the moisture caused the 1/4" parts to warp
(although I was able to flatten them back out by pressing them while wet
under a heavy pot overnight). I would also have been better off having
the carvings higher on the pieces so that the press didn't push the curd
too close to the design. We would also have been better off using a
slightly more firm version of the curd, as this one was fairly liquid
and required too many layers of cheese cloth (impacting the visibility
of the patterns).
Next year we'll have another Easter and I'll make another version.
The final result of this effort was this year's Paskha:
(Many thanks to my parents for taking
some of the photos above while we were busy cooking and crafting