Christians of Eastern European descent traditionally eat pagach, a stuffed bread, at Christmas or Easter. Symbolic of Christ's body, the bread of life, pagach reminds Christians of his sacrifice and the holy supper. At the holiday table, the hearty bread complements a heavy winter meal that would fortify guests on a snowy night. During Lent, leave out the filling for fasting Christians and serve merely the bread with garlic to remember the bitterness of Christ's suffering, or with honey as a symbol of the sweetness of Christ's blessings.
The first component of pagach is the basic bread recipe. To make pagach, you'll need enough bread dough to make two loaves. Use any basic bread or leavened pizza dough recipe you like. Basic bread dough includes a packet of yeast, proofed in at least a cup of warm water, mixed with all-purpose flour and salt until the dough is sticky but firm. Allow the dough to sit at room temperature under a moist towel to rise. Punch it and knead it, allowing it to rise a second time. Pagach bread dough won't contain sugar as this is normally a savory dish.
Fillings for pagach include meats, vegetables, potatoes and or combinations of the three, with or without cheese. Cook the fillings, except for cheese, before adding to the pagach. Cut or dice meats and vegetables into small pieces and grate cheeses for even cooking. Shred cabbage and sauté it with butter until tender. Alternatively, boil diced potatoes until tender and add to browned sausage or ground beef. Drain excess fat or liquid from the fillings before adding to the pagach dough.
Form pagach into either a long narrow loaf, or a round pie, depending on your preference. Half of the dough, or one loaf's worth, forms the bottom, and the other half forms the top. For the long narrow version, spread the dough into a long rectangle on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Spread the filling on top of the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin all the way around. Press the top dough on the bottom, sealing by pinching the margins. Cut holes in the top dough to vent. Prepare the pie version similarly, but press the bottom dough into a pie plate or cake pan to make a round version. Spread the filling and then place the top dough, pinching the top and bottom dough together around the margins to seal. Vent the top using knife slits. Brush the top of the pagach with beaten egg to add shine and aid in browning.
Because the filling is already cooked, bake the pagach only until the bread is done and lightly browned. Use an oven heated to medium heat and place the room-temperature prepared pagach in the center of the oven. Cook for 30 - 45 minutes or until the pagach is puffed and lightly browned, covering the edges in foil as necessary to keep from over-browning.
- St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church: Recipes and Traditions
- Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers; Daniel Leader
- Photo Credit peredniankina/iStock/Getty Images
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