Kulich (Russian Easter Bread)
This bread is baked in a 2 lb. coffee can so that it comes out tall and once decorated, resembling the traditional onion-domed Russian church. The initials XB, signifying Christ is risen, are put on the top of the bread. In many traditions (we do this in our Catholic church), breads and other special Easter foods are brought to the church on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) to be blessed. That is the tradition with this bread as well. The priest sprinkles it with holy water and blesses it and then it is served on Easter with Pascha (see the recipe after this one).
1 pkg. dry yeast
¼ c. warm water
¾ c. lukewarm milk
4 T. melted butter
¼ c. sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. grated lemon rind
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. brandy or rum
3 c. flour
¼ c. chopped almonds
¼-1/2 c. golden raisins, plumped in hot water and drained
Optional: ¼ c. candied lemon or orange peel or candied fruits
1 c. icing sugar
1 T. milk
½ tsp. vanilla
Instructions: Sprinkle yeast over the warm water and stir until dissolved. Combine the milk and melted butter. Stir in the sugar, salt, lemon rind, vanilla, and rum/brandy. Add in the water containing the dissolved yeast. Beat in the eggs one at a time and then stir in the flour, a bit at a time. You may not need all the flour – keep adding a bit at a time until it makes a soft dough.
Flour your working surface (I have an enamel topped table that works well – if it’s not handy I also have a large vintage bread board but you can certain work on a cutting board that’s large enough or a clean area of your kitchen counter) and turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic – this takes about 10-15 minutes. Put into a buttered bowl and turn it over and over until the dough is coated with butter. Cover with a tea towel and leave this to rise in a warm spot for 1 to 1 ½ hours until it has doubled in size.
Punch the dough down and turn it out onto your floured surface again. Press the dough out flat (it doesn’t have to be really thin – you’re going to form it back into a ball again in a bit – you just want it somewhat flattened down so you can properly add the other ingredients). Add in the almonds, raisins, and optional fruits, working them into the dough.
Break off a piece of dough that’s just a bit bigger than a golf ball to put aside for making the initials that go on top. Form the remaining dough into a ball and press it into the buttered coffee can. (if you have something of a “seam” in the dough, you want to put the dough into the can seam side down.) Note: the dough should only fill the can about halfway.
Roll out the small reserved piece of dough into a snake like shape about 2 to 2 ½ feet long. Cut it into 4 even pieces. Cross two of the pieces into an X shape and use the other 2 to make a B. Press the letters into the top of the ball of dough in the coffee can. Cover the can of dough with waxed paper and allow to rise again – for about 30 to 45 minutes, only until the dough reaches the top of the can. Don’t allow it to rise any higher than that.
Bake at 375 degrees F for about 40-45 minutes until it’s golden brown. A toothpick or wooden skewer inserted in the center top of the bread should come out clean. Prepare the icing and frost the bread with this, allowing it to drip down the sides of the loaf to resemble the tops of the onion domed churches in Russia.
This is served in many Slavic countries and is often made to accompany Kulich. It has been likened to being like a cross between ice cream and cheesecake. It’s made in a mould or clean flower pot and then turned out onto a plate and decorated.
1 whole egg
4 egg yolks
2 1/3 c. sugar
1 c. heavy cream
2 lbs. farmers cheese
1/2 lb. butter, at room temperature
1 T. vanilla
1 1/2 c. dried fruits (raisins or a mixture of dried fruits usually with some candied fruit peel mixed in)
1 c. chopped almonds
2 T. freshly grated orange or lemon rind
Any of the following: candied fruit peel, nuts, fresh berries, or maraschino cherries or a combination of these for the decorations
Instructions: Beat the egg and yolks together until they are creamy and a bright yellow colour. Mix in the sugar and beat until thick and creamy. Put this mixture in a saucepan and add 1/2 cup of cream. Heat this over low to medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. Do not let this come to a boil. Remove from the heat and continue to stir it until it has cooled down to a lukewarm temperature.
In a bowl, mix together the cheese, butter, the remaining cream, and the vanilla. Blend this until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the egg mixture and then the fruits and rind. Mix thoroughly.
Line the mould or flowerpot with a few layers of cheesecloth. If using a flowerpot, I like to cover the inside with plastic wrap first and then the cheesecloth just because I am not sure if all pots are completely safe when coming into direct contact with food. Also, remember that Pascha moulds and flowerpots have holes in the bottom so you need to place it over a bowl to catch any liquid that will drain out. Pour the Pascha mixture into the mould or pot, cover it with a few layers of cheesecloth, and then place a plate on top of the cheesecloth. The plate needs to come into direct contact with the cheesecloth as it is supposed to push any excess liquid from the Pascha. Put this in the refrigerator to chill for 1-2 days. Take the top layer of cheesecloth off of the Pascha and unmould it onto a serving platter. Remove the rest of the cheesecloth.
Decorate the Pascha with your chosen decorations. It is traditional, as with the Kulich, to place the decorations forming the letters XB on one side of the Pascha while on the other side they generally form a cross. In Russia, Paschas often have decorations shaped like lilies and angels on them as well. The berries are usually placed around the Pascha encircling it as well as using some to decorate the top and sides. This is meant to be served chilled.