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Kulich - Orthodox Easter Bread

Sunday, April 12, 2015

For many Orthodox Christians kulich, the festive and colorful bread, is traditionally a part of their Easter morning table, along with paskha and colored boiled eggs. During Soviet era, when people were deprived of God and faith by the regime, many older people still prepared traditional meals for religious festivities and observed religious holidays at home. My grandmother Anfisa (father's mom), for example, baked kulichi (plural from kulich) pretty well. For some reason, she didn't teach me how to do it. Aunt Shura, who was mentioned in this blog  as my cooking  mentor, didn't bake kulichi. For many years I wanted to learn this intricate skill, but postponed until my very ripe age  - yesterday was my first attempt to bake kulichi. I think it was a success. :)

What You need:

3 large eggs and 3 egg yolks
150 g unsalted butter (about 1 1/2 sticks), cut in small pieces and softened
300 ml whole milk (1 1/2 cups)
3 tsp active dry yeast
250 g sugar (1 1/4 cups of fine crystals baker's sugar)
4 cups flour, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cognac  (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
60 g golden raisins (2 small boxes or about 1/3 cup)

1 egg white
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tsp lemon juice

Finely chopped dried fruit of your choice

The method is rather complicated and time consuming. But, as in most of such cases, it's worth the effort. Please bear with me - I wanted to share some extra details (I think -  important!)
1. Beat eggs and yolks with sugar, add warm milk, butter and yeast dissolved in warm milk (while warming milk, take a small portion of it to soften and dissolve dry yeast). Stir well in a non-reactive saucepan, cover and let sit in a warm place for 5-6 hours.
2. Cover raisins with boiling water, let sit for a few minutes, then drain. Add salt, cognac, vanilla to dough mixture and start adding flour cup by cup, stirring well each time. You will get a sticky and soft dough. At the end fold in the raisins. Cover and let rise for about 1.5 hours, the dough should triple in size by that time.
The dough was up to the border after 1.5 hours - forgot to make a picture!
3. Prepare the forms. You can buy special forms with vertical sides (as my today's experience shows, the sides must be vertical, otherwise the dough will not rise well enough) or use tins from canned vegetables and fruit (I even used a few beer cans :)). Those tins must be lined with buttered parchment paper (I measured and cut the bottoms and sides, then oiled the parts, then put bottoms in place, then put sides and secured them with one staple). The paper for the sides should be a little higher than the tin form (this dough rises high!). I also used a regular form and a tin in the middle to get a bundt cake effect, but it was not a good idea to use this tin as an extra form for a small kulich (the sides were not baked through, so I had to take this tin out and bake this little kulich additionally after all others were out and cooling).
4. Scoop the dough with a table spoon and fill 1/3 of each form, helping with your other hand that should be oiled or buttered (otherwise the dough will stick to your fingers).

Fill 1/3 of the forms or even less - this dough will rise, 
Let the dough rise in a warm place, preferably up to the sides of the forms or a little less. I set the oven at 100 F and placed all forms inside, checking periodically (it took about 1.5 hours for the dough to be ready to bake). Try not to disturb the rising dough: no running, jumping, slamming doors, even talking loudly.

Ready to be baked.

5. Set oven at 365F, start baking. Switch to 360F in 15  minutes, then to 355F in another 15 minutes, bake for 40-60 minutes total time, depending on the size of your forms. If the tops start to brown too quickly, cover with foil or parchment paper. Check readiness with a wood skewer (if ready, it must be dry when pulled out of the cake).

6. Take the forms out of the oven and carefully pull out the parchment paper lining with kulichi out of the forms, remove the lining, let kulichi cool on a towel lined with paper towels (the dough is buttery and can grease your towels).
7. Prepare the icing. Whisk 1 egg white with 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar and 2 tsp of lemon juice. The icing must be thin enough to easily spread on tops of the cakes. If it is too thick, add a drizzle of lemon juice.

8. Let kulichi cool completely. With a brush, sпреаd icing on tops of your kulichi, decorate to your liking. In decorating your imagination is the limit. I chose the healthier dry fruit, but it took some patience to finely chop them.  You can use chopped nuts or commercially available decorations for muffins and donuts.

Enjoy the richness and fluffy soft texture of this bread. And, please, don't feel guilty - can you do it only once a year after all?..
Happy Orthodox Easter!
Со Светлым Праздником Пасхи!

1.These pastries get staled and dry out very quickly and should be kept in a big pan with lid. If your kulichi get dry, place a wet napkin in the pan and leave tightly covered for a few hours. 2. You can make alcoholic kulichi. One of Russian traditional pastries is a small cake similar to kulich that is saturated with liquor on the bottom part. It is called "romovaya baba" (rum baba). To make this variation, take a dish with leveled bottom, pour some rum (or liqueur) on it, place hot kulichi (it also would be helpful to pierce the bottoms a few times with thin wood skewer) bottom down and let them suck in all liquor. Tasty!