I spent my childhood years in Soviet Russia. Back then most people practiced Communism as their main religion, and the cover page of our first school book had a large portrait of Dedushka Lenin. People didn’t seem to be interested in church.
Unless it was Easter – the most festive holiday of the year! The preparations started way before the event. Detailed house cleanings, taking care of graves, and cooking, cooking, cooking…
There are some similarities and differences between the way Easter is celebrated here, in the States, and back at home. First of all, the dates. Russian Orthodox Church is on Julian calendar, hence most holidays are 13 days later. Sometimes Easter falls on the same day as here, and sometimes it’s a week or two delayed. This year it’s on the 15th of April.
Traditionally Russian Easter eggs are bright red. Most people boil them with onion shells collected over the year just for that purpose. There are no Easter bunnies, and I don’t quite remember an egg hunt, but there were other games. Nowadays there is a new brilliant invention in the field of egg decoration – egg labeling. You put an egg into a plastic shell, dip it into boiling water for a few seconds, and suddenly your shell takes the shape of the egg and sticks to it. I got a few online and could not resist playing with them today.
The highlight of every Russian Easter table is Kulich – sweet Easter Bread. Light and fluffy, it has anything from raisins and dried apricots to almonds and orange zest inside; and a sweet dripping frosting on the outside. It is usually decorated with letters “XB”, Russian abbreviation for “Christ has risen”.
This year we are planning to share our Kulich with everybody we know. So, I made a practice run to make sure my old family recipe will do its miracles with American ingredients. Oh, indeed, it was the sweetest most delicious bread I’ve ever made!
- 1.5 cup milk, lukewarm
- 25 g dry east
- 1.5 cup sugar, divided
- 1 kg unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
- 6 eggs, whites separated from yolks
- 3 tbs pure vanilla extract
- 15 g salt
- 250 g unsalted butter, melted, and cooled to barely warm
- 150 g raisins, dried apricots, almonds (whichever you like, or all together)
- 1 cup rum (optional)
- 400 g confectioner’s sugar
- Orange juice (from 2 oranges)
- 100 g hot water
Yields about 6 kuliches baked in 5.25” molds
In a medium mixing bowl combine milk, 1 tbs of sugar, and dry east. Let ferment for about 10 minutes. Add 200 grams of flour, mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and let ferment. Depending on the temperature around your house, it may take from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours for the poolish mixture to start heavy bubbling.
If using raisins, pour rum over them, and let soak while the dough is being prepared.
When the poolish is ready, with a hand-mixer beat the egg yolks with remaining sugar, salt, and vanilla.
In a separte bowl whisk egg whites so that they form a peak.
In a large mixing bowl combine flour, butter, poolish, egg yolks, and whites.
Cover with a plastic wrap, and let rise. When the dough doubles in size (50 – 90 minutes), add drained raisins and/or other dried fruit and nuts.
Fill the molds with the dough, about 1/3 full. Traditionally, kulich molds are very tall, lots of people actually use coffee cans. Panettone paper molds are the closest to the ideal that I could find in the States. Cover the filled molds with a kitchen towel, and let rise for another 50-90 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, till golden brown.
Remove kulich from the oven, and let chill on a wire rack.
When the kulich is cool, prepare the frosting by whisking all the ingredients together into a smooth mixture.
Apply the frosting on top of your kulich, allowing it to drip.
Decorate your Easter Bread with “XB” and or other patterns, if desired.
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