As a young missionary in Russia, I was exposed the culinary delight that is kulich, or Pascha bread. A rich egg bread reminiscent of challah and panettone, kulich is made by Russian, Ukrainian and other Slavic families every spring to celebrate Easter. Back then, I was fortunate enough to have my Ukrainian missionary companion, Aelita Zaetz, make me kulich for breakfast. Alas, as a mom, now I’m in charge of making it.
It’s been a fun kitchen project every spring for the kids and me to pop into the kitchen and begin the process of making our sweet bread for the Easter celebration. This recipe is more involved than any other yeast bread I’ve made because it has three—yes, three!—rise cycles. The texture and flavor are worth it, and we usually do other fun spring and Easter activities while we wait for the bread’s next step. If you’ve ever loaded a slow cooker or bathed a toddler, you can probably handle making this bread.
- 2 sticks butter (You can also substitute coconut oil.)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 6 farm-fresh eggs, room temperature
- 1 T. yeast
- 1¾ cups sugar
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 8-9 cups flour, divided
- 1/2 cup sour cream, cultured cream, crème fraiche or yogurt
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup cranberries
- 1/2 cup pistachios
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add milk and heat until just warm. Remove from heat and whisk in eggs, yeast, sugar and vanilla.
In the bowl of your mixer (or any large bowl), whisk together salt and 4 cups flour. Add butter mixture to flour mixture. Switch to the dough hook of your mixer or a really sturdy spoon. Add in sour cream. This mixture will be wet and thick. Cover it and allow it to soak and rise about two hours in a warm place. You can use your dehydrator set at about 90 degrees F or your oven with the light. Your dough will probably double in size the first rise, so give it space.
Put the dough back into your mixer bowl if you removed it, and mix in the remaining flour 1 cup at a time. The dough should still be soft, but it should clear the sides of the bowl. If you stick your finger into the dough, it will be squishy but won’t cling to you the way it did before. If you add too much flour, the final product will be a little dry, but it will still be edible. After you’ve made it a few times, you’ll know exactly how wet you like it. Mix in the remaining ingredients, or any other preferred add-ins. Cover and let rise another two hours in a warm place. It will double in size or more.
Divide dough evenly and place into paper molds (see “Using Tin Cans As Molds” below). Be gentle and don’t bang your dough around, but make sure you don’t have any air bubbles trapped inside. Let rise in a warm place for another two hours but don’t cover it this time—a cover might interfere with the lovely top that will form on your kulich.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35, or until golden brown on top. Using a cake tester or a thin knife, check the center for doneness, especially if your kulich ends up particularly tall.
Once cooled, remove from molds and mix up the glaze. Pour the glaze over the top and let it drip down the sides. To make it look traditional, add some colored sprinkles. The glaze is a lovely combination of sweet and tart.
We don’t usually add the glaze if we’ve put in chocolate chips (not a traditional ingredient at all!) just because that ends up a little too sweet for us. You can fashion an “XB” on the top, if you’d like to be completely authentic. “XB” stands for “Christ is Risen in Russian (pronounced Chreestose voskres).
Using Tin Cans As Molds
You can bake up your kulich in the paper molds used for panettone, which can be found on Amazon and in specialty markets. They’re easy to use and, when the bread is baked and cooled, you can simply rip them off and discard them. This recipe will bake up three paper-molded, medium-sized kulich.
As poor missionaries, we couldn’t get quite as fancy as paper molds, but Aelita showed me how to use tin cans to achieve the same result. Take any size tin can you’ve saved and wash it thoroughly. If you have rogue sharp edges, flatten them by rolling over them in one direction with your can opener. You can also gently bang them flat with a hammer.
Remove any paper labeling. Dry and generously butter the inside of the can, all up the sides. Fill each can only halfway with dough and let it rise. We always use a #10 can size (a 2-pound coffee can) because we like the novelty of having such a tall bread, but I invariably end up overfilling that size and it poofs out the top, lopping over in a very undignified manner. Aelita’s never did that. I fare much better with a more medium-sized tin can, about 4 inches diameter and 6 inches high. However, we’ve even baked them in the small tomato-paste cans, but they do cook a bit faster to so you have to check on them.
A tin can bakes about like a regular bread pan but a little slower than a paper mold, so be sure to watch all your kulich as it bakes. A general rule of thumb is that once you can smell the kulich throughout your house, you have about another 5 minutes until it’s done.
To remove your bread from the can, allow it to cool completely and then use a knife to clear the bread from the sides. Turn it over and gently tap the bottom of the can until the bread slides out. Needless to say, don’t use a can with a lip because it will mess up the shape of your bread. Use caution as you’re going around the sides of the can that you don’t accidentally cut through into the side of the bread. This is more often a problem with the taller cans than the smaller ones; just make sure you use the longest knife possible to remove your bread for #10 cans.