Easter Kulich

hughkulich
I am ready for Easter. I have the Peeps, the Cadbury Eggs, and the Star Wars Egg Dying Kit. Seriously, if you happen to pass by a Star Wars Egg Dying Kit how can you NOT buy it?

Next on the list is the Kulich. No one in the family is Russian, but my boss at Zola’s in SF asked me to make it once 20 years ago and I fell in love with it. Who could resist bread with saffron, rum, dried fruits, nuts, and citrus zest? Not me.

Bread is a symbolic, holy food in many cultures, and it is not uncommon to see the addition of eggs both in the dough, or baked into the loaves still in their shell. We see eggs at Easter (not usually decorated with Star Wars stickers) because the egg is an ancient symbol of re-birth and spring. Eggs are also a food traditionally forbidden during Lent. Even today, orthodox communities abstain from all animal products during this holy time of year, then let loose on Easter and make up for lack of these foods in one fell swoop.

This Russian Easter bread is tall and regal, and is commonly served with Pashka, a molded sweet cheese studded with still more fruits. If you are short on #10 cans, bake this dough in two traditional loaf pans.

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup dark rum
1 cup milk, warmed
2-3 threads saffron
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
3-1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
4 egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1/4 cup skin-on almonds, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup candied citrus zest
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
4-6 cups bread flour
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

METHOD

  1. Combine raisins and rum and set aside to plump overnight.
  2. Combine warmed milk and saffron, and set aside for 10 minutes. Add sugar, yeast, stir to dissolve, and let stand 10 minutes, until foamy.
  3. Add soaked raisins and liquid, egg yolks, butter, salt, vanilla bean, almonds, candied zest, grated zest (reserve juice), and enough bread flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Add flour only as needed to reduce stickiness. Return to bowl, dust with flour, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1-1/2 hours.
  4. Use a church key can opener to make three holes in the bottom of a #10 can. Coat the can with pan spray, and line the sides with a cylinder of parchment paper. Turn risen dough out onto a floured surface and shape into an oblong loaf. Place end-first into prepared can, cover loosely with plastic, and set aside to proof for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
  5. Bake until golden brown and hollow sounding, about 45-60 minutes. Cool 10 minutes, remove loaf from the can, and cool completely on a rack.
  6. Combine powdered sugar with lemon juice and a pinch of salt, and beat until smooth and creamy. Add more sugar or a touch of water as needed. Drizzle icing onto the top of the cooling loaf, and let it drip down the sides. Decorate the top of the iced loaf as they do in the Baltics, with candied fruits.
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