For my family, Easter is much better with the egg-y dense Russian Bread, Kulich, along with its best friend the creamy-sweetened spread Pashka.
Last year, I spent Easter with my brother and sister in San Francisco and asked if there were any food requests for the big day. Pashka and Kulich- hands down.
I contacted my Mom -who has not made it in years- and she sent me a Recipe from a 1974 Sunset Magazine along with our Oma’s recipe for the Pashka. In reading the Kulich recipe it instructed 45 minutes to knead. My Mother had a great response typed within the recipe she emailed me-- “Good Grief”. A Kitchen Aide Mixer seemed the only solution, but neither my bro nor sis had one. Fortunately, we found a lovely Russian bakery in San Francisco, I ordered, my brother paid and my sister picked it up- successful group effort. This year for my pre-Easter feast with friends I was determined to finally make the family classic myself.
My Oma passed away when I was just 6 years old and while I have memories of her there are just not enough of them. Several of her recipes are so classically a part of my family that it keeps us all connected to her. I blissfully spent the morning thinking of her and the many times she must have made this in her own kitchen.
In the end, using my Kitchen Aide mixer the Kulich seemed to only need about 5 minutes of kneading with the dough hook. I am a slightly nervous baker and had many anxious moments during the making of the Kulich. Give yourself at least 5 hours from the time you are planning to serve it. Mostly because of the rising time, I was a bit rushed and cut a few of the rises short. Plan to make the Pashka the night before as it drains & sets overnight.
Also, please note I am not Russian. My Oma is not Russian. Apparently, just a big fan of Russian sweets. I did not have a coffee tin to bake it in- where do you get those anymore without purchasing dried up old coffee? I bought a couple of paper Panettone Moulds , which did the trick but caused them to be “squattier” than normal as you see in the pictures. Usually they are at least 8 inches high. Next year, I will find better paper moulds.
Despite, the shortness I swear they tasted better than I remember… maybe because of the 8 egg yolks or the fact that they were fresh out of the oven. Either way, I am so happy to add this to my list of recipes and I hope you will try it out too.
Start the night before with….
My Oma' Paskha
2/3 c. butter, room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. sour creaam
28 ounces Ricotta (or 2 lbs dry curd cheese as the original recipe suggests)
1/3 c. raisins –chopped (actually I forgot to chop them- no need)
Zest of 1 orange or 1 T. finely cut citrus peel
1/4 lb. finely chopped blanched almonds or slivered almonds
1 tsp. vanilla
3- 8 oz. pk. cream cheese, room temperature
Optional Decorations: Edible Flowers, Sliced Almonds, Currants, Raisins or other dried fruit
Cheesecloth, Strainer, and an Electric Mixer is helpful.
In a Mixer or large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Over medium heat, whisk together the sour cream and egg until well combined and just hot. Remove from heat to cool, continue to whisk until it has cooled slightly.
Add the ricotta through the soft cream cheese. Beat until well combined. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and place in a bowl. Fill with the Pashka (ours was overfilled) and drain overnight.
The next day, place a plate on top of the Pashka, flip over and peel away the cheesecloth. Decorate the Pashka with various décor, we used sliced almonds to create a flower design.
*Please note, the recipe originally had 2 egg yolks in it. My Mom suggested omitting as they are raw and don’t change the quality of the Pashka dramatically. If you are a raw egg fan or a Pashka purist, feel free to add them when you cream the butter and sugar and let me know how it goes.
Russian Easter Bread
Slightly adapted from Sunset Magazine 1974
1/4 cup milk
1 cup butter -room temperature
3 1/2 c. flour
1 envelope yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
1 Tablespoon vodka or brandy
1/32 tsp. ground saffron or a pinch of threads
1 orange zested with a microplane or ¼ cup of candied orange peel chopped up
½ cup currants
½ cup slivered almonds
1 c. powdered sugar
1 T. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. water or more lemon juice
The initial step was a bit odd for me, but apparently worked well overall.
Combine 1/4 c. milk, 2 T. butter and bring up to boil, stirring constantly. At once dump in 1/4 c. flour. Off the stove stir vigorously until mixture is smooth and paste like. Add the egg and beat well to incorporate. Set aside to cool down and mellow out a bit.
Add the yeast to warm water and stir in 1 teaspoon sugar in a Medium size bowl. Let stand 5 minutes until the yeast has had a tasty snack and is bubbling up and ready to go. If it doesn’t bubble, start over with new yeast, warm water and sugar (yeast may have been too old, water to hot/cold, or maybe the sugar was not tasty enough for those little guys?)
Once the paste-cooked mixture is lukewarm add in the yeast mixture, stir, cover with a lid or towel and let rise for 30 min.
In a Mixer with a whisk attachment, beat remaining butter and sugar with the salt . Slowly add in each egg yolk and combine each well.
Meanwhile, split the vanilla bean and scrap seeds into a bowl, pour in the vodka and saffron. Allow to rest for a few minutes until the saffron has dissolved and released its color. Stir in the orange peel.
Add the Vodka-Vanilla-Saffron into the butter mixture.
Slowly add in the remaining flour about ½ cup at a time until fully incorporated. Add in the yeast mixture. Exchange the whisk attachment for the dough hook and turn it on to about medium-high speed until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl. At this point, toss in the currants and almonds and incorporate.
If not using a mixer, follow the original directions and knead 45 minutes. To quote my Mom—“Good grief.”
Place in a warm place, loosely covered with a moist towel and allow to raise for 2 ½ hours.** Once raised, knead slightly and divide into two.
Place each in the paper molds or in 2 coffee cans lined with parchment and well buttered.
Raise in a warm place for 1 ½ hours.**
Preheat oven to 325. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 300 and bake for 45 more minutes. Cool in the papers or remove from the cans and cool.
Make the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, lemon juice and water. Drizzle on top of the breads, using a fork to make thin streaks on top. Often you will see Kulich adorned with flowers or other such décor.