Kulich Easter Bread

Kulich, a traditional Russian Easter bread, is a tall column of buttery, slightly sweet bread filled with fruit. The texture is feathery, not soft like a cinnamon roll. Lightly spiced, with a hint of orange (and if you choose, a touch of cognac, brandy, or rum), this recipe is certain to become a family favorite.

In Russia, the kulich is taken to church to be blessed after the Easter service; it’s that important!  Some believe the iced, domed top is supposed to represent a snow-covered orthodox church. (It snowed a lot on my kulich. I may have gotten carried away with the icing this time.) It’s also traditionally decorated with flowers on top, which is a stunning presentation for Easter.

Have you ever eaten Panettone? Kulich is very similar. Some people like to add chopped almonds, but I prefer to just use fruit.

I’ve made a few changes; and I bought paper panettone molds—which made the whole process so much easier. There are very nice nonstick molds available too. They’re on my wish list! You can also use coffee cans that are lined with buttered parchment.

This will take a while to make, but requires very little hands-on effort. It’s a rich dough and rises three times, with a total of six to ten hours of rise time. Plan to hang around the the house the day before Easter so you can monitor the dough as it progresses from sponge to dough to masterpiece. While it’s doing its thing you can dye eggs, eat chocolates, run to the store, and go about your business.

Easter Kulich
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Start this project in the morning. The bread is very slow to rise! Makes two tall loaves or three shorter loaves.
Ingredients
  • SPONGE:
  • 1 cup very warm milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 packages active-dry yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • BREAD:
  • 1 cup raisins
  • ½ cup currants or chopped dried fruit
  • ⅓ cup cognac (or brandy, rum, or orange juice)
  • 2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup butter, melted
  • Zest from one orange
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups bread flour (a little more if necessary)
  • ½ cup candied citrus peel, chopped
  • FROSTING:
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoon orange or lemon juice
  • Milk to thin the frosting if necessary
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl (a stand mixer is recommended), combine the warm milk and sugar. Add the yeast and let it sit for 2–3 minutes. Add the egg and mix well.
  2. Add 1 cup of the flour and beat for 1 minute. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of flour over the yeast mixture. Do not stir! Cover and let the sponge sit for 2–3 hours. The yeast mixture will rise and cover most of the flour.
  3. While the sponge is rising, combine the raisins, dried fruit, and alcohol (or orange juice) in a small bowl. Cover.
  4. When the sponge has risen (expect to see pockets of flour) add the eggs and egg yolks to the sponge and mix well.
  5. Add sugar and mix well.
  6. Add the melted butter gradually, until completely incorporated.Switch to a dough hook if you're using a stand mixer.
  7. Add the orange zest, cardamom, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and 2 cups flour. Mix well.
  8. Gradually add remaining cup of flour.
  9. Drain alcohol from raisins. (Don't waste it - it's wonderful in coffee!) Add drained raisins and candied citrus to dough.
  10. Knead by machine for 5 minutes (or by hand 7-8 minutes). Dough should come cleanly away from the sides of the bowl, but should still be soft and slightly sticky. If it is too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
  11. Place dough in greased bowl and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled. This will take several hours.
  12. If you are not using disposable panettone molds, prepare pans. Line the bottoms and sides of two or three (depending on the height you want) 1-pound coffee cans with buttered parchment paper. You can also use large ramekins, with heavy foil wrapped around the outside to add height.
  13. Place molds on a baking sheet. Divide dough in half for two taller loaves, or into thirds for three shorter ones. Form into smooth balls and place into prepared molds. Press gently with fingers to flatten the tops slightly; this will keep them nice and even when they bake. Cover and allow to rise until the dough gets close to the top of the molds. This can take 3-5 hours!
  14. Heat oven to 350 F.
  15. Cover molds lightly with foil and bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle of the dough comes out clean. Remove foil if a darker top is desired. Depending on the size of your pans, baking time can be 45–60 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Lay them on their side on the rack for 10–15 minutes, rolling gently every few minutes. Slide kulich out of the cans or molds and cool on the rack, rolling once or twice to avoid flat sides.
  16. When cool, combine the powdered sugar, lemon or orange juice, and enough milk to make a frosting that will ooze slowly over the sides of the kulich when the top is frosted. Frost the tops and decorate with flowers, nuts, raisins, or sprinkles.

Once the sponge has absorbed most of the flour (this will take 2-3 hours), add eggs and beat well.

Beat in the sugar.

Gradually add the butter.

Add orange zest, spices, vanilla, and 2 cups of flour. Beat well. Gradually add remaining 1 cup of flour until dough comes cleanly away from sides of bowl.

Add drained raisins and candied fruit. Knead by machine 5 minutes or by hand 7-8 minutes.

Place in greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled, 2-3 hours.

Place dough in three molds for shorter kulich, or two molds for taller ones. You guessed it . . . let them rise a loooooong time. 3-5 hours. Then bake!

Wishing you a joyous Easter!

Lorinda

 

 

Chocolate Shortbread Bird Nests

These crisp chocolate shortbread nests are filled with ganache and pretty blue eggs, a perfect treat to place by each plate on your Easter table.

You’ll be surprised by how easy and fun these are to make—a great project for the whole family. They’re a little fragile after they’ve been baked, so if your littles are . . . well . . . little, you may want to supervise the filling and egg placement. To make the process even easier, you can always use canned frosting instead of making ganache.

Chocolate Shortbread Bird Nests
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Makes about 4 dozen
Ingredients
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons coffee or milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • GANACHE:
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (I used mini-chips)
  • Small candy eggs
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl (a stand mixture is recommended) beat the butter, shortening, and powdered sugar together until creamy.
  2. Add egg yolk and coffee (or milk) and mix well.
  3. Add flour, cocoa powder, salt, and cornstarch. Beat well. Be patient - it may take a few minutes before the mixture comes together.
  4. Divide into two parts and chill for 1 hour.
  5. Heat oven to 350 F.
  6. Lightly spray mini cupcake pan with baking spray (an oil/flour mixture).
  7. On floured surface roll half of the dough out approximately ⅛-inch thick. To keep the cookies similar in size, cut out 3-inch rounds (or squares). Using a thin spatula or bench scraper, chop one piece into thin strips. Lift the strips into a cavity of prepared pan, loosely surrounding the sides. Leave a few stray pieces sticking out of the top. Place a scrap of dough into the bottom of the cup if needed and press gently. Repeat with all of the remaining dough.
  8. Bake approximately 8-9 minutes. Allow cookies to cool for several minutes, then gently lift each out of the pan and place on a cooling rack. Once cooled the cookies should be fairly crisp. If not, add another minute to the remaining cookies.
  9. GANACHE: Heat heavy cream until it's steamy. Remove from heat, add chocolate and let it sit for 3-4 minutes. Stir well.
  10. Add a dollop of ganache to the bottom of each nest and decorate with small candy eggs.

Chop fine strips to create nesting material.

Loosely arrange shortbread strips in prepared cups. Bake!

Hint: Once they’ve cooled a bit, try putting something lightweight but stiff (cardboard, a flexible cutting board, etc.) over the top and then flipping the whole works over. It’s easier than lifting each one out of the pan.

So simple. Even the ganache is easy to make. Hope you’ll try this!

Lorinda