No, I don’t have any Russian relatives, friends, not even an acquaintance… pity. But last Saturday I attended an excellent course on Easter breads at La Cocina de Babette, an alternative cooking school in Madrid. We prepared Russian kulich, British hot cross buns and Jewish challah. We had a grand time, though we did work hard. Making three leavened breads in just one day is quite an effort!
The course was taught by Paul Merry, an Australian baker based in England, owner of a baking school in Dorset (my dream life…). And baking side by side with a professional, you always «absorb» some expertise… at least that’s what I like to believe. Kulich is a typical leavened sweet bread eaten at Orthodox households on the Easter Vigil. This Merry man knows this bread at first hand, as one of his aunts is married to a Russian. According to Tatiana M. Maslenikof, owner of the Russian restaurant El Cosaco, in Madrid:
On Holy Saturday, during the day, it can be quite hectic at a Russian home while preparing for the grand night. Children paint eggs and mark them with the letters X. B., the initials of Xristos Boscrecie (Christ is risen). The housewife has already been preparing the various dishes for several days, among them the traditional desserts paskha and kulich; the first one need to be pressed under some weight for two days… Fish is forgotten and hams, piglets, poultry and lamb take over the kitchens.
It’s time for a general house cleaning and for adorning every corner with flowers. The table is covered with a white tablecloth and the colourful delicacies are laid on it.
I wonder about the age this is describing… I doubt this would be possible under the communist rule. I found this sweet bread is something in between stollen and brioche, with a soft inside and bursting with almonds and dried fruit. I loved to learn how to prepare it, as I had been eyeing the recipe in Tatiana’s book for ages, but never had the guts to make it. The kulich recipe in the book is slightly different, with a lot more egg yolks. I’ll try it some time. The main problem here in Spain is the bread shape. It’s almost impossible to find a commercial mold with that height ratio (double height than width), so at the school we used empty tomato cans, scrubbed clean and lined with parchment paper.
Kulich according to Paul Merry
Makes 2 medium-sized kulich
- 150ml milk
- 250g bread flour
- 10g fresh baker’s yeast
Mix everything, cover and leave to ferment overnight at ambient temperature.
- 150ml milk
- 100g bread flour
- 30g fresh baker’s yeast
The next day, mix the ingredients together and then add to the first sponge. Leave it to ferment for an hour, until the surface is bubbly.
- 650g bread flour
- 1 pinch salt
- 50ml vodka
- 100ml honey
- 100g vanilla sugar
- 250g butter, at ambient temperature
- 4 eggs
- 150g sultanas
- 100g raisins
- 1 tsp saffron threads
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 50g candied peel
- 100g blanched almonds
- 15-20 cardamom pods
- While the second sponge is rising, prepare the rest of the ingredients. First put the saffron to soak in the vodka. Coarsely chop the almonds and zest the lemons. Cut the candied peel in small pieces. Open the cardamom pods and grind the seeds in a mortar or coffee grinder.
- Mix all the liquid ingredients, which must be at ambient temperature. Warm up the honey if needed to make it more fluid. Add the vodka with the saffron and the eggs. Mix the liquids with the second sponge and then add the rest of the flour, the salt and the ground cardamom.
- Knead thoroughly till you have a homogeneous and smooth dough. Then add the butter cut in chunks. Knead to incorporate the butter.
- Once the gluten has developed, add the raisins, sultanas, almonds, lemon zest and candied peel. Distribute them evenly.
- Form the dough into a ball, then place it into an oiled bowl and leave to double in bulk (around an hour).
- Prepare the molds in the meantime. Line the inside with parchment paper, cut a circle for the bottom and a large strip for the sides. Let the paper extend over the tin edge as needed if the tin is not tall enough. Use double paper if you like.
- When the dough has doubled, divide it in two; then loosely shape each portion into a cylinder that can be inserted into the mold. Let it carefully fall inside and press it a little bit to fill all the gaps. The tin should be half full approximately.
- Leave to proof again, loosely covered in plastic so that the dough has place to rise 3-4cm above the tin or paper edge.
- Heat the oven to 170-180 ºC. Then bake for around 40 minutes. Check for doneness with a wooden skewer. If the kulich tops brown too quickly, cover them with foil.
- When they’re done, take them out and leave to rest in the mold for 15 minutes. Then carefully tip the molds onto a wire rack and extract them from the mold in a horizontal position. Put them in an upright position and check that they’re set enough to stand (otherwise they would need some more time in the oven).
- You can optionally ice them with a mixture of water and sugar once they’ve cooled.
Eating kulich is a wonderful way to celebrate Easter… though that doesn’t mean we won’t be making Spanish torrijas this year, no, no, no. We are gluttonous…
I’m sending this Easter bread to Susan’s YeastSpotting.