The first time I saw a Kulich was in Boston. My boyfriend’s mother was Russian and her mother brought over a Kulich at Easter. Nobody seemed too interested in eating it so I never got to taste it.
Ten years later I had a different Russian American boyfriend who kept raving about Kulich. His mother would send it to him at Easter and he would savor every bite. He would heat it and spread butter on it. I thought it was dry and not that interesting.
Ten years later I was living in Moscow, Russia, and submerged into the people and the culture. I had discovered Russian bakeries and the variety of Kulich available there. It had grown on me. I now looked forward to Easter and picking out the best Kulich I could find. I loved to bake and cook but I never had the courage to make a Kulich. It seemed to me it should be produced by a grandmother in order for it to be really good.
Back in the USA, I toyed with the idea of making Kulich. I missed it. And then I discovered a Russian store in the area. In the beginning they sold the cakes made by local grandmothers. Now they sell mass produced packaged Kulich made in Brooklyn. It’s not quite the same. I may have to break out and make my own after all.
This year Russian Orthodox Easter falls on April 15. They still adhere to the old Julian calendar so everything is later. When I lived in Moscow, we celebrated the “Western” Christmas on Dec 25, New Year’s on January 1, and then the Epiphany on January 6, then two weeks later was Russian Orthodox, Christmas, then the old New Year, and finally the Russian Orthodox Epiphany. It was a month of non stop celebrating. And then a lot of recuperating.
Traditionally Russian families will spend Easter morning at the cemetery cleaning the graves of debris that has gathered over the winter. They will place flowers on the graves or even plant them. People sprinkle bread and boiled egg over the graves. It is a time for families to be together and to retell stories about each other.
From the cemetery they usually congregate at somebody’s house for a large meal lasting several hours. The meal more than likely will end with Kulich and paskha a sweet cream cheese.
Kulich is a cross between a bread and a cake. It has a lot of eggs and usually some raisins and can have other dried fruit in it. It is always round and should be placed upright on the table. It is sliced in rounds, across the cake, the top being taken off to be saved and then put back, like a lid, on the part that remains. Some of the fancier ones have a glaze frosting on top that drips down the sides.
People in the US can use old coffee tins to bake in or any round tin with an open top and closed bottom will do. You can use regular cake pans but you should try to somehow build up the sides so it has some height.
2 cups scalded milk
¼ cup sugar
2 packages yeast
3 cups flour
Cool milk to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast and sugar in milk. Add flour and beat well. Set covered bowl in warm place until bubbly and very light (about 1 hr).
½ cup melted butter, cooled
2 ½ cups flour
1 cup raisins
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Beat the eggs well with the sugar and salt. Add to the sponge which has been rising. Add flour and knead well. Knead in raisins. Let rise until light.
Knead down and shape into loaves. If you are using coffee cans, be careful not to use too much dough. Let it rise again. This makes 2 large (larger than a coffee can) loaves, although the size depends on how much you let it rise.
Brush top with glaze of 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 ½ tablespoons water (optional).
Bake in 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Tap and listen for hollow sound to test for readiness.
Cool 5 minutes on rack then remove rom pan and continue cooling on rack.
To glaze: Mix confectioner’s sugar with water until it is a paste and pour it over the top, letting it drizzle down the sides. Sprinkle slivered almonds or candy sprinkles over the glaze.