Easter celebrations may vary between Christian cultures, but when it comes to serving there is usually a cake or a sweet bread at the centre. At Orthodox Christian celebrations in many Slavic countries, a sweet bread called Kulich is the main centrepiece.
Kulich is a tall, fragrant, brioche-style cake infused with raisins or candied citrus fruit. It’s topped with a sugar glaze and sprinkled with colourful sugar decorations.
Traditionally Kulich is baked in tall, cylindrical tins but nowadays you are more likely to see it baked in panettone-like paper forms. In Christianity, the Kulich is a symbol of atonement on the cross by Jesus Christ (the shape of Kulich representing) the dome of the Orthodox church).
Family matriarchs bring their home-baked Kulich to church where a priest blesses it. The blessing ceremony of the food for the Easter table in Orthodox churches is a special experience for the families gathered. Families bring woven baskets, packed to the brim with the food served as part of the first meal after the long and strict lent. In the basket there is always a Kulich, some decorated hard-boiled eggs, Paskha, meat and wine. The priest blesses the food during the main Easter service in the warmth of the candle light and church choir singing. You serve Kulich for breakfast and for dessert during the forty days following Easter until Pentecost.
Kulich is often served alongside Paskha – another quintessential Slavic Easter dish. Pashka is made with tvorog (cow’s curd cheese, somewhat reminiscent of the Italian ricotta), eggs and sugar. It’s enriched with sour cream, butter and often infused with saffron. There are baked and unbaked types of Paskha with hundreds of variations. The basic principle is for the cheese mixture (raw or uncooked) poured into a special pyramid-like mould and allowed to drain overnight. The sides of this mould have the Cyrillic letters “ХБ” on its sides, which stand for “Christ is Risen”. The following day the thickened tvorog is taken out of its mould, revealing the sacred lettering. It’s decorated with nuts and candid fruit and taken to church, together with the Kulich and painted eggs and is consecrated. The Paskha is delicious when spread on a slice of Kulich – especially after the challenging seven week lent!
“Easter was always a special time in our family. The whole family was preparing for Easter – hand-decorating hard-boiled eggs, baking kuliches and decorating them. Whilst the kulich was baking, the whole kitchen was filled with the aroma of the rich brioche dough and the scents of vanilla and lemon.” Nadia Gencas, Founder of Karaway Bakery.
How to bake your own Kulich
For the Kulich (makes 2 small 450g Kulich)
• 355g strong white flour
• 130ml of warm whole milk
• 2 medium eggs at room temperature
• 40g of active dry yeast
• 135g of sugar
• 50g butter melted (if using salted butter, omit the salt)
• 2g of salt
• 1tsp vanilla extract
• 1tsp lemon flavouring
• 100g of raisins or mixed dried fruit (raisins, apricots, candied peel)
• Additional butter for greasing.
For the glaze/icing
• 1 egg white
• 250g (2 cups) icing sugar
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• Sugar sprinkles or any other decorations
Instead of the glaze, the Kulich can be covered with melted white chocolate with sugar sprinkles on top. You will also need 2 cylindrical tins for baking the two kulich. We use standard panettone cases, however, if not available metal tins from canned fruit, decanted and cleaned, can be used.
1. Place the yeast in half a cup of warm milk with half a teaspoon of sugar and let it sit for 10-20 minutes to activate.
2. Once the yeast is activated, place all the ingredients (apart from the raisins or dried fruit) in a mixing bowl and mix until you reach the consistency of sour cream. Add the raisins or the dried fruit at the very end.
3. Cover the dough with cling film and let it rest in a warm place for 3-4 hours. The dough should at least double in volume.
4. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces, shape them into ovals and place them into baking tins (the baking tins need to allow the dough to further double in volume without overspilling). We use panettone cases, however, if not available, you can use two large metal tins from canned fruit – decanted, washed and dried. Grease the tins with butter.
5. Pre-heat the oven at 180-200C at fan setting.
6. Cover the tins with a wet towel and leave in a warm place, allowing the dough double in volume. Depending on the ambient temperature, this may take between 1 and 2.5 hours.
7. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Test with a wooden skewer in the middle to ensure the kulich is fully baked. Let it cool down completely.
9. Beat the icing sugar with egg white and lemon juice until thick but spreadable. Cover the top of the kulich with a mixture and sprinkle with decorations of your choice.
11. Allow the top to dry and enjoy!