Kulich is a sweet yeasted cake (bread) served during Easter. Usually these are made as tall loaves with cake-like crumb and texture.
It is a bread, no it is a cake — it is Kulich! Well, that is what I thought when I pored over recipes for Kulich. It is a yeasted cake. I, for one, prefer yeasted cakes to regular ones. The crumb on these is lighter but not on the dry side. Usually, these cakes are soaked in s flavored syrups to keep them from turning dry.
Kulich, on the other hand, does not need extra syrup. It is soft and moist on its own. This has become our latest favorite yeasted cake.
Easter is an especially happy time for the bread baker in me. The days get longer and brighter but still not hot enough for me to worry about the oven heating up the house. What better time to bake brighter, fun loaves! Into this weather add the Easter traditions of creating wonderful, intricate loaves – and I am literally in bread baker heaven.
This time around it is Kulich, the Russian yeasted cake that is literally haven on a platter. Kulich is the “Easter cake” for the believers of Orthodox Christian faith. People of this faith in and around Russia and Eastern European countries make and serve this beautiful loaf during Easter. This bread gets blessed during the Easter service and shared at the family table.
Compared to a regular bread/cake recipe this one is more involved and time-consuming. This is to be expected as it is a traditional celebratory treat. My version is a little pared down one, based on the ingredients that are staples in my pantry. Even then the end result is fantastic.
But there is some good news – the active cooking time is 30 to 45 minutes. So if you do not have 5 hours to spare on a single day, refrigerate the dough as soon as it is formed to slow down the rising time. What is even better, the slow-risen down is more flavorful than the regular one – WIN WIN !!!
To ice or not
Celebrations call for color and pomp, so yes the answer is ‘ of course, yes ‘!. But kulich tastes great without it too, so I leave it up to you. Cover the top with white chocolate ganache or like me go for a lighter lemony icing. If you are looking for a grown-up option give it a light soaking of rum syrup and serve with a few edible flowers. Whatever your choice is, it is going to be a treat.
As traditional recipes go, Kulich also has many variations. Most of the recipes will have some form of dried fruits, usually raisins, or nuts. Some will call for candied citrus peel, chocolate chips or sour cream even. When it comes to decorating the plain sugar icing seems to be common and spring flowers are used to decorate the loaf, marking the season.
These cakes are baked in cans which helps them rise vertically. I have used 6-inch circular pans with 5-inch collars to help the cakes rise without spreading out. But if you have aluminum cans – not coated with plastic, use those to bake these cakes in. If you have popover pans, use it to make lovely mini cakes.
- 4 C All-Purpose Flour
- 2 ¼ Tsp Active Dry Yeast 1 Pkt / 7g
- 1 C Milk Whole
- 3 Eggs Large
- 1 C Butter
- ¾ C Sugar
- 1 Tsp Brandy
- 1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
- ½ Tsp Salt
- ¼ C Raisins Notes
- ¼ C Candied Citrus Peel Optional
- ¼ C Ground Almonds optional
- 2 C Confectioners sugar
- 2-3 Tbsp Lemon Juice
- Warm the milk to 110° F or just warm to touch. Mix in 1 Tbsp sugar and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside for 5 minutes for the yeast to activate.
- Melt the butter (it should be barely warm).
- Use a stand mixer or a spatula for the next steps.
- Place the activated yeast mix in the mixing bowl. Add the eggs one by one to the yeasted milk mixture and beat in. Slowly add the melted butter and sugar. Continue mixing. Add 1C by in batches. Keep stirring until all the flour is absorbed into the mix. Set aside covered for an hour to 2 until the mix looks visibly bulked up.
- Knead in the remaining flour to the sponge in batches until the mix comes together in one large mass. Keep kneading the dough by hand for 2 to 3 minutes or 30 more seconds in the mixer. If kneading by hand, the dough will be a little sticky at first. But as you keep kneading it will pull away from the hand and hold together. Try not to add extra flour.
- Fold in the raisins, peels, and almond. Knead a few more times until all the ingredients seem to have distributed evenly. Bring the dough together into a smooth mass. Cover the bowl tightly with a plastic wrap or wet kitchen towel and let rise for 2 hours or until the dough is more than doubled in volume.
- Use a spatula to stir and deflate the dough. Divide into 2 six inch circular cake tins fitted with tall collars or similar pans (Notes). Lightly cover the tins and set aside for 30 to 45 minutes until the dough has risen by about an inch.
- Place the oven rack in the center. Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Bake the loaves for 30 to 35 minutes until the tops are golden. Since it is an enriched dough the internal temperature should be 190F
- Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool
- Mix the icing sugar with lemon juice to make a loose paste. Spread the paste over the tops of the cooled cake. Scatter the sprinkles on top.
- Use unbleached flour, preferably organic. All purpose flour or bread flour will work in this recipe.
- Use strips of parchment paper stapled/clipped together to make a circular sleeve in the cake pans. You could use panettone molds as well – these are available online.
- You could use metal cans (plastic free) or popover molds or similar to make these as well. When using these reduce the baking time by at least a third and be sure to check.
- Use a mix of dried fruit, nuts and peel. I use ½ C raisins and leave out the almonds and peels.
Important: Values are only estimates. Actuals vary depending on ingredients and serving size.