While reading a neighborhood bulletin board, I stumbled across a post from someone requesting used coffee cans to bake her family’s holiday kulich. Having seen bread baked in cans, yet not being familiar with “kulich”, I did some research and learned that it’s a Russian and Ukrainian yeast bread used to break the fast on Easter. A symbol of atonement, the bread’s shape carries several religions meanings. It’s an interesting and very important bread, and I soon found myself obsessing over can sizes and molds so that I could make a loaf myself.
Kulich is similar to babka, brioche and panettone. It can be baked in a deep cake pan, a panettone mold or in cans. Its high proportion of butter and eggs makes the texture light and rich at the same time, and it tastes good at room temperature or slightly warmed. Traditional spices include cardamom, saffron, and citrus; while add-ins include but are not limited to candied orange, vodka soaked raisins, toasted almonds and chocolate chunks. Like babka, kulich comes in a variety of flavors and the composition of the dough varies from recipe to recipe.
For my first kulich, I chose an interesting recipe with a dough calling for 8 egg yolks with two stiffly beaten whites folded in. The recipe makes two loaves, but I halved it so that I wouldn’t have to use so many yolks. That, plus I wasn’t sure about the blend of spices which in this case were orange, cardamom and vanilla. Cardamom is generally not my favorite, but I was going for a European flavor. For the add-ins, I used rum soaked raisins, chocolate chunks and almonds. Unfortunately, I could not find any candied orange or “citron” (it’s usually only around during Christmas until they put it on clearance in February and it finally disappears), but I figured the orange zest would do the trick.
I’ve made this twice. The first time I used a panettone mold and the second time I made smaller loaves using two 29 oz pumpkin cans. I left off the icing thinking the chocolate would keep it sweet and because I like to warm these types of bread in the toaster before serving. I love icing, but don’t miss it at all. However, it is traditional so you may want to add it.
So now our freezer is full of kulich and I’m looking for a Russian friend to do a taste test. The spice blend I’d worried about turned out great, and the egg yolks gave the bread a slightly yellow hue, stiff texture and lovely flavor. I’m not sure what the beaten egg white did, but Bernard Clayton uses that same technique in his French bread, so I imagine it added volume or increased air pockets during baking. As for the chocolate, I don’t regret using that at all! It melted throughout the dough and made the bread completely dessert worthy.
Given how much time kulich takes, you might want to just make the full recipe from About.com. However, if you only have 4 yolks to spare and are interested in a different blend of spices, here’s my version.
- 1/4 cup warm milk
- 2 tablespoons warm water
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 to 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 large egg yolks (reserve 1 egg white)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (halve if using salted butter)
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1/3 cup golden raisins soaked in rum
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon warm water
- In a large glass measuring cup or bowl, combine water and milk and heat in the microwave until hot. Stick a thermometer in the liquid and let cool to 110 degrees, then add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the yeast. Stir well, then stir in ½ cup of the flour. Cover and let stand in a warm place for 1 hour.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until creamy, then beat in the egg yolks until well blended.
- Beat in the salt, vanilla, cardamom and orange zest, then add the flour/yeast mixture.
- Add the remaining 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups of flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a soft dough. It will be very sticky.
- At this point, grab a handheld mixer and beat the reserved egg white until stiff. Fold it into the dough.
- Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes. The dough will be very soft with just a bit of elasticity.
- Transfer to a well-oiled bowl and let rise for about 90 minutes. Dough may not quite double in size, but it should rise substantially.
- Punch down dough and add the drained raisins, chocolate and almonds, folding dough around the add-ins the best you can to make a ball.
- Put the ball of dough in a panettone mold (5 inch base, 4 inch high sides) and let it rise for another hour. Alternatively, you can use two 29 oz cans lined with parchment to make two stumpier but still nice loaves.
- Set the mold (or molds) on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Bake the kulich for about 40-45 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted measures 205 F. Let cool completely.