Sunday, April 5, 2009

Kulich: Russian Easter Bread

Kulich, is a Russian Easter Bread that is usually made with a baba dough, but with more sugar, and added candied peel, almonds, raisins, and saffron. The top is iced and decorated, usually with Cyrillic letters standing for 'Christ is risen'.

"Traditionally during the Easter service, the kulich, which has been put into a basket and decorated with colorful flowers, is blessed by the priest. Leftover kulich that isn't blessed is eaten with Paskha for dessert. Blessed kulich is eaten before breakfast each day. It is baked in tall, cylindrical tins (like coffee or fruit juice tins), and when cooled is decorated with white icing (which is slightly drizzled down the sides), colorful flowers, and XB (the traditional Easter greeting of Христос воскресе, "Christ is Risen") is decorated on the side. Kulich is only eaten during the 40 days after Paskha (Easter) until Pentecost."
 ---This information is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Kulich"

According to Peter Reinhart, Dresden stollen, Milan panettone, Russian kulich, and English hot cross buns can all be made from this same multipurpose holiday bread formula. The difference is in the way the bread is shaped, baked and decorated.

For this version, we'll use the master formula and add dried apricots, almonds, and golden raisins rather than the candied peel and saffron. Then, we'll drizzle the top of the baked bread with a powdered sugar glaze and decorate it with colored sprinkles.


All-Purpose Holiday Bread

Adapted from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

Makes: 1 very large loaf, several small loaves, or up to 24 hot cross buns

This formula utilizes a sponge. The sponge is similar to a poolish except it is made with buttermilk. Although you can use other types of milk, buttermilk gives the dough the best flavor.

Note:
After 1 hour of fermentation, you can retard the dough for up to 24 hours.

Ingredients:


Sponge:

  • 3/4 cup (3.5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons (0.25 ounce) instant yeast
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk, at room temperature

Dough:

  • 4 1/3 cups (19.5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
  • 1/3 cup (2.25 ounces) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (0.25 ounce) salt
  • 5 large eggs (8 ounces), cold
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 11.75 ounces sponge; use all

Additional Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup rum or orange juice concentrate
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sliced almonds or walnuts
  • 1/4 cup multicolored candy sprinkles
  • Cooking spray


Directions:

To make the sponge:

Stir together the flour and yeast in a mixing bowl. Then stir in the buttermilk and mix till smooth. Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, till very bubbly.


Soak the dried fruit in rum and/or vanilla in a bowl while the sponge is developing.



To make the dough:

Combine all the other dough ingredients and the sponge in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Mix the dough on slow speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 5 minutes.

Add the fruit and nut mixture and mix for an additional 2 minutes, or until the dough is soft and tacky. Add water if the dough is too stiff or flour if it is too sticky.

Spray the dough with cooking spray, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes. The dough should increases in size by 1 1/2 times.




Forming the Kulich:

This formula makes one large kulich. Generously spray the inside of a clean coffee can or other can with cooking spray. To make a large kulich, you will need a 2-pound coffee can. You can also use smaller cans, such as tuna fish cans to make a bunch of cute baby kulich's if you prefer. Fill each can slightly more than halfway with a ball of dough. Let the dough rise till it comes just above the rim of the can.




The dough may take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to rise enough, depending on the warmth of the room.
I used a 2-pound coffee can. It was a little chilly so it took about 4 hours for the dough to rise.


Baking the Kulich:

Bake the loaf at 325°F till the top begins to brown, 20 to 40 minutes depending on the size. The bread will have crowned above the can and mushroomed slightly over the edge.

The dough that is exposed will bake much faster than the rest of the loaf, so cover the top with aluminum foil and continue to bake it for about 15 minutes longer, till the center reaches 185°F. Turn off the oven and allow it to bake another 5 minutes.




Allow the kulich to cool in the can for about 10 minutes. When it is no longer hot but still warm to the touch, carefully remove the loaf, taking care not to separate the crown from the base (tap the sides of the can if necessary). Cool on rack.



Decorate the crown with lemon or orange sugar glaze (recipe follows), and sprinkle golden raisins, chopped dried apricots, sliced almonds, and/or colorful candy sprinkles into the glaze as it drips down the side of the loaf. Use golden-colored fruit to symbolize Christ's resurrection.


Making the sugar glaze:

Whisk together 1 cup sifted confectioner's sugar and 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons hot water into a paste that is thick but still can be drizzled on the bread. You can also add a few drops of lemon, orange, vanilla, or almond extract. A thinner sugar glaze can be brushed on by adding a little corn syrup and a few drops of milk.


Some people like to drizzle the glaze from a fork in streaky little lines. Others prefer to brush it on with a pastry brush to coat the whole piece.




Why don’t I have a photo of the finished bread? 

Well, you win some and you lose some. My loaf would not come out of the pan. It seems that using a coffee can is not as foolproof as other methods. I'll have to investigate further and let you know how to avoid the same fate. In the meantime, I have some yummy crumbs and broken pieces of bread that taste really good, but don't make such a pretty picture.

Note: I found a solution to the problem of the loaf sticking in the coffee can after it is baked. You have to get rid of the rim at the top.  To do this, I removed the bottom of the pan using a can opener, then I let the bottom fall to the top so that it was resting on the rim (which was now at the bottom).  If you decide to try this method, please be careful of the rough edges.


Happy Baking!
Cathy

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