A time of great joy to Christians around the world which is often celebrated with special dishes of significance. So, in keeping with my personal challenge of baking through A Baker’s Odyssey, this Easter I took on the challenge of baking a traditional Russian Easter Cake, Kulich. The usual accompaniment to this cake is Paskha – a rich cheesecake like spread.
Here begins the baking of the more complicated recipes from my chosen cookbook. Author Greg Patent, tells of his childhood Easter Sunday spent with his father visiting friends and eating. His great pleasure was to sample each and every Kulich and Paskha. These Russian specialities are both rich in eggs and butter symbolising fertility and rebirth. So important to the Russian women who lovingly baked and decorated the Kulich that they would wrap them carefully and carry them to the church where the cakes would be blessed by the priest.
Kulich is a tall sweet Easter cake flavoured with rum and studded with raisins, cherries and almonds. A very festive looking cake topped with white icing that dribbles down the sides. The accompanying Paskha is decorated with cherries and almonds often pressed into specially carved wooded moulds. When released from the mould on one side is a cross and on the other the initials XB meaning Christos voskres! (Christ is risen!).
My challenge began right from the outset when Greg writes, “You will need a clean 2-pound coffee can to make the Kulich”. Yikes, this is Australia. I’m not sure what a 2 pound coffee can looks like. I figure it must be about a kilo of coffee but is that instant coffee or ground coffee? The instant coffee comes in 500 gram cans but ground coffee doesn’t come in cans at all. A quick scan of the supermarket shelves and I spot a malted chocolate drink powder, Milo, in a 1 kilo can and on sale. Mmmm, 1 kilo of Milo? I hope we have cold winter and we all want hot Milo’s! I used a can opener to remove the lip around the top of the can then buttered and lined it with baking paper making sure the baking paper was at least 2 inches (5cm) above the rim.
Baking pan prepared!
Let’s prepare the Kulich!
makes 12 to 16 serves
1/3 cup dark raisins
1/3 cup golden raisins (sultanas)
1/3 cup dark rum
Soak raisins in rum overnight. The next day drain for one hour over a small bowl reserving 2 tablespoons of rum. Transfer the raisins to paper towels.
1/2 cup whole milk
2 2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) rapid rise (instant) yeast
1 large egg, at room temperature
Scald the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat – small bubbles will appear around the edges and steam will rise from the surface. Remove from heat and cool to between 120F and 130F.
Put 2/3 cup flour into a bowl ( I used my stand mixer bowl) add the sugar and yeast. Stir with a wooden spoon and add the hot milk. Beat until smooth. Add the egg and beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then sprinkle over the remaining flour. Cover with plastic wrap.
Let the sponge rise at room temperature for 3 or 4 hours, until the yeast mixture has bubbled up and almost engulfed the flour.
1 large egg, at room temperature
7 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (155grams) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces, at room temperature
1/2 cup glaceed cherries, rinsed, patted dry and halved
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
To make the dough:
I used my stand mixer. So into the stand mixer bowl which contains the sponge add egg, sugar, reserved rum, vanilla and salt. Beat with a flat beater on low speed for about 1 minute to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat 1 1/2 minutes. On low speed incorporate the butter one piece at a time beating until each piece is completely incorporated before adding the next. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes.
Greg says the dough should fee soft as a baby’s bottom, smooth and supple not sticky at all and quite right he is. This dough feels amazing!
Wash and dry the bowl and butter it. Shape the dough into a ball, place it in the bowl and turn it to coat all sides with butter. Cover with plastic wrap and rise at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours or until tripled in volume.
In a small bowl combine the cherries, raisins and flour add in the almonds. Lightly flour a work surface and scrape out the dough on to the work surface. Gently flatten with your hands and sprinkle with the fruit and nut mixture. Roll it up and gently work the fruits and nuts into the dough. Form into a ball. Place it seam side down into the can. This is where I had trouble. Maybe the can was too narrow all I could do was drop the dough in and hope for the best.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours.
About 30 minutes before baking prepare your oven. Adjust the racks so that your can will fit and heat the oven to 400F/200C.
To bake the Kulich, remove the plastic wrap, place the can on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350F/180C and bake for a further 50 to 60 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the can for 20 minutes. I found it was better to lay the can on its side because this cake is very delicate when hot and can collapse onto itself.
After 20 minutes remove it gently from the can and continue to cool on its side rotating from time to time.
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Whisk all ingredients together adding more water or sugar to adjust the consistency. It should be bearly runny. I think mine was a little too runny and thin.
I halved the quantities given in A Baker’s Odyssey because I wasn’t sure we would eat that much Paskha. I’m glad I did because it is rich and even a half quantity was more than enough for us! I will give the quantities as supplied by Greg. I also used all ricotta instead of cottage cheese/ricotta combination because that was easy to find but I will give the quantity for the combination suggested by Greg in A Bakers Odyssey.
12 ounces (about 2 1/3 cups) dry-curd cottage cheese
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2/3 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
3/4 plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 ounces regular cream cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 pound (250g) unsatled butter
Glaceed cherries and almonds for garnish
Silver cashoos for garnish
Line a strainer with a piece of rinsed and wrung out cheesecloth. Drain the cottage cheese and ricotta overnight with a heavy weiught placed on top.
The next day scald the cream as in the Kulich recipe.
Put the egg yolks into a food processor with the sugar and process for 2 minutes scraping the sides of the bowl 2 or 3 times. With the machine running slowly pour in the cream. Return the mixture to the pan and cook ofer low heat until the mixture thickes slightly. Do not allow to boil. It should register 180F/80C on a thermometer. Cool over a pan set into a bowl of iced water until it reaches room temperature.
In a large processor bowl place the drained cheeses, egg yolk mixture, cream cheese and vanilla. Process until smooth. With the machine running add the butter one piece at a time. Process for one minute more until very smooth. If your processor is too small you may have to do this in to lots.
Refrigerate for 2 or 3 hours to set a little.
You will now need a mould. Greg suggests a plastic flower pot to the capacity of 5 cups. As I had halved this quantity I found a plastic take away container which I punched a few holes into the bottom was the perfect size. Line your mould with a rinsed and wrung out cheesecloth.
Take the slightly set Paskha mixture and pour into the mould. Set the mould on a wire rack over a pie plate. Fold the cheesecloth over the cheese mixture and put a weight on top. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
Unmould the paskha and decorate as desired.
To slice the Kulich, cut off the rounded top then slice thin circles. Cut each circle into half circles.
Enjoy with Paskha.
We thought it resembled a Christmas Panettone but with the Paskha the combination was much richer. Delicious!