Kulich is a Russian and Ukrainian Easter bread, traditional within the Orthodox Christian faith, eaten between Easter and Pentecost, which always occurs seven weeks after Easter day. Kulich is very similar to another regional bread called “Baska.”
This traditional Easter bread is a lightly sweetened, egg-glazed dense bread, much like a cross between brioche and challah. Or perhaps a German stollen or Italian panettone.
Both kulich and baska are traditionally baked in tall cylindrical tin-like coffee cans. When cooled, kulich is decorated with white icing, which drizzles down the sides, and colorful candies and flowers. The cylindrical bread is sliced from the top down.
Historically, kulich is served with cheese paska, an enriched mixture of curd cheese, spices, nuts, dried fruit, and sugar. Molded into a pyramid shape, it is often decorated with the symbol XB (from the traditional Easter greeting of Христос воскресе, “Christ is Risen”).
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 oz yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 cups milk, tepid
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
7 cups flour
1/2 confectioner sugar
1/2 lemon, juice only
Coat a large bowl with oil and set aside. Proof the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water with 1 tablespoon sugar for about 5 minutes. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast mixture, flour, sugar, salt, eggs, butter, vanilla, lemon zest, raisins, and almonds. Mix on low speed until a smooth, elastic dough forms. Add additional flour until the dough pulls away cleanly from the bowl. Transfer dough to the prepared bowl, turning to coat all sides with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel and set dough aside to rise in a warm, draft-free area until it doubles in volume, about an hour.
Shape the loaf: Coat two 8-inch round by 4-inch-deep baking dishes with remaining butter and lightly dust with the 2 tablespoons flour, shaking out any excess. Set aside. Punch down the dough, transfer it to a lightly floured surface, and divide it in half. Shape each half into a ball and place them in the prepared dishes. Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until dough doubles in volume — about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Bake the bread: Beat the remaining egg and lightly brush the top. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and continue to bake until the loaves are golden and sound hollow when tapped — about 40 more minutes. Transfer the finished loaves to a wire rack to cool and decorate.