Kulich, Russian Panettone

Once again, Orthodox Easter came and went, and I didn’t have the time to finish my kulich recipe on time. At least now I’ll have it ready for next year!

A kulich is a kind of Easter bread, somewhat similar to a panettone, but usually denser. Just as with panettone, you’ll find many different recipes with varying degrees of richness. On one end of the spectrum, the more bigoted recipes consider it sacrilegious to have too much of a good thing, and therefore result in something that’s still close to plain bread and pretty dry. On the other end, the better recipes from the most reputable sources tend to resort to common tricks for achieving sinful dessert decadence: push the amount of butter to stratospheric levels, and liberally add more egg yolks, more sugar, more fruits.

Russian Cuisine - Kulich

My rendition belongs, of course, to the latter category. It distinguishes itself by the variety of dried and candied fruits I’ve chosen, to reflect the diversity found on Russian markets, and by the use of saffron, in accordance with traditional kulich recipes that recommend the use of a dominant spice (other possibilities include cardamon and cloves). I also serve it with a rum-raisin crème anglaise.

The recipe makes about 12 servings, which is a lot. The main reason is that it’s difficult to prepare the sponge in smaller amounts. You could, however, make the sponge in the proportions below, and then use only part of it and scale down the other steps.

Each kulich easily serves 2 (6 kuliches, 12 servings). I guess you could make smaller ones, and just reduce the cooking time — it’s mostly a question of personal preference and ring mold availability.

Sponge mixture
Yields 12 servings

3 oz milk
1/4 tsp saffron threads
0.16 oz active dry yeast
1.4 oz dark brown sugar
3.5 oz bread flour

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a boil. Remove from the heat, mix in the saffron threads, and let cool to 100 F (a higher temperature will kill the yeast).
  • Stir the yeast and sugar into the milk mixture, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Sift the flour into the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment. Pour the milk mixture, and mix on low speed until homogeneous, scraping the bowl with a spatula a couple of times. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise for 4 hours — saffron seems to slow down the rising process.

Candied citrus peels
Yields slightly over 12 servings

1 1/2 navel oranges, cut in half vertically
1/2 pink grapefruit, cut in half vertically
6 oz water
10.5 oz sugar

  • Peel the citrus halves in one piece. Cut peels into 1/4″ x 3″ strips. Weigh 1.5 oz of orange peel and 1.5 oz of grapefruit peel, and discard the rest.
  • Blanch all the citrus peel in boiling water for 7 minutes. Drain and repeat two more times.
  • In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar to 230 F, stirring constantly. Add the citrus peel, cover, and simmer over low heat for 60 minutes.
  • Drain the citrus peel, and let cool on a rack for 30 minutes.

Kulich
Yields 12 servings

3.2 oz candied citrus peels
2.3 oz dried cranberries
2.3 oz dried cherries, halved
1.8 oz dark rum
6.3 oz butter, room temperature, plus some for the molds
1.5 oz sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
7.2 oz bread flour, sifted
1.4 oz almond flour, sifted
0.2 oz salt
1 oz active dry yeast
sponge mixture

  • Place the citrus peels, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and rum in a small saucepan. Cover with a lid, and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Let cool.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugar on medium speed.
  • Beat the eggs and egg yolks in a separate container, and mix the bread flour, almond flour, and salt in another container.
  • Add the yeast and about 1/3 of the egg mixture into the mixer bowl and whisk on low speed, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Still on low speed, mix in about 1/3 of the flour mixture, then another 1/3 of the eggs followed by 1/3 of the flour. Scrape down the bowl and paddle, and mix the last 1/3 of the eggs and flour successively.
  • Add the sponge mixture, beat on low speed for 2 minutes, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Scrape down the bowl and paddle attachment again, add the fruit mix, then beat the dough on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  • Generously grease six 3″ diameter ring molds with butter, and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 5.5 oz balls, and place one in each mold — you might have a little bit of dough left over. Cover each mold with plastic wrap, and let rise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the dough has about tripled in volume.
  • Bake in a 350 F for about 30 minutes, until the internal temperature of the cakes reaches 195 F in the center. Transfer to a cooling rack, and let cool.
  • Serve at room temperature.

Russian Cuisine - KulichRum-raisin crème anglaise
Yields 12 servings

19.5 oz milk
1.3 oz dark rum
3.7 oz golden raisins
7 1/2 egg yolks
3.5 oz sugar

  • Place the milk, rum, and raisins in a saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat, and let steep for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to a blender, and process until smooth.
  • Return to the saucepan, and bring back to a simmer.
  • Mix the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the bowl, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula.
  • Return the custard to the saucepan, and cook over very low heat, still stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until the mixture coats the back of the spatula.
  • Pass the custard through a chinois into a bowl, and place the bowl to cool in an ice bath.
  • Serve cold with the kulich.