Kulich and Paskha, Russian Dessert Duo for Orthodox Easter

Russian Cuisine - Kulich and PaskhaTwo and a half years after publishing my recipe for baked paskha (one of my first blog entries!), I finally posted my kulich last week. So you can now prepare the two traditional Russian desserts for Orthodox Easter — or any other day you feel like having them, of course.

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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.

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Happy Paskha!

Paskha, the Orthodox Easter, usually falls on a different day from its Christian counterpart, because its computation is still based on the Julian calendar. I realize I don’t have many Paskha-themed recipes, and almost no new ones since last year, but here it comes:

Roasted Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Uzbek Plov

Why not give a Central Asian twist to your Easter lamb roast this weekend? I took my Uzbek plov recipe, made some small changes,  and stuffed it into a leg of lamb. The resulting rice is soaked in meat juices, absolutely phenomenal!

The proportions are somewhat approximate, as the weight of the lamb roast and the way you pound it will make a difference in the amount of rice you need. Resist to the temptation to over-stuff the meat, as this will just make the whole roast impossible to handle. Just reheat the remaining plov and serve it as a side. Actually, if you want to have enough rice as a side for everyone, you can double the proportions of plov below.

Uzbek plov
Yields about 12 servings

4 oz bomba rice
4 oz green peas
salt
1 1/2 oz rendered lamb fat
4 oz onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp ground star anise
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground piment d’espelette
4 oz carrot, julienned
4 oz celery root, julienned
16 oz lamb stock
1/2 oz butter

  • Rinse the rice under running water, then place into a bowl and cover with hot water. Reserve.
  • Blanch the green peas in salted boiling water until soft, then shock in ice water, drain and reserve.
  • Melt half of the lamb fat in a wok, add the onions, season with salt and cook over high heat until brown. Stir in the garlic, ground star anise, cumin, and piment d’espelette. Add the rest of the fat, the carrot and celery root, and cook until soft and golden brown, stirring regularly.
  • Add the rice, half of the lamb stock and some more salt without stirring. Cook over high heat until the liquid is fully absorbed. Add the rest of the stock, lower the heat to medium and simmer until the liquid is almost completely gone. Mix in the green peas, rectify the seasoning, turn off the heat, cover with a lid, and let stand for about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter, let cool and reserve.

Roasted leg of lamb stuffed with Uzbek plov
Yields about 12 servings

1 boneless leg of lamb (about 6 lb)
salt
black pepper, ground
Uzbek plov
olive oil

  • Untie the leg of lamb (if it is tied), and lay it between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat pounder, flatten the meat until it is about 1 1/2″ thick and vaguely shaped like a rectangle. Discard the plastic wrap, and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the plov in the middle, and roll into a log; do not overfill. Tie the roast with butcher’s twine, brush with olive oil, and place into an oven dish.
  • Cook in a 325 F oven for an hour, then lower the temperature to the 250 F and pour some water into the dish. Finish cooking to the desired doneness, checking the internal temperature with a thermometer. For a medium rare roast, cook to an internal temperature of 120 F — the temperature will climb to about 135 F after resting.
  • Remove from the oven and let rest 30 minutes before carving.

Baked Paskha

Paskha is a traditional dessert made of tvorog and shaped like a truncated pyramid. Culinary writer William Pokhlebkin notes that the cost of the dish used to mean that simple people could only afford it about once a year, and chose to time it for the end of the Lenten fast in the orthodox faith — in fact, the very name paskha comes from the name of Paskha, the Orthodox Easter! However, nowadays it is prepared at any time of the year regardless of the religious holidays.

Paskhas can be raw, cooked like a custard, or baked. In addition to the tvorog, they can contain cream, butter, eggs, sugar, nuts and dried fruits. The raw ones rely on whipped cream to hold their shape, while the cooked ones use egg yolks. Anything not baked is shaped using a wooden mold called pasotchnitsa.

I chose to make a baked paskha, similar to a very light cheesecake. I also prefer not to use nuts or fruits inside the paskha and instead add them later as elements that will complete the plated dessert. In order to keep the traditional shape but make individual portions, I am using a pyramid silicon mold: each pyramid measures 2.75″ length x 2.75″ width x 1.5″ high and contains 2.5 fl. oz.

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