Prep 1 hr
Cook 4 hrs 30 mins
Today, in Russia, there are Easter rituals that one must adhere to in order to have a successful Easter. The first priority, of course, is the egg painting, but the second Easter priority, and the most anxiety ridden of all, is the kulich. This is the tall, spectacular Easter coffee cake which should be sinfully rich and feather light at the same time. To achieve this difficult combination, the Easter cook might use up to 30 eggs, a pound of butter, and as many as three risings for the flavorful yeast dough. Once the kulich is tucked away in the oven, all door slamming, sneezing, and loud chattering in the vicinity is strictly forbidden for fear of a collapsed cake and a ruined Easter. All you are allowed to do while the kulich is baking is sit quietly, take in the aroma, and count the hours before you can sample the kulich. This was particularly astounding to me, an American, to be invited into a Russian home for the Easter rituals and be told to be quiet! But once I realized what was transpiring, I found this to be the most relaxing time I spent in Russia! Ah! The aromas!!!
- 1⁄2 cup milk
- 1 1⁄2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 1⁄2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted twice
- 1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
- 1⁄3 cup water, lukewarm (105 to 115 degrees F)
- 9 large egg yolks
- 1 cup sugar
- 1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
- 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons Cointreau liqueur
- 2 tablespoons brandy
- 1 orange, juice and zest of, grated
- 1 1⁄2 large vanilla beans, split lengthwise
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
- 1⁄2 cup golden raisin
- 1⁄2 cup almonds, finely chopped
- 1⁄2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 large egg white
- In a medium sized saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and add the honey and oil, stirring until the honey is dissolved.
- Gradually add ½ cup of the flour, beating until the mixture is completely smooth. Cool to lukewarm.
- In a large bowl, add the yeast to the water, stir, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
- Add the milk and flour mixture to the yeast and stir until smooth. Cover with a linen or cotton kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the sponge doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.
- In a second large bowl, beat the egg yolks and the sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the nutmeg, cardamom, vanilla extract, Cointreau, brandy, orange zest and orange juice and beat for a few more seconds.
- Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla beans and add them to the yolk mixture. Add the butter, raisins, almonds, and almond extract.
- With a clean, dry beater, beat the egg white until it forms soft peaks and fold it into the egg yolk mixture.
- Combine the yolk mixture with the risen sponge and mix gently, but thoroughly. Using an electric mixer, gradually beat in the remaining 4 cups flour until you have a very smooth, loose dough. Transfer the dough to a clean, well greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 ½ hours.
- Cut two 1 ½ inch strips of parchment paper, each long enough to be molded down one side, then across the bottom and up the opposite side of a clean 2 pound coffee tin. The ends should extend above the top of the tin. Butter the tin and the strips, then set them into the tin crisscross to each other. Fold the ends over the outside of the tin.
- Punch the dough down and place it in the tin. Let rise again, covered, until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
- While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Bake the kulich until it is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool slightly, then carefully lift the kulich from the tin by pulling up on the ends of the parchment strips. Remove the parchment and let the kulich cool on a rack.