I know most families eat Ham for Easter dinner, but for most of my childhood it was my Russian grandfather’s Shashlik (my brother shared the recipe for that family tradition here). I can still hear my grandfather’s baritone voice humming songs from Fiddler on the Roof as he tended the old coal barbecue in my grandparents’ backyard. Our Russian heritage was a big part of our Easter celebration, and the only thing anticipated more than the shashlik each year was my FAVORITE part of the holiday meal: Russian Easter bread (or Kulich).
Easter bread is a soft yeast bread flavored with saffron and lemon. The saffron gives it a lovely–and springtime appropriate–yellow hue, and the lemon brightens up the slightly sweet flavor to create an incredibly delicious bread. Since I made it on Tuesday, we’ve been eating it for breakfast, snacks, and as a side dish with dinner, and no one is complaining.
It’s traditionally made in a cylindrical tin (like a coffee can), but my family always just used regular bread pans (my mom said the coffee tins were too difficult to work with). It also is traditionally glazed with icing, but we enjoy ours simply, with butter and occasionally honey or fresh jam.
The only ingredients in the recipe that may not already be in your cupboard are lemon extract (or oil) and saffron. Lemon is no problem to pick up at the grocery store, and while may grocery stores do carry saffron, it’s usually pretty expensive there. Don’t let this deter you from making this recipe though. World Market and Trader Joe’s both carry it, and at a much lower price, so it’s really not that hard to find. You don’t need much, and it will last from year to year if you don’t use all of what you buy. And trust me, you’ll want to make this bread every Easter from now on.
So, if you have an empty space in your Easter menu plan (or even if you don’t…you can always cross off the vegetables, right?), try out this bread. Maybe even hum Fiddler on the Roof while it’s baking.
Happy Easter, everyone!
Russian Easter Bread (Kulich)
- 1 tsp. saffron
- 1/4 cup boiling water
- 4 1/2 tsp. (or 2 packages) dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1 tsp. lemon extract or oil (oil has a stronger flavor, so maybe use 1/2 tsp.)
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp salt
- 6 cups flour
- Place saffron threads in a small jar. Pour in boiling water. Cover and let steep for 10 minutes. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, dissolve sugar and dry yeast in warm water. Let rest for 5 minutes. add melted butter, lemon flavoring, eggs, and salt.
- Pour liquid from saffron through a fine mesh strainer into the large bowl as well. Mix until a uniform batter is formed.
- Add flour two cups at a time, until you have a soft dough.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes, until smooth and elastic.
- Place in a lightly oiled bowl, and flip dough over so that the top of the dough gets oiled as well. Let rise for about an hour, or until doubled.
- Punch down and shape dough into two loaves. Place in greased and floured pans. Cover and let rise another 30-45 minutes, then bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, watching carefully. If the loaves brown too quickly, cover with foil for the last few minutes of baking time. When they are golden brown on top and sound hollow when tapped, remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Slice and serve with butter.
Source: My mom, who based it on a recipe from her Russian grandmother
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