Kulich [also known as Babka Wielkanocna] is a cross between an eggy yeast bread and a cake. The texture is on the dry side and the finished product is a bit crumbly. Using a 2-pound coffee can as the baking pan produces the traditional stove-pipe shape. But, I have also seen it baked in round tins with a hole in the middle.
On Sunday night I had pre-measured all the ingredients; the chemistry experiment began Monday evening. I was so enthusiastic about baking my Kulich this year and showing off for this blog, that I even bought fresh yeast and threw out the heretofore reliable giant sized package that has been in the freezer forever.
Hubris! I should have kept the old yeast. I should have listened to the little voice in my head that said: the yeast you mixed with the lukewarm water has not bubbled up, don’t use it; try this small step again. Bah! I decided that the voice in my head was interfering with my schedule. I ignored my subconscious and followed through with the recipe. Disaster! As for the re-do, this year I'm having Katia's Russian Tea Room in San Francisco send the official treat via FedEx.
My recipe (adapted from Grandmother’s, which used a dozen egg yolks) has worked for years [see photo above]. It works, that is, when I go about things the right way.
2 envelopes active dry yeast (= 4½ tsp.)
½ cup warm water (110º F)
1½ cups lukewarm milk
1 cup butter, melted & cooled
4 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. orange-flavored liqueur (optional)
Grated zest of 2 oranges (optional)
Grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)
8 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups golden raisins
½ cup slivered almonds, chopped
Place yeast in a large mixing bowl and pour warm water over it. Stir with a spoon to break up the yeast. Add a tablespoon of the sugar, stir and let it sit about 5 minutes during which time the yeast will bubble up. Stir in salt, sugar, milk, butter and eggs, mix well. Add almonds, raisins, zest, vanilla. Beat vigorously until well mixed. Add the flour gradually; then knead 10 minutes at medium to low speed with your electric mixer’s the bread hook attachment [or double that time if you want to knead by hand and need an upper-arm workout]. The batter will be heavy, smooth, shiny, and somewhat sticky. Put the dough in a large bowl prayed with cooking spray; cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rise until doubled I bulk, about 1 hour. While dough is rising, butter and flour two 2-pound coffee cans. Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 2 minutes [by hand this time, no other choice]. Divide the dough in half and transfer the halves to the prepared cans. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise to the top of pan. Bake in a pre-heated 325º F degree oven until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped, about 1 hour. [Optional: before baking, beat an egg, and brush the top of the dough; this will assure a very deep golden top.] Turn out the baked Kulich onto a cooling rack so bread does not stick to the pan.
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup cold water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
In a small bowl, combine the confectioners sugar, water and lemon juice,
and beat with a spoon until it is smooth. Pour the icing slowly over the top
of the warm cake. Allow it to run down the sides. Sprinkle with colorful sugar balls called nonpareils.