Easter: Part I

April 15th this year was Russian Orthodox Easter. And we got to be in Moscow. It was a tremendous blessing really, especially since last year we were in Jerusalem. Two years in a row spending Easter somewhere meaningful – Jerusalem because that’s were everything happened, and Moscow because you are celebrating with a good chunk of the city/country.

I do have to admit that it was still a little sad to be away from Burlingame, where I grew up. Every priest kid (PK) will say this because being where your dad is serving on Easter is always special. I shouldn’t really say that Burlingame is the best place to be on Easter, but…let’s be honest, it is. When we got married the fine print stated that since I was moving to New Jersey every Easter would be spent in California (life permitting). I was happy to make an exception for Jerusalem and Moscow.

Last year we were staying in a hotel so I couldn’t make the traditional Easter fare – Kulich (Easter bread) and Sirnaya Pascha (a caloric bomb of happiness made with farmer’s cheese and lots of sugar and eggs – kind of similar to cheesecake filling). This year, abroad but equipped with a kitchen, I didn’t want to miss out. I actually had never made sirnaya pascha before so why not now when I have access to all sorts of brands of farmer’s cheese just steps out my front door (back home it’s not always easy to find the right kind). It would be very silly and careless of me to miss out on this opportunity. Especially since special sirnaya pascha forms were also on sale at the grocery store. I mean, we just don’t get that in the States. What kind of born-and-raised-in-America-but-considers-herself-Russian-so-please-stop-offering-me-the-English-menu Russian would I be if I didn’t do it? Even if here you can also buy ready made kulich in almost every store, and even on the street!

For the kulich I used a simple recipe that my mom gave me the first year that I baked them on my own. That first year, I had my electric stand mixer mixing the dough as I cleaned up. Everything felt like a breeze. And there was only one dough rising. I know some people follow recipes that require several dough risings and strenuous attention to detail. I felt guilty that I was gliding across my kitchen in ease as I imagined in other kitchens there were women/men biting their nails in anxiety, sweating in overly heated houses and locking their kids in closests so as not to disturb the dough. Oh the horror those children must have felt when a ball they were secretly playing with went rolling down the stairs. In the end my kulich were only ok. The next year I used a more complicated recipe and again my kulich were only ok. Despite my mom’s culinary fame in parishes across the USA, Canada and beyond, she too has a kulich achilles heel. So I feel ok about it. This year was no different.

I decided to use that simple recipe since my results are basically the same. The recipe involves making a sponge by dissolving about 2 packets of yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm milk adding 1 cup of flour, a tablespoon of sugar and letting that rise until it’s bubbly (about 30min). Then you beat 12 egg yolks and 2 egg whites until light and creamy, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, some fresh vanilla, saffron that has been steeped in vodka or brandy, and lemon zest. Next add the sponge, 2 sticks of melted butter, and 2 lbs of flour.

I only have measuring spoons for measuring out ingredients according to American recipes. I used to psych myself out and re-count 7 cups of an ingredient, afraid I messed up the amount. Now I have to count out 16 tablespoons for each cup…it can get a little confusing. I bought a measuring cup here, but of course it’s marked with grams. Which is a little annoying, because it only has sugar and flour on it really. So it would be better to have a kitchen scale. I have been managing with the conversions though – no serious mishaps yet (knock on wood)!

Knead/mix the dough until it doesn’t stick anymore. I grew up in an age I will call BSM – Before Stand Mixer. Kneading the kulich dough with my mom was a crazy job. We would have a huge tub of dough balancing on a kitchen bar stool, the furniture around us dusted in flour, my sister, mom and I taking turns dunking our hands in the super sticky mass. When you tried pulling your hands out, the tub would lift up off the stool. It was messy and time consuming, but it was fun. When the stand mixer came, everything changed – except the kitchen was still covered in flour (This was a Pavlenko kitchen, afterall). That’s why when I first did this recipe on my own it was also so easy, having the mixer work on the dough while you prepare the next steps or wipe up the layer of flour on your counters. But I look back fondly on bonding over a tub of sticky kulich dough. I bought a hand mixer this year to help out. It came with dough hooks so I was pretty confident. Well, I killed it. RIP hand mixer.

At this point you can add raisins too, but I really prefer kulich without them. Just like I don’t like raisins in my zhavoranki. Andrei likes raisins in kulich. Same situation goes for sirnaya pascha too – Andrei is for, I am against. I think spring time for us should just be called The Raisin Troubles. Sometimes I will do part of the kulich batch with raisins to be a better wife, but this year I didn’t.

…Divide the dough into your kulich forms (about 1/3 of the way up). Now, in the States we usually use old food/coffee cans lined with parchment paper or foil. The new kulich trend that is quickly spreading across Russian Orthodox America is to use glass beakers – the chemistry kind that can withstand high heat. These are great because you just have to grease the beakers, you can see the dough through them, and they make smooth edges (I plan to do this the next year I bake kulich at home). With aluminum you have those ripples which will sometimes bake into the side of the kulich. Some reporter one time did a piece on Orthodox Easter traditions and tried to explain a special meaning for the ripples in the sides of the kulich. Unfortunately, he was mistaken. The only things those ripples represent is how many bowls of tomato soup or cups of coffee that family had to get through before they had a working kulich form.

Anyway, I bought kulich forms in Ashan – because I can! 🙂 Greased and floured them, divided the dough into them and then covered them in a makeshift kulich incubator by a heater and let them rise for about an hour and a half. And they did rise so that was very exciting.

 Then you bake them at 350F for about 45 minutes to an hour. I overbaked mine a little. They still came out good, but a bit dry and crumby (as in it would fall apart into crumbs, not crummy, as in they sucked). They weren’t as dense as most kulich. But we are still happily eating leftovers so I think we’re ok.

To decorate, I usually just make a quick royal icing with powdered sugar, a bit of lemon juice and some water. Then pour it on the kulich and add sprinkles. For some reason my royal icing was coming out way too thin. I really think it was the sugar and not me, but who knows :). I went out once to get more sugar and try again, but then I gave up. So we had glazed kulich instead of iced. I like the big gold sprinkles I found.

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9 Responses to “Easter: Part I”

  1. Those are so beautiful! Really impressive too – I adore your tins…

    • Thanks! And thanks very much for stopping by the blog. You have a great concept as well – although sometimes I am ok with spending extra on something really special 😉

  2. Very impressed with your kulichi!!! LOVE your blog!

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