kulich recipe history culture origin

Kulich baked and presented in a traditional setting.

Kulich: Mystical Slavic Easter Bread

Published: April 1, 2023

Kulich (Кулич) is a lightly sweet, yeast-risen bread baked with considerable amounts of egg and butter. It may also contain raisins, almonds, candied or dried fruit, lemon zest, and various spices including cardamom and even saffron depending on the recipe and personal preferences. It is a tall, cylindrical-shaped bread with a rounded top, and it is often decorated with icing or sugar and colorful sprinkles.

Central to Easter celebrations in Orthodox Christian traditions, kulich is enjoyed in most countries in Russia, Ukraine, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and throughout former USSR.

How It Got Its Name

(Почему он носит такое название?)

The name “kulich” originated from the Greek word “kollix,” which means “a loaf of bread.”

The top of each loaf is called a “корона” or a “crown.” It is usually topped with a powdered-sugar frosting which is allowed to drizzle down the sides of the cake. The spikes created are vaguely reminiscent of Christ’s crown of thorns.

The letters “ХВ” also traditionally top the cake. They stand for “Христос воскрес,” or “Christ is risen,” the traditional greeting among Russians at Easter. The response to this greeting is “Воистину воскрес.”

When and How to Eat Kulich

Как правильно есть кулич?

Kulich is traditionally eaten only on Easter. It is usually placed together with “писанки” (Easter eggs – also called пасхальные яйца) and served together with “пасха,” a very rich desert made from thick cottage cheese, dried fruits, nuts, butter, and more. Before consuming, all three items are traditionally placed in a single basket and taken to a priest to be blessed on the Saturday service before Easter Sunday. That Saturday is by far the busiest for Orthodox churches in Eurasia. It is said that the shape of the kulich represents the tomb of Christ, while the white color of the bread symbolizes his purity and resurrection.

Although today heavily associated with Easter and Christianity, the tradition of making kulich in spring dates back to ancient times when Slavic peoples celebrated the rebirth of nature. In Russian mythology, the goddess of spring and fertility, Lada, is said to have baked kulich as a symbol of the renewal of life. Similarly, in Ukrainian mythology, the goddess of fertility and harvest, Marzanna, is said to have baked kulich and other traditional foods to celebrate the arrival of spring.

The kulich is generally cut like a normal cake – into wedges by slicing it directly from top to bottom. However, there is a particular traditional method to carving a loaf of kulich: first, the crown is cut off, and then the loaf is sliced horizontally and then cut in wedges to be distributed to members of the family. The crown can then be placed back on top, keeping the aesthetic appeal of the loaf and preserving its moistness. In this manner, at each breakfast during the Easter Week, a small piece of the cake is eaten.

At Easter breakfast, when the Lenten fast is broken, the head of the household divides the blessed Easter eggs between all members of the household, and does the same thing with the kulich and paskha. Each portion is said to contain happiness for the upcoming year.

Paskha is an excellent accompaniment to the kulich as, by itself, the bread is very usually rather dry and a bit tasteless. The paskha adds flavor and fat when spread on the bread.

kulich recipe history culture origin
Kulich, paskha, and Easter eggs.
Photo source Photo source

It should also be mentioned that in some ways, the answer to the question “how do you properly eat a kulich?”, is that you don’t. Thought to have a range of mystical properties, often several kulich will be baked for Easter celebrations. At least one is meant to be consumed by the family. However, others might be baked to give to the local priest as a tithing, others might be baked to be fed to farm animals to ensure their health and virility, still others might be baked and left in a traditional “красный угол,” or “red/beautiful corner,” which is where Russian houses traditionally kept icons, in honor of dead relatives.

How to Prepare Kulich

(Как правильно готовить кулич?)

Kulich can take different shapes, but is usually round and tall. Special forms are sold called “бумажные формы для кулича” (paper forms for kulich) and those baking at home will generally use them. Baking kulich was one of the most important ceremonial Easter duties for the woman of the house, as the fate of the family was seen by some as depending upon it. Russians in particular have traditionally been a dramatic and superstitious people, and this applied even to the baking of a kulich. It was said that “если кулич хорошо поднялся и вышел ладный, то в семье будет все хорошо. А если тесто в печи не подошло или растрескалась корка, надо ждать несчастья.” (If the kulich rises well and is formed nicely, it means that the family will be alright. But if the dough does not rise in the oven, or if the kulich crust cracks, then expect disaster.)

The “crown” is traditionally frosted with a thick, powdered sugar glaze, which is allowed to drip down the side. However, it might also be topped with a chocolate glaze or not topped at all. In fact, in some peasant households in Russia, the top was often not glazed, but rather was simply marked by cutting a cross into the dough as it baked, similar to English hot cross buns.

kulich recipe history culture origin
The top of a kulich is often decorated with the Cyrillic letters “ХВ” which stand for “Христос Воскрес.” This translates as “Christ is Risen.”

Baking kulich is a time consuming process, requiring time for the dough to rise at various points; the classic kulich was typically prepared a few days before Easter. While many Russians today continue to bake kulich from their traditional family recipes, some save time by using quick-rising yeast.

Many other Russians simply place orders at their local bakery or, perhaps most commonly, simply buy one of the vast variety of kulich that appear at grocery stores and even roadside stands during the Easter season. At most stores in Moscow, one can find everything from cheap, locally produced kulich to imported Italian panettone, which is similar enough to the kulich that it is often eaten as a substitute for it.

In any case, the kulich is an ancient Russian tradition that still plays a strong role in Russian culture today. This Easter, try to make one yourself!

Let’s Cook!

Давай приготовим!

Кулич “Оригинальный” “Original” Kulich 
Ингредиенты
  • Изюм, орехи, цукаты – 50 г
  • Ванилин – 2 г
  • Масло сливочное несолёное – 150 г
  • Соль поваренная – 3 г
  • Дрожжи – 50 г
  • Яйца куриные – 4 шт.
  • Молоко – 400 г
  • Мука пшеничная – 1000 г
  • Цедра лимона – 20 г
  • Шоколад молочный – 100 г
  • Какао порошок – 50 г
  • Сахар – 20 г

Приготовление

  1. Развести в тёплом молоке дрожжи, добавить 1/2 муки, всё перемешать и поставить в тёплое место.
  2. Яичные желтки растереть добела с сахаром и ванилином. Когда дрожжевая смесь увеличиться в 2 раза, перемешать смеси вместе. Добавить растопленное масло, цедру лимона, взбитые в пену белки. Oставшуюся муку, вымесить тесто, поставить в тёплое место.
  3. Когда тесто поднимется, то в него добавить промытый и высушенный изюм, орехи, цукаты, и какао-порошок. Xорошо перемешать.
  4. На дно кастрюли положить кусок промасленной бумаги. Заполнить кастрюлю тестом на 3/4. Верх теста смазать яйцом. Затем поставить форму с куличом в духовку, не очень горячую. Выпекать при 150-180 градусах около 50-60 минут.
  5. Готовый кулич вынуть из духовки переложить на блюдо, и снять бумагу. Верх кулича посыпать сахарной пудрой, сверху украсьте любимыми орешками и цукатами.
Ingredients
  • Raisins, nuts, candied fruit – 50 grams
  • Vanillin powder (may be substituted with vanilla extract) – 2 grams
  • Unsalted Butter – 150 grams
  • Salt – 3 grams
  • Yeast (cake) – 50 grams
  • Eggs – 4
  • Milk – 400 grams
  • Sifted wheat flour – 1000 grams
  • Lemon zest – 20 grams
  • Milk chocolate – 100 grams
  • Cocoa powder – 50 grams
  • Sugar – 20 grams

Preparation

  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm milk, add 1/2 of the sifted flour, mix well and put in a warm place.
  2. Mix the egg yolks with sugar and vanilla. When the yeast mixture has expanded to two times its original volume, combine the two mixtures. Add in the melted butter, lemon zest, and mix. Add the remaining flour, knead the dough, and place it in a warm place.
  3. After the dough rises, add washed and dried raisins, nuts, candied fruit, and cocoa powder. Mix well.
  4. At the bottom of the pan, place a piece of wax-paper. Fill 3/4ths of the pan with dough. Glaze the top of the dough with egg. Then, place the кулич dough in the oven, which is not too hot. Bake at 150-180 degrees Celsius (302-356°F), for about 50-60 minutes.
  5. Remove the baked кулич from the oven, extricate from the dish, and remove the wax-paper. Sprinkle the top of the кулич with powdered sugar, and garnish with your favorite nuts and candied fruits.

Our Favorite Videos about Kulich

Make a kulich with Russian celebrity chef Alexander Seleznev! For those interested in learning more about paskha, Alexander can help you out there too!

This 9-minute video by “Готовим Дома” (Gotovim doma) shows a simple, quiet, step-by-step guide on how to prepare kulich. It takes you through the process of preparing the dough and baking kulich. Learn Russian cooking verbs (наливать, перемешать, накрывать, печь, и т.д.) while seeing the action on video. This recipe is particularly long, but it also offers baking tips and suggestions, and allows you to observe the texture of the batter at every stage in the process. The original recipe can be found on the website of “Готовим Домаhere.

Сливочное масло? Растительное масло? Маргарин?” (Butter? Vegetable oil? Margarine?) As with many popular holiday fares, for which each family has its own recipe, it all boils down the personal preferences. This is a clip on kulich and the Easter celebrations from the Russian program “Вкусная Еда” (Delicious food).

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About the author

Eugenia Goh

Eugenia Goh is an international studies major at the University of Denver. She studied for a semester with SRAS in Kyrgyzstan on our Central Asian Studies course before transferring to Moscow to study for another semester on our Russian Studies Abroad course.

View all posts by: Eugenia Goh

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson

Josh lived in Moscow from 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian with SRAS, until 2022. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Internship Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik. He has previously served as Communications Director to Bellerage Alinga and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

View all posts by: Josh Wilson