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.
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.
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!
|Кулич “Оригинальный”||“Original” Kulich|
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 Дома” here.
“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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