Icon of Easter
Because Russian Orthodox Easter falls on the same day this year (2010) as the Western Easter, it seems appropriate to include recipes for Russia’s most well-known Easter sweets: Kulich, a tall puffy “baba” or sweet-bread cousin to Italian Panettone (maybe with phallic overtones and fertility in mind?) and Paskha, a cheesecake-like dairy-rich concoction eaten with Kulich.
Blessing the Easter Food
In the darkness of midnight, you hurry to the church, carrying your baskets filled with Kulich, Paskha, and brightly decorated eggs, seeking the blessing of the priest. As the flame from the single candle lights one candle after another, flame-fed shadows flickering across the stern faces of the icons nestled in the small chapels surrounding the nave, you wonder, you think … of what? Your child’s gaunt face, your own? Thankfulness that the long, dreary fast was about to end, smelling the tempting aromas seeping out from under the worn cloth covering the basket? Visualizing heaven, which in that moment could only be food, and lots of it? Hope?
This version of the typical Russian Easter bread recipe comes from The Baking Pan:
¼ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
½ cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees)
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup candied orange peel, finely chopped
2 T. rum
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 t. salt
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
3½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
2 t. freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ t. pure almond extract
2 to 3 t. water
2 T. slivered almonds
Tip: Use a citrus juicer for freshly squeezed juice. Use standard measuring cups and spoons or scales for accurate measuring.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine warm water, warm milk, sugar, and yeast; stir until yeast is dissolved. Let stand until mixture is foamy, about 10 minutes. Add flour, stir until mixture is smooth. Cover bowl and let sponge rise is a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
In a small bowl, combine raisins, candied orange peel, and rum. Set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together butter and sugar. Add eggs and egg yolks; beat until thoroughly mixed. Add sponge mixture, cardamom, salt, and vanilla; stir until well mixed. Add fruit and rum mixture, and almonds, stir until mixed. Add 2 cups flour; stir until well mixed. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured pastry mat or pastry board; knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, adding additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time if dough is too sticky.
Place dough in a well greased bowl; lightly grease the top of the dough. Cover bowl with a small kitchen towel and let dough rise is a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
Prepare one 2-pound coffee can. Wrap a doubled sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil around the top of the can to extend the height 2 to 3 inches; generously grease the pan with shortening.
Tip: In place of a coffee can, use any tall cylindrical baking pan, or a 6 or 7 inch diameter soufflé dish, or a 6½ inch paper panettone mold, wrapping with aluminum foil to extend the height.
Punch risen dough down then turn onto a lightly floured pastry mat or pastry board. Knead dough briefly, 4 to 5 times. Form the dough into a ball and place in the prepared pan. Cover and let dough rise is a warm place until doubled in size or until it just reaches the top of the pan, 2 to 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake 80 to 90 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Cover with a sheet of foil about halfway through the baking time if the surface begins to brown too quickly. Remove pan from oven, and cool on a wire cooling rack for 10 minutes then remove Kulich from the pan and finish cooling on wire rack.
Tip: Use an instant-read thermometer to test your bread for doneness. The temperature should be between 200 and 210 degrees F.
Lemon Glaze and Garnish:
In a small mixing bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, almond extract and 2 teaspoons water and stir until smooth. Add additional teaspoon of water if needed to make a good drizzling consistency. The glaze should be like a soft icing, but thin enough that it will run down over the sides of the bread.
Drizzle glaze over the bread, allowing the glaze to drip down the sides. Decorate the top with slivered almonds. Let the glaze set before serving.
PASKHA (from Arthur Schwartz)
Mr. Schwartz includes hard-cooked egg yolks in his recipe, which I find to be a good thing, considering that most traditional recipes call for uncooked eggs. (He adapted this from a recipe in Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table). Since we all know what happens if you eat the wrong raw egg …
Russians scoop their traditional Paskha into square wooden molds.
2 pounds homemade cottage cheese or farmer’s cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into pieces
6 large hard-cooked egg yolks, crumbled
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
3/4 cup ground almonds
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 t.lemon extract
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 large vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 cup golden raisins
Chopped candied fruit for decoration
In a large bowl, combine the cottage cheese or farmer’s cheese, sugar, cream cheese, and egg yolks, stirring to mix.
In two batches, process the mixture in a food processor, adding an equal amount of cream to each batch, until completely smooth. Transfer back to the bowl.
Stir in the ground almonds, lemon zest, lemon extract, and vanilla extract. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and them to the cheese mixture along with the raisins. Mix thoroughly.
Easter midnight service, Elokhovskaya cathedral in Moscow
Line a clean, unused 8-cup flower pot with a double layer of rinsed and squeezed dry cheesecloth. Spoon the mixture into the lined pot, then fold the ends of the cheesecloth neatly over the top. Place a saucer on the cheesecloth, then a 2-pound weight, such as a can, on the saucer. Put the flower pot in a bowl large enough for the liquid to drain into. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
Empty the bowl. Unmold the Paskha onto a serving plate and carefully remove the cheesecloth Decorate with candied fruit, pressing some of the fruit into the Paskha to form the letters XB, if desired.
© 2010 C. Bertelsen