During Easter, it is no surprise that families around the world prepare all kinds of savory and sweet dishes to celebrate the end of the fast of Lent and the beginning of Easter. While in Western Europe the Hot Cross Buns are a staple sweet dessert that is loved by a lot of people, in Eastern Europe, especially Russia, Kulich is considered an answer to the Hot Cross Buns. In contrast to the Hot Cross Buns, Kulich or Russian Easter Bread is often baked in cylinder molds which give them a cylindrical shape instead of a dome shape. These cylinders of bread are both delicious and meaningful during Easter time.
As you may know, bread plays a very important role in religious ceremonies like Easter in many different countries around the globe. With that being said, Russia is no exception. During Easter, families in the Eastern Orthodox countries bake a variety of bread to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. In Russia specifically, people bake the semi-sweet, tall, cylinder-shaped kulich to serve on the dinner table alongside Paskha, a traditional Russian fresh cheese pudding. Until this day, the origin of Kulich still remains unknown, but its presence is always a necessity on Eastern European families’ dinner tables during Easter. Kulich is most popular in countries such as Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Serbia, and Latvia. Since this bread has been around forever, many families believe that they have the most perfect delicious kulich recipe. Although the ingredients vary depending on each family’s preference, kulich is still considered a very tasty sweet treat with bright notes of citrus and spices.
Kulich is quite similar to the Italian panettone, in my opinion. It is very close to brioche but baked in cylindrical molds instead of being braided like the Pane di Pasqua from Italy. What I find to be the most interesting fact about kulich is that the bread contains a lot of dried fruits, nuts, and candied citrus peels. Based on my experiences, no matter which country a recipe comes from, as long as it incorporates dried fruits, nuts, and candied citrus fruits or peels inside, it will definitely taste good. The reason for this is simply because these ingredients balance out the sweetness of sugar and the creaminess of cream, eggs, or butter used in the recipe. Last but not least, to make kulich even more appealing to eat, it is often flavored with alcohols like rum or brandy, and spices like vanilla and saffron. As I was researching different kulich recipes, I found an interesting fact about another culture that is surprisingly similar to mine. In order to shape kulich into cylinders, people from Russian often use cans such as coffee cans or fruit tins instead of expensive molds. This is simply because people find it is handy to reuse what they have around the house instead of buying more stuff that you may not use more than once per year.
Aside from the delicious stuffing inside the bread, kulich is often decorated with a white sweet glaze on top and sprinkled with colorful candy bits, nuts, or candied citrus rind. What makes this bread special is the symbols it has on it. Similarly to the Paskha, Kulich is often decorated with letters XB, which stand for Христосъ Воскресе or “Christ is Risen.” The white icing on top of Kulich is believed to represent the church’s rooftop covered in snow. Some people also believed that it represents the priest’s hat. Before Kulich is enjoyed by the family, it will be brought along with Paskha and many other savory foods to the church and be blessed by the priest during midnight services.
If you want to try Kulich and cannot find it anywhere near you, try making it this Easter weekend instead.