Traditional Russian Easter cake
Kulich is a traditional Russian Easter dish, popular also among Orthodox people. This is an authentic recipe.
200 ml whole milk
25 g fresh yeast
450 – 500 g flour
200 ml sugar
4 egg yolks
3 – 4 egg whites
100 g almonds + some for garnishing
¼ tsp salt
150 g butter
(1 tsp vanilla sugar)
pinch of saffron threads
½ – 1 tbsp vodka
Mix saffron with vodka and let stand, preferably overnight. The aroma and colour of saffron will dissolve into the vodka. Bring the milk, eggs and butter to room temperature. Scald, peel, dry and finely grate the almonds.
Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm milk. Add 200 ml flour, mix and let rise in a warm place. The batter will start to “bubble” during rising.
Beat the egg yolks, 150 millilitres of sugar and vanilla sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat the egg whites until stiff, add the rest of the sugar (50 ml) while beating.
When the bubbly surface of the batter starts to descend, add the salt, the yolk mixture, the egg whites, the strained vodka, the grated almonds and the softened butter. Add enough flour to get a batter much thinner than regular yeast dough. The batter must not be too thick or hard (see figure 1 below).
Line the bottom and sides of a tall, cylindrical cake mould with (buttered) parchment paper. You will probably need at least two moulds. If you do not have a mould tall enough (about 15 – 20 cm), you can use any regular, large soufflé mould and line it with parchment paper so that the paper forms a tall rim above the mould (the way it is done in figures 2 and 3).
Fill ¼ of the moulds with the batter (see figure 2), cover with plastic or a towel and let the batter rise until it fills ¾ of the moulds (see figure 3). Garnish the batter surface with blanched whole almonds (see figure 3) and bake at 175 °C for about 40 minutes. Watch the surface while baking. If it is getting very dark, cover it with foil to prevent it from burning. The kulichi are done, when a cake tester/toothpick inserted in the middle of them comes out clean.
Let the kulichi cool down in their moulds and then very carefully take them out and put on a wire rack. When kulichi are cool and firm, carefully slice them crosswise into disks, cut to wedges and serve spread with paskha (see the pictures below).
In picture on right: paskha on a slice of kulich.
Cutting and slicing of kulich
|Cut off the top||Cut kulich in
|Cut slices in wedges|
Storing of kulich
|Place the top back on and wrap in plastic|
Paskha — pronounced [PAHS-khuh] — is a traditional Russian Easter dish, a kind of sweet cheese mould. It is made of quark , egg yolks, sugar, butter and smetana or cream and flavoured with vanilla.
The ingredients are mixed together — sometimes cooked — and poured into a special wooden or plastic pyramid-shaped paskha mould lined with cheesecloth (see picture below). The mould is placed in cold for the mixture to set before unmoulding. Paskha is eaten spread on a slice of traditional sweet yeast bread kulich.
Sometimes paskha can be flavoured with chocolate, nuts, raisins, candied citrus peel or dried fruit, although a “real”, authentic paskha never contains these flavourings.
During the great Easter fast of the Orthodox church, it is forbidden to eat meat, eggs, butter or other dairy products.
On Easter Sunday, when the fast has ended, it is again allowed to eat these “forbidden” ingredients and this is why many of the Russian Easter dishes contain lots of eggs, butter, cream etc. In old agrarian society, making paskha was a way of using up all the eggs and dairy products that had piled up during the fast.
RUSSIAN EASTER PASKHA
There are many variations to this basic paskha recipe, some of them adding various extra flavourings in the mixture, like chopped almonds or nuts, raisins, fresh, canned or candied fruit, cocoa, chocolate etc.
However, recipes like those are deeply frowned upon by most Finnish families with old Russian and Orthodox heritage, including mine. Mixed in the dish, the nuts feel like pebbles and the fruit and bloated raisins (yuck!) like unpleasant, slimy lumps, ruining the smooth, creamy texture and the delicate taste of paskha.
500 g firm quark
2 egg yolks
200 g sugar
4 tsp vanilla sugar *)
200 g unsalted butter
Preferably use quark with a high fat content (about 7 – 15 %). Wrap the quark in cheesecloth, hang it over the sink or a bowl and strain for several hours at cool room temperature — or overnight in the refrigerator — so that the extra liquid (whey) comes out, making the quark firmer. This is an important step, especially if you are using a soft and watery Finnish-type quark. (The whey may be used as liquid in making bread dough, pancakes or other batters.)
Melt the butter and let it cool down thoroughly. Stir the drained quark until smooth. Mix the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla sugar with the quark. Beat the mixture with an electric mixer to make it very fluffy and smooth. Add the melted, cooled butter in the mixture, beating thoroughly. It is very important to let the butter cool before adding it in the mixture, otherwise it will cause the other ingredients to melt, making the mixture too runny. To give the paskha an even softer taste, some whipped cream may be folded into the mixture as well.
After thoroughly mixed, pour the mixture into a special pyramid-shaped paskha-mould lined with a layer of thin, clean cheesecloth dampened with boiling water (see pictures below). In lack of a traditional paskha-mould, you can use some other suitable dish — a fine round or conical strainer lined with cheesecloth, for example. Cover the top with cheesecloth and place a light weight on.
Fill the lined mould
with quark mixture
Place a light
weight on top
Place the paskha-mould in refrigerator for overnight, letting the extra liquid run out into a bowl underneath the mould (see pictures above). The longer you strain the quark in advance, the less liquid will come out of the final paskha, resulting in a firmer, more even-shaped dessert.
On the next day, uncover the paskha mould and place a serving platter on top of it. Holding the platter firmly against the mould, turn the mould and the platter upside down. Open the mould and carefully remove it, letting the paskha slide on the platter. Gently peel off the cheesecloth from the surface.
Store the unmoulded paskha in refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. It will keep for a few days. Paskha is traditionally served spread thickly on a slice of kulich – a special Russian Easter cake.
In picture on right: paskha on a slice of kulich.
Note: instead of kulich, you may serve Italian panettone bread or some other rich, soft and flavourful sweet yeast bread with paskha.
*) Never use vanilla extracts or essences to flavour paskha. Because the essences are made by steeping vanilla pods in alcohol, they always give a strong, bitter taste of alcohol to the paskha mixture, overpowering the very delicate taste of sweetened quark.
The quality of the essence/extract has no significance, even the best products will ruin the dish.