Updated: Apr 21, 2022
A colorful custom in the Eastern Orthodox Church is the blessing of Easter foods.
This tradition has been preserved by every generation of the Carpatho-Ukrainian Orthodox people whose ancestors emigrated from the providence of Hungary. Later, this region became the eastern part of Czechoslovakia after World War 1. Adjoining countries to this region, as well as the Soviet Union States, have adopted this tradition. In some churches within the U.S., the ornately decorated baskets and food items are assembled with great pride and a frenzy of anticipation of the agape feast following Divine Liturgy on Easter Sunday morning. To this day, each family prepares a basket, which contains food that is significant to them. The basket usually has a ribbon tied to the handle and an embroidered linen cloth is placed on top. A decorated candle is placed in the basket and lit at the time of the blessing. The basket is brought to be blessed after Saturday Midnight Resurrection service or after Easter Sunday morning Divine Liturgy, whichever takes place in the very early morning hours (3-4am). The star of this basket that takes extra attention in its preparation is the Easter Bread called Paskha or Kulich (depending on the region where people come from).
What is Paskha (Kulich)?
It's a traditional Easter brioche style bread in the Orthodox religion. It is consumed in many orthodox countries for the Easter feast. This bread is always in the center of the basket that is going to be blessed. Every orthodox family makes this bread carefully and mindfully because it takes much effort, but it is well worth it.
Paskha (Kulich) is always prepared in advance during Holy Week, usually on Thursday and its preparation creates a special atmosphere of serenity and spirituality in the house. Also, I have to mention every day during Holy week is special, but not every day is suitable to make this bread. We take very seriously as to when, where and how to make this bread.
What do I need to make this bread?
During Great Lent orthodox people avoid consuming dairy, eggs, meat and fish. This upcoming feast is so special that people carefully only choose the best quality ingredients.
Flour - all-purpose unbleached is ok to use but even better if you can get your hands on Canadian flour. The higher protein content is better, so look for 11-13% of protein.
Eggs - with bright egg yolks is ideal for this bread.
Milk - whole milk only, the higher fat content in the milk the better.
Butter - grass-fed butter only, European style, with fat content 82% or more, no great Lakes type butter.
Raisins - or your favorite dried fruit, dry tart cherries are wonderful as well.
Sugar - raw organic cane sugar.
Spices - vanilla bean or extract is what my mom used but I like to extend this list with a few more spices like saffron, cardamom, nutmeg and orange zest.
Orange - orange zest is what we really need and the juice for I use it to hydrate my raisins. It's totally optional but something magical happens, in my opinion, when orange zest, saffron and vanilla mix together. The aroma will make you smile, I promise.
Pan - yes, well worth mentioning, because the shape does matter. Usually, it's a cylinder looking pan, I like this kind for a big Paskha and this one for a small. But if you can't get these special paper pans, use the old-fashioned can, like from tomatoes or other products.
What to do with leftovers of Easter bread?
Paskha is so special that it is usually consumed as it is. Due to the high fat content this bread stays fresh for a while. Another unique thing about this Easter bread is its moistness for it's not very crumbly like Panettone. Again, this is due to Paskha's high fat content.
However, if you end up with leftovers, make French toast, because it makes the best French toast.
Let's do it...
Prep time: 10 minutes
Waiting time: 2 hours and 20 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 3 hours
Author: Inna of innichkachef.com
Yield: 2 large, or 4 mediums
Ingredients for the sponge
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 packet dry yeast
200 ml. whole milk, warm
Ingredients for the dough
5 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of butter
150 ml. whole milk
1 cup cane sugar
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1 cup of raisins or dried fruit of your choice
pinch of saffron and 2 Tablespoons of hot water
6-7 cardamon pods or 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom powder
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pink salt
zest of one orange
For egg washing 1 egg yolk and 1 Tablespoon of milk
Ingredients for the glaze (optional)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Soak saffron in 2 Tablespoons of hot water. Set aside.
3. Soak raisins in warm water (rum) or juice from the orange.
4. To make the sponge, mix all ingredients in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Leave in a warm place for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes you will notice some bubbles.
5. In a small saucepan add milk and butter on low heat. Let milk warm up and allow the butter completely to melt. Set aside.
6. In electric mixing bowl with a whisk attachment whisk egg yolks and sugar until a pale color appears. While whisking slowly add your milk and butter mixture. Then slowly pour saffron water, vanilla extract and prepared spices (cardamom, nutmeg, orange zest) into the mixture.
7. Using an electric mixer with a hook attachment, add the sponge and egg mixture. While mixing on low speed, slowly add the flour and mix for two more minutes or until the dough releases itself from the wall of the mixing bowl. It will still feel soft and sticky but shouldn't stick to your fingers. 8. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and leave in a warm place for 1.5 hours or until dough doubles in size. 9. Meanwhile whisk the egg whites and salt until they form a stiff peak (watch the video for this part). Drain the raisins and let them dry on a paper towel.
10. Butter your hands and gently mix the raisins and whipped egg whites into the dough. Do this slowly with a folding technique.
11. Divide your dough into 2 big or 4 medium paper pans. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes or until the molds are almost full.
12. Egg wash your breads with egg yolk and milk mixture. Do it gently.
13. Place the baking sheet with the paper molds into a preheated to 350F oven (non-convection) and bake for 30-50 minutes. The time will depend on the size of your mold. Check for doneness with a thermometer and the temperature should reach 180F.
14. Let the bread cool, and when it reaches room temperature you can decorate with the glaze, which is optional. 15. There is no need to peel off the wrappers because they keep the bread fresh longer. For the frosting in a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar with lemon juice. Add a little water if it’s too thick or a little more powdered sugar if it’s too runny. Pour the glaze over the bread or sprinkle if you like.
16. Let it dry. Then slice and enjoy!
(In my family we never eat kulich until it's been blessed).