This easy Russian Easter cake recipe makes kulich, a Russian Easter bread filled with dried fruit and topped with white lemon icing that drips down the loaf. Baked in tin cans, the cylindrical-shaped bread is often compared to Italian panettone or French brioche. Blessed by the Russian Orthodox priest, it is traditionally eaten between Easter and Pentecost.
Happy Russian Easter or Schastlivoy Paskhi! Счастливой Пасхи! – if you’re celebrating Easter today. If you are, you may already have a Russian Easter cake recipe for kulich, which you made yesterday or on Friday, which you had the Russian Orthodox priest bless last night at the midnight service.
If you are but you didn’t, then try my easy Russian Easter cake recipe, which will only take you a couple of hours in total, most of which is resting, rising and baking time – a stark contrast to your baboushka’s kulich, which probably took her much of the day.
And if you’re not of Russian or Ukrainian heritage or from one of the many Slavic countries where this Easter cake is made, try it anyway. If you like Italian panettone or French brioche then you should enjoy this – especially with lashings of salted butter and a strong cup of tea.
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Now let me tell you about this easy Russian Easter cake recipe for kulich or Russian Easter bread.
Russian Easter Cake Recipe for Kulich
I intended to share this Russian Easter Cake recipe for kulich yesterday, when it’s usually made, on Russian Easter eve, so it can be blessed at church by the Russian Orthodox priest. However, I was busy making Russian pelmeni and vareniki, listening to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, and I might have had a few too many shots of vodka. Fortunately kulich is eaten from Easter Sunday through the 50 days until Pentecost so you have plenty of time to make my Russian Easter bread recipe.
My heritage is Russian on my mother’s side, so I use Russian Easter, like Russian Christmas, to cook Russian food and channel my family and ancestors. As I cook, I recall treasured times spent together – usually eating and drinking and telling stories! – and the memories play in my head like a movie. It’s bittersweet.
When I recall Easters with the Russian family, I remember the midnight service at the Russian Orthodox church in Blacktown on Easter eve, standing for so many hours it felt like torture, not understanding a word of the ancient Russian language, but getting lost in the singing and chants, the heady incense and candles filling the small church with smoke.
At the end, everybody kissed cheeks, even with strangers, and said ‘khristos voskres’, which is another way of saying ‘happy Easter’, but literally means ‘Christ has risen’, and the other person replied ‘voistinu voskres’, which essentially means ‘happy Easter right back at you’, but literally translates to ‘indeed, he has risen’.
We’d collect the Easter cakes, which the priest had blessed and head back to my grandparents for the feast that baba had cooked all day. The priest and friends would drop by and I’d fall asleep well before it finished, dreaming of yet another feast the next day.
There are three Easter kisses and they symbolise belief, hope and love. Easter in Australia was in Autumn and marked the start of winter, but in Russia Easter marks the start of spring and new beginnings, and fresh starts. The world is in such a mess right now, and life is proving more challenging than ever, but that’s something to look forward to. I still have hope.
Tips to Making this Russian Easter Cake for Kulich
Just a few tips to making this easy Russian Easter cake recipe for kulich. If there aren’t any children in the house, you could soak the sultanas and raisins overnight in vodka, cognac or brandy the evening before baking. Squeeze the liquid out before adding the dried fruit to the dough.
You can also prep your tin cans ahead of time if you don’t have any tall cylindrical cake tins. You’ll need to remove the labels, scrub the glue off the cans, and sterilise them by boiling them in a pot of water on the stove. I’ve used 400 ml tin cans, because I like this size and partly because we only have a small toaster oven. But you could go for larger or smaller cans (next I’m going to make Russian Easter cake muffins) just remember to scale your ingredients and adjust the baking time.
Traditionally, these cakes are much larger, made in one enormous cake tin, with the top of the cake forming an almost mushroom-like dome. Sometimes they’re simply made as regular loaves or are braided without lemon icing, when they tend to get called a Russian Easter bread rather than a cake.
I also opted for mini Russian Easter cakes to reduce the baking time and also because there are just two of us – and Pepper, our cat, who doesn’t eat cake. The third cake was more of a symbolic gesture really. Plus three cakes photograph better than two. Double or triple everything if making these for a family obviously. Kulich is also something that was traditionally given to family, friends and neighbours.
While I think the smaller cakes look prettier than one large cake – and one small cake can be sliced up and spread generously with butter, and is more than ample for two people – the smaller cakes do dry out faster. My cake was lovely and moist the first day, but beginning to dry the second day, and are a tad dry today. Good excuse to use more butter! This means that it’s super important to use a timer, take them out right on time, and check them 5 minutes before they’re due. Remove them as soon as they’re golden-brown and then remove them
As these are mini Russian Easter cakes, you don’t want to use whole sultanas and raisins as they will expand, so chop the dried fruit into thirds. Many cooks also add candied citrus peel. I’m not a fan, but that’s an option. Some cooks also add dried spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, or mixed spices, as well as saffron threads for a yellower colour.
These are not very traditional and I think the cakes have enough flavour from the dried fruit and lemon icing – but I also have a cultural connection and loads of memories attached to these Russian Easter cakes, so there’s that. By all means give the spices a go and opt for a deeper yellow colour if you desire.
Use a pastry brush to butter the bottom of the tins then place the parchment paper rounds on the base and butter the top of the round, then butter the larger interior pieces of baking paper. This really important as this prevents sticking. You won’t get your Easter cakes out of the tins otherwise. Do take care when you’re removing the cakes from the tins. Firstly, both the tin and cake will be hot, so wear a decent pair of oven mitts. Secondly, just shake the can gently. They should fall out easily.
When preparing the traditional lemon icing, while you want the icing to dribble down the side of the cake, you don’t want it too thin as it won’t stay on top. Add a little more icing sugar if needed to thicken it or don’t add all the juice – although I do love a real lemony flavour. Or just let the icing sit for a minute or three to thicken. But not too long, so it doesn’t start to harden.
For the dried fruit on the icing, dice them finely. I’ve used dried mango, pineapple, and sweet cherry tomatoes for the colour as much as the flavour, but you can use whatever you like. Russians also add almonds, which I can’t get here, and in my view, less is more; I didn’t want a crowded icing. An alternative is sprinkles, and if you don’t want to use icing at all, brush on an egg yolk glaze.
Serve with a big pot of tea – my baba and papa always used the samovar at Easter – and good quality butter, which I encourage you to spread generously on your kulich.
Russian Easter Cake Recipe for Kulich
- 225 g white bread flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 25 g butter
- 25 g caster sugar
- 7 g fast-action dried yeast
- 105 ml milk tepid
- 1 egg beaten
- 100 g dried sultanas, raisins and candied fruit chopped into thirds
- 150 g icing sugar
- 1/2 lemon juice only
- 1 tbsp mixed dried and/or candied fruit finely diced
- Optional: if children won’t be eating this, soak the sultanas and raisins overnight in vodka, cognac or brandy.
- Use a sieve to sift the flour into a big mixing bowl, then add the salt and butter and combine, before adding the sugar and yeast.
- In a separate bowl or measuring jug, beat the egg, add the tepid milk and mix, then add this to the mixing bowl of flour, etc., and combine everything until you have a soft dough.
- Dust flour onto your kitchen counter, transfer the dough, add the dried fruit, knead until well combined (about 3-5 minutes) and the dough is smooth, then form it into a ball.
- Butter a large mixing bowl, transfer the ball of dough, cover it with a clean cotton tea towel, and leave it to rise for one hour.
- Cut baking paper into rounds to fit in the bottoms of three 400 ml tin cans and to wrap within the interior of each can; the larger interior pieces of baking paper should be large enough so that the pieces poke out above the tin by about a third of the size of the can.
- Using a pastry brush, butter the bottom of the tins, place the paper rounds on the base and butter the top of the round, then butter the larger interior pieces of baking paper.
- Dust your kitchen counter with a little flour again, transfer the dough, knock back the dough, then form it into a ball again, place it back in the bowl, cover it once more, and leave it for half an hour.
- Transfer the dough for the last time to the kitchen counter, lightly dusted with flour, roll the dough into one long cylindrical shaped piece, which you should cut into three equally-sized pieces or around 5cm in length.
- Place each piece of dough into the tin cans that you earlier lined with buttered paper, cover the cans with the clean cotton tea towel, leave them to rise for around 20-30 minutes, and preheat your oven to 240°C.
- When the dough has risen to 7-8cm up the tin can, transfer the cans to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or so (check them at 20 minutes) until you have pale golden-brown loaves. To check that they are completely baked, turn the can upside down and tap on its base with a knife; it should sound hollow.
- Wearing oven mitts, gently shake each Easter cake out of the can into your hand, then leave them on a wire oven rack on the kitchen counter to cool.
- Once the cakes are cool, prepare the icing: use a sieve to sift the icing sugar into a bowl, then slowly add the lemon juice, continually stirring until completely combined and thickened. If too thin, add a little more sugar and combine.
- Transfer the cakes to a serving plate, spoon the icing onto the top of the cakes, allowing the icing to drip down the sides, then place pieces of dried fruit on the cake tops and sprinkle around the base. Serve with quality butter.
Please do let us know if you make this Russian Easter cake recipe for kulich, as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.