Wednesday, May 12, 2010

my mom's easter bread

Last summer, shortly after I started this blog, I was home in Ohio at my dad's house. I snapped the first header photo for this blog, wandered around the yard using the old picnic table as a backdrop for the FiestaWare's bright colors. I stumbled upon a couple of recipes that remind me so much of my mom, of my childhood. I was so happy to find her recipe for tomato salad, which I posted a few weeks later. I also found a small, faded paper booklet full of feast bread recipes from around the world. Inside was a treasure I remember well from childhood - Kulich. This is a sweet, yeasted bread that my mother made every year at Eastertime. I was so happy to have found this recipe, so happy to be able to carry on this tradition for my family now.

Baked in old coffee cans, this feast bread puffs up over the top of the can, creating a dome perfect for drizzling with sweet, confectioner's-sugar-based icing. Although the original recipe calls for topping the bread with lemon icing and candied fruits, my mom always used plain confectioner's sugar icing and multi-colored sprinkles. In our house, the rule was always that the oldest child got to eat the frosted top. As the youngest, not just in my immediate family, but the youngest cousin in my generation on either side of our family, I thought this rule was completely unfair. I, of course, would never be the oldest child. Until now.

I intended to make this bread at Easter this year, but instead was traveling to my Uncle Roger's funeral at the time so could not. It's a bit late this year, although it's still technically Easter in our church. This was my first time making the bread on my own, and I have some questions I would love to ask my mom. She must have used more than the two cans called for in the recipe, because my two loaves came so far out of the top of the cans that they took on a life of their own.

I used raisins as called for but I'm pretty sure she used currants. The recipe also calls for mixing the entire thing with a mixer, which I did, but I'm pretty sure my mother never did. She most likely mixed it by hand, with a wooden spoon in the big pink Corningware mixing bowl, the pull-out metal work surface of the Hoosier her backdrop. I'm going to take this approach next time, because I think the texture will improve. And next time I'm going to toast the blanched almonds before using them. The recipe below, however, is unaltered from the original. I'll post an adapted version in the future - maybe next year, when I'll follow the rules and let Dora eat the frosted top.

Kulich - Russian feast bread

3 - 3 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon (or 1 package) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces
2 eggs plus 2 yolks
1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 cup raisins (or currants)
1/4 cup blanched almonds (try toasting them first)

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 Tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl mix well 1 cup flour, the sugar, yeast, and salt; set aside. In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter over low heat until very warm (120 - 130 degrees) - it's ok if the butter doesn't melt. Gradually add to flour mixture; beat at medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Add eggs, yolks, lemon peel, and 1 cup flour; beat at medium speed an additional 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Stir in raisins, almonds, and enough remaining flour to make a soft dough that leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn out on a lightly floured surface; knead 8 to 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary, until dough is smooth and elastic.

Place in greased bowl, turn to grease top. Cover; let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until doubled. Generously grease one 1-pound coffee can and one 1-pound fruit can (remove paper labels). Punch down dough; place in cans, half-filling each. Cover; let rise in warm place about 1 hour, until-doubled. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven 25 - 35 minutes (check fruit can after 25 minutes) or until tops are golden brown. Remove immediately from cans and cool upright on wire racks. To make icing, whisk together milk, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Frost tops with icing, letting it run down sides. Decorate with sprinkles. Slice off the top and give it to the oldest kid in the room, or eat it yourself when no one's looking.

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