Saturday, March 29, 2008

Russian Easter, or, A Tale of Two Cans

When I was growing up, one of my passions was foreign languages. I began studying French when I was 8 years old, thanks to an enlightened third grade teacher. My collection of kids books included several in both French and Spanish. I studied French throughout junior high, and when I entered high school, it was my good fortune to be part of the first Russian class in the district. By the time I graduated, I was deeply involved in French, Russian, and Spanish classes.

Now, my Russian teacher was an awesome woman (and still is as far as I know). She was young and beautiful and we shared the birth-state of New Mexico – always a positive thing in my book. Not only did she teach us the Russian language, but she made sure we understood Russian culture. We sang; we danced; we performed; and, of course, we ate. One year, Miss G. arranged a special field trip to a Russian Orthodox Church in Seattle, where we could observe the traditional midnight Easter service. After the service, we all went back to her house, where she had prepared a traditional Russian Easter feast, and all the students partied until dawn. Two items stand out in my mind to this day: Kulich and Paskha. I couldn’t get enough of them.

This month, Bread Baking Day, edition 8, is being hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast. Susan is a fabulous bread baker, so every reader will be in for a treat.

So, for BBD8 theme of celebration breads, I decided to re-create the Kulich from my high-school memory. There are a variety of recipes that exist, so I’m not sure which are truly authentic and replicate the one my teacher baked, but I chose one that sounded about right. For a baking container, it called for a 46-ounce can, like the kind used for juice or broth. All I had on hand was a large 48-ounce coffee can, and I came this close II to using it. But, instead, I bought a large can of pineapple juice (the only juice product remaining in large cans) and decanted the juice to another container. So far, so good.

The recipe was easy, although the rising time was closer to 3 hours than 2. Sweet breads usually take a bit longer, so it wasn’t surprising. Once the yeast got busy, however, they really went to town! I put the risen dough into the prepared 46-ounce can and set it aside to rise. In less than 45 minutes, it had reached the top of the parchment – bad sign! By the time the oven was ready, it was emerging above the top of the parchment, so when the heat from the oven created ‘oven spring,’ it sprung over the side of the can and onto the rack. Note to self: use 48-ounce can next time.

Aside from the loss of some dough, the bread turned out very nicely. Toasted, it was delicious. Next year, I plan to make it again, using the larger can, and also making the paskha to go with it. It certainly brought back a memory of one of the best experiences of my life.

To enjoy other celebration breads from around the world, please take a look at Susan’s blog. Thanks to Susan for hosting this month, and thanks to Zorra of 1x umr├╝hren bitte for creating such a great challenge.


Notes: Instead of vanilla bean and vodka, you can use 1 tablespoon vanilla for this Russian Easter bread; add with the milk. Tuck scraped vanilla bean pod into an airtight jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar. If making bread ahead, don't ice; let cool, wrap airtight and freeze. Thaw in wrapper,then unwrap and ice. For a Russian finale, sprinkle soft icing with colored candy sprinkles or set small rosebuds in it.

1 envelope active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean (6 to 8 in.)
1 tablespoon vodka or brandy
1/8 teaspoon powdered saffron (optional)
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied orange peel
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1. In a bowl, add yeast and 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar to 2 tablespoons warm (110°) water. Let stand until yeast is soft, about 5 minutes.

2. Cut vanilla bean lengthwise; scrape out black seeds and add to vodka in a cup. Add saffron to milk in another cup.

3. In another bowl, beat to blend remaining granulated sugar, butter, and salt.

4. Add yeast mixture, vodka-vanilla mixture, saffron mixture, eggs, 2 1/4 cups flour, and orange peel. Stir until thoroughly moistened.

5. With mixer on high speed, beat dough until stretchy and shiny, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup flour until evenly moistened.

6. With a dough hook, beat on high speed until dough pulls fairly cleanly from sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Dough will be soft and slightly sticky to touch. If necessary, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat longer.

Or with lightly oiled hands, knead dough in bowl until it feels smooth, pulls from your hands, and is just slightly sticky to touch, about 4 minutes. If necessary, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.

7. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm place until about doubled in volume, 1 to 2 hours.

8. Line the bottom of 1 juice or broth can (46-oz. size) with cooking parchment cut to fit. Then line sides of can with parchment, extending it about 2 inches above can rim; secure with paper clip. (Or use waxed paper, buttered heavily and dusted with flour.)

9. Punch dough down to expel air, then shape into a smooth-topped ball and drop into can. Cover can lightly with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until dough is about 1 1/2 inches below can rim, 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hours.

10. Bake on lowest rack in a 325° oven until a long, thin wood skewer inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours (45 minutes to 1 1/4 hours at 300° in a convection oven).

11. Let bread stand in can for 10 minutes, then remove from can and parchment. Lay the loaf on its side on a rack to cool.

12. Blend powdered sugar with lemon juice and 3/4 teaspoon water until smooth. Stand kulich upright and drizzle top with icing.

13. To serve, cut bread into rounds.

Yield: Makes a 1 3/4-pound loaf; 12 servings

CALORIES 245 (34% from fat); FAT 9.3g (sat 5.2g); PROTEIN 4.6g; CHOLESTEROL 74mg; SODIUM 144mg; FIBER 0.9g; CARBOHYDRATE 35g

Sunset, APRIL 1999

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Despite the can mishap the bread looks great. And all the more special for the wonderful memories that go with it!