Easter recipes: Kulich & Paskha (Cake)

The traditional Easter foods are a nut and fruit filled yeast cake called kulich and an accompanying sweet cheese spread called paskha. Often the kulich and paskha were carried to church and set out on long tables to be blessed by the priest. (In the old days, the priest would often make a "house call" to his wealthier parishioners to bless the food at home.)

The recipes for these delicacies are involved and time-consuming. The classic kulich was begun several days before Easter. It contained candied fruit, almonds, and raisins. It was always baked in a special kind of pan-- tall and cylindrical, sort of like a coffee can. When the cake was done, it was decorated with white frosting drizzled down the sides. On the side, spelled out in pieces of candied fruit, were the letters XB, representing the Cyrillic letters for "Christos voskres" -- "Christ is risen."

Next to the cake was the paskha, presented carefully molded in a triangular shape. The letters "XB" were also inscribed on this creation. Creating this delight took hours-- it requires weighing down "pot cheese" with a heavy board to drain the moisture and then pressing it though a sieve before the other ingredients were added. The mixture contained more nuts and fruits, vanilla flavoring and sugar.

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.

You need:

- two pounds of flour
- one and a half glasses of milk
- six eggs
- 10 ½ oz of butter or margarine
- 1 ½ or two glasses of sugar (less if you don’t want it very sweet)
- 1 ½ oz of yeast
- ¾ tea spoon of salt
- 5 ½ oz of raisins
- vanilla
For better taste and texture separate yolks from egg-whites.

- Mix one and a half glass of warm milk with yeast and half of the flour;
- Put the mix in a warm place;
- When the mix has risen and doubled in size, add salt, yolks mixed with sugar, vanilla, and butter;
- Mix all this again;
- Add the egg-whites, and the rest of the flour;
- The dough shouldn't’t be very thick, but well-beaten, and it should be coming off the dish easily;
- Put the mix in a warm place;
- When the mix doubled in size, add the raisins;
- Put the mix into a vertically shaped cake form; fill the form one third of the way for fluffier cake, fill it half way for thicker cake;
- Put the form in a warm place;
- When the mix in the form raised and filled ¾ of the form, treat the top with the beaten egg; for a nice white and sugary top treat it with egg-whites mixed with powdered sugar;
- Put in the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes at 350 F;
- While baking, check the cake and when the top looks baked, cover it with waxed baking paper;
- The cake is fully baked if the silver wear or a toothpick you are checking it with comes out dry.

"Pretend" Kulich

Mix up a boxed pound cake according to package directions. Throw in some raisins, chopped almonds, candied fruits. Use a little extra vanilla.
Optional: Use a pinch ( ½ teaspoon ) of powered saffron
Bake in a bunt pan according to package directions
Make a thin frosting of confectioner’s sugar, milk, vanilla and Crisco-- drizzle over the top and down the sides when the cake is cool. Decorate with fruit.
"Pretend" Paskha

Mix (to taste) raisins, candied fruits, almonds and a teaspoon of vanilla in a quart of ricotta cheese
Add sugar to taste
I've never quite been able to mold this concoction into a triangle shape, but it is easy to spread in a shallow pan and create the traditional "XB" in candied fruit pieces.

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