The most festive day on the Russian Orthodox calendar is most likely Easter. It has to be. So much time, effort and I imagine fanfare go into baking just the Easter bread, kulich, for family and friends. This sweet bread enriched with plenty of egg yolks, milk and butter is a true labour of love. It takes at minimum 10 hours to get a decorated kulich on the table. Whilst happy to bake the kulich for family and loved ones, many an apron wearing grandma and mama must be silently relieved when all the kulich baking has been done.
I baked 6 lots of kulichi (plural) before I baked a kulich that I was happy with. Is it difficult to bake? With no Russian or Ukrainian mother figure to guide me, yes it was difficult. There are many variables involved when baking a kulich. After 6 kulich baking sessions, that’s 10 loaves in 2 weeks, I know the ideal kulich baking scenario would be to have one of these experienced kulich bakers beside you as you bake. The baking process will then sail through without a hitch as Mrs. Kulich Baking Expert explains and demonstrates the finer points of baking that perfect kulich. Gone will be the dishevelled and exasperated me, scratching my head with floured hands for the umpteenth time wondering what else I could do to prevent my super large kulich from caving in at the bottom. The kulich did taste great though.
Having said that, this recipe can be very straight forward if you are less ambitious than me. I had my sights on baking the largest and tallest kulich I could possibly bake and that was where the challenges started. I saw my first kulich in a now out of print food themed travelogue. It was a centrefold and it was stunning. Next to it was, paskha, a home made cheese spread studded with dried fruits just like the image below.
The kulich had a crown of flowing white icing, a dark crust and most importantly to me, it looked tall, sturdy and stood positively upright. No floppiness about it at all. I had to bake one just like it.
I trawled online and leaved through books. There are countless recipe variations. The only constant was the copious amount of eggs, milk, butter and sugar. Spices vary – nutmeg, cardamon, saffron or a variation. One or two did not use fruits which I thought odd. I came up with 6 recipe variations of my own until I had baked a loaf that had the right mix of dried fruit, was rich, sufficiently sweet, with a lovely soft texture. I got the taste and texture right but there were bigger challenges ahead.
2 MAJOR CHALLENGES
(1) Finding the right vessel to bake the kulich.
What’s a ‘2 lb or 3 lb coffee can’?
Many recipes I came across, asked for kulichi to be baked in ‘2 lb or 3 lb coffee cans’. Now, I have not lived in the USA for many years. I have a vague recall of how large a can that would be but I have gone metric for many years and where I live, there isn’t a ‘2 lb or 3 lb coffee can’ to be bought. Instead of guessing, I should have done more research about the actual dimensions of this ‘coffee can’. Ideally, those recipes should have included the dimensions. It would have saved me and everyone else baking kulichi for the first time, a lot of guesswork and many wasted kulichi. The good news is, I have since done the research.
You need to familiarise yourself with quite a bit of details, so please scroll down to my ‘Tips’ sections to find out the different cans that might be used to bake a kulich with success. I have included:
(2) The 3 challenges I faced when trying to bake a large & tall loaf in a ‘3 lb coffee can’ that will actually stand upright
I had baked my third failed batch of kulichi. All the kulichi I had baked tasted great. However, I was still encountering the same 3 challenges:
(1) The bread was rising so high in my Milo* can that the tops of the loaves would hit the heating element
* Milo is a powdered chocolate malt drink (similar to Ovaltine). The dimensions of the can was close to that of a ‘3 lb coffee can.
(2) Upon removing the baked kulich from the ‘3 lb’ Milo can, the bottom third of the loaf would cave in. It would not stand upright
(3) It was taking way longer than expected to bake in the ‘3 lb’ Milo can.
I stared woefully at my computer screen looking at images of beautifully baked kulichi. All of a sudden it struck me. Upon closer scrutiny, the kulichi I had been starring at were in fact not baked in ‘3 lb coffee cans’! They were baked in smaller ‘2 lb coffee cans’, soup cans or paper baking moulds. Why did it take me so long to realise that?
So why do the recipes recommend that it can be baked in ‘2 lb or 3 lb coffee cans’ when there are no images of a ‘3 lb can’ kulich? Did anyone actually try baking it in a ‘3 lb coffee can’ before suggesting that it might be baked in one? If they had, they would have encountered the same hosts of challenges as I did. (Unless of course they are seasoned kulich bakers and already have an existing tried and tested ‘3 lb coffee can’). It would have been ideal if I could have been forewarned of the challenges I would face and informed of the extra care and effort needed to bake a ‘3 lb coffee can’ kulich. The cynic in me wondered if perhaps they did bake it in a ‘3 lb coffee can’ but the Kulich collapsed and it was not good enough to be featured?
With that reality in mind, I addressed the 3 challenges I had:
Solution to Challenge (1)
Baking temperatures had to be adjusted and the dough should only be filled up between 1/3 to 1/2 way up the height of the can. Do take into account the internal height of your ovens when choosing size of cans to use. There should be a gap of at least 2″ (5cm) between the top of the can and the heating element.
Solutions to Challenges (2) & (3)
This was an issue with not only the baking temperature but more importantly the thickness of the metal can that was used to bake the kulich. You must know how to choose and bake in a can with tin plates of the the correct thickness. Read the details under my ‘Tips’ section.
AFTER MUCH TRAIL & ERROR, HERE’S WHAT I RECOMMEND FOR A SUCCESSFUL BAKE
(1) If you want a higher chance of success, bake ‘2 lb coffee can’ or smaller sized kulichi.
(2) Easier still, purchase paper baking molds or bake in a loaf pan or free form if you aren’t interested in baking a cylindrical loaf and just want to eat a very good sweet bread. Baking times will be shorter and it would be easier to tell when the loaf is baked through.
(3) If you want a challenge and are a bit neurotic like me, bake the ‘3 lb coffee can’ size.
This recipe will bake 2 loaves
ONE ‘3 lb coffee can’ (you must get a can with the correct thickness -read the details under ‘Tips’ section) and
ONE ‘2 lb coffee can’.
This recipe will also bake 3 loaves
TWO ‘ 2 lb coffee can’ kulichi and
ONE the size of a ‘large can of peaches’ (fruit/vegetables). Dimension all under ‘Tips’ section.
Note: This recipe is lengthy as I have included all the details to ensure you have a successful bake on your first try.
Kulich A Russian Easter Bread Baked By A Non Russian
|Prep:||45 – 60 minutes|
|Cook:||~50 minutes to 1 hour 25-30 minutes. Cooking time varies according to your choice of baking vessel.|
|Inactive:||Overnight soak of dried fruits and saffron.
First rise ~3 – 6 hours or leave it overnight & up to 2 days refrigerated.
Second rise ~2 – 6 hours.
|Level:||Intermediate to difficult. Depends largely on your choice of baking vessel. Please scroll down to ‘Tips:What size of a kulich should you bake?‘ and read through.|
|Oven Temperature:||350F (175C) – oven rack at lowest rung.
Internal temperatures of ovens vary across brands. Please use an oven thermometer to ensure that you are baking at the correct oven temperature.
|Can recipe be doubled?||No, unless you work progressively and spread the work out throughout the day and you have 2 ovens.|
|Make ahead?||Dough without fruits and nuts can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in an airtight container. This is my preferred method of letting the dough rise and develop its flavour.
Once baked, kulich will keep well, refrigerated and tightly covered up to 3 days. Freezes well.
Dried fruits & orange juice/rum
Please scroll down and read through my ‘Tips’ section to determine your choice of baking vessel and the size of kulich you wish to bake before proceeding with the recipe.
The night before baking day -2 things to do:
(1) Soak dried fruits (leave out Sugar Frosted Tangerines/Winter Melon Strips) in 1/4 cup rum/orange juice. Cover and refrigerate. If you do forget to plump dried fruits overnight, microwave 30 seconds on high. Remove and stir to mix. Return to microwave and zap it for another 30 seconds. Cover and set aside.
(2) Steep saffron in milk Place the saffron threads in 3/4 cup milk. Leave overnight to get maximum colour and flavour out of the saffron. If not, soak at least 2 hours.
Putting the dough together
Update: Having made kulichi numerous times by now, I find that what works best for me is to prepare this dough at night and leave it to rise overnight and up to 2 days in the refrigerator. Spreading out the work is less stressful and it helps further develop the flavour of the bread. Refrigerate dough in a container 2X its volume to allow for expansion although it will not expand by much. Remember to cover the container to avoid dough drying out.
1. In a large mixing bowl, mix well, the flour, vital wheat gluten, salt, sugar and yeast.
1. Melt the butter and pour it into the cold milk with the saffron in it.
2. Making sure the butter and milk/saffron mixture is not hot, whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla essence.
3. Do not add the 1/4 +1/8 cup water at this point. You will use it later.
Using a standing mixer
1. I use a standing mixer (KitchenAid) with the dough hook attached. A hand held mixer will not be powerful enough to work this dough.
2. Add all the dry ingredients into the mixer bowl. Make a well and pour in the wet ingredients.
3. Start the machine on low speed and work it up to medium-high. After less than 1 minute or when most of the wet ingredients has been mixed into the dry ingredients, with the machine still running, gradually pour in the 1/4 cup water down the insides of the bowl. I find that doing this helps to bring the dough together and the direct water to yeast contact helps yeast activation.
4. Let the machine run for 5 minutes without adding anymore water or flour.
5. Stop the machine and scrapped down the sides of the bowl with a buttered dough scraper.
6. If the mixture seems dry and does not seem to be coming together to form a pliable dough, with the machine running at medium speed, start adding a little of the 1/8 cup of water. Let the machine run for 2 minutes and work in more water the same way if required. As you add water, you might worry about the sides of the mixer bowl becoming even more sticky. Just stop the machine and scrape down sides of bowl with a buttered dough scrapper and turn the mixer back on. Do not be tempted to add flour as it would only bake a very heavy and dry loaf. I would rather butter the insides of the mixer bowl lightly, if at all, if I thought it was getting too sticky. Err on the side of a more moist dough. Keep in mind that the final dough will be a slightly sticky dough.
7. As you repeat this routine of adding water (if required, you can add more than the 1/4+1/8 cup stipulated but add in increments of 1 – 2 Tablespoons at a time), scraping down, turning mixer back on, the dough will become silkier, more elastic and the sides of the bowl will become less sticky. It could take 10 minutes perhaps more.
8. Pull on the dough. If it feels at all tight, add another tablespoon of water and continue to run the machine. The texture of the dough should look like the one in the image below.
9. At this stage, the insides of the bowl will be almost cleaned of dough as you would have been scrapping the bowl clean through the process. Butter your hands and the dough scraper. With the help of the dough scraper, scrape sides of bowl clean, pick the dough up and form into a round ball. Tuck loose ends under the dough. Before returning dough to mixer bowl, oil/butter the bowl. Return dough to mixer bowl and butter the tops of dough. Cover with plastic wrap.
10. This dough is very rich and will take a longer time to rise to almost double its size. 3 to 6 hours on a hot and humid day. I prefer to keep the dough refrigerated overnight and up to 2 days tightly covered in a large container.
Working dough by hand
1. Place dry ingredients on a flat working surface or in a very large bowl and create a well in the centre of dry ingredients.
2. Pour the all wet ingredients (except water) in it and with your hands, work it in slowly into the dry ingredients.
3. When you have almost incorporated all the ingredients, distribute the water evenly and continue to incorporate to form a dough. I find that adding the water separately helps to bring the dough together and the direct water to yeast contact helps yeast activation.
4. Once you have incorporated all the dry and wet ingredients, place the dough on your work surface which has been buttered very lightly.
5. To start kneading, you have to work with pushing the dough out with the palm of your hand and pulling it back with your fingers.
6. This dough will start off very wet and sticky. Use a buttered dough scraper to help clean the kneading surface and gather up the dough as you knead. I would try to hold off the flour otherwise you might end up with very dry and dense loaves. I would rather butter lightly. As you knead, the dough will become less sticky, silky and elastic. It could take 20 minutes and possibly more.
7. If you pull on the dough and if it feels at all tight, add another tablespoon of water and continue to knead. You will know you are doing well when you find yourself working with a smooth elastic ball.
8. Shape into a round ball, tuck loose ends under the dough. Do not be tempted to add more flour, instead butter your hands if it gets too sticky.
9. Butter your bowl which should be large enough to allow the dough to almost double in size. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until almost double in size. This dough is very rich and will take a longer time to rise to almost double its size. 3 to 6 hours on a hot and humid day. I prefer to keep the dough refrigerated overnight and up to 2 days tightly covered in a large container.
While waiting for dough to rise, proceed with the following 4 procedures:
(1) Drain the pre-soaked fruits over a strainer
1. Leave it to continue draining in the refrigerator. It will be difficult to work the fruits into the dough if you add them in wet.
(2) Slice up the Sugar Frosted Tangerine or Sugar Frosted Melon Strips
1. Sugar Frosted Tangerine: Only the peel is edible. Pith and seeds are to be discarded. Place the tangerine flat on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife and slice off segments of peel from the outer circle. With the tangerine still sitting flat on the cutting board, slice the fruit into 2 semi-circles. Pick one piece up and stand it on the flat side. Carefully slice off peel from both sides. Do the same for the other semi-circle. Cut peel into short slices.
2. Sugar Frosted Melon Strips: Simple. Dice them up small.
(3) Choose the size and material of your baking vessels carefully
1. Will you be baking it in cylindrical cans? Although, it would be much easier to bake it free form, if baking in cylindrical cans, please scroll down to ‘Tips’ and read details through.
(4) Prepare the cylindrical baking cans
1. Try and choose one with a replaceable metal lid (refer to image below). Why? If you should for any reason have problems removing the Kulich, that replaceable lid will come in very handy as you can loosen and push out the Kulich from the bottom up and out.
2. If you are using cans similar to the one in the image above (with replaceable lids), turn the can upside down (with the lid in place) and use a can opener to open the bottom (refer to image below). This leaves you with the insides of thecans completely straight – no bumps, no lips, no edges to worry about.
3. Butter the insides of the tins lightly with butter – it helps the parchment paper to adhere to the tin.
4. Then, line the base and insides with parchment paper. You should have at least a 2″ (5cm) overhang as the bread would likely rise above the tin. I like the parchment paper to be just 1″ (2.5cm) short of touching my oven’s heating element (refer to image below). There is no guarantee how high the dough will rise and I would rather have the extra height of parchment paper for support.
5. Take a look inside the parchment paper lined can. Where the parchment paper overlaps, use butter to ‘glue’ it down. This makes lowering down the dough ball into this narrow can much easier. Refer to image below.
After the dough has gone through the first rising:
work in dried fruits & divide dough into baking cans
Mix in rum/orange juice soaked dried fruits, nuts and sugar frosted fruits OR mixed citrus peel
1. The dough will rise exponentially. If you poke your finger into the dough, it will leave a dent.
2. Before you work with the risen dough, with a paper kitchen towel, quickly wipe off excess liquid from the dried fruits and then toss them in ~ 1 – 2 Tablespoons bread flour to coat.
3. Have the Sugar Frosted Tangerines/Winter Melon strips/mixed citrus peel and nuts ready.
4. Keep some butter nearby to butter your hands and you want a dough scraper.
5. Punch the dough down to get rid of the air pockets.
Using a mixer: Working rum/orange juice soaked dried fruits, nuts and sugar frosted fruits/mixed citrus peel
1. With the machine running on low-medium, add in 3 intervals, the dried fruits, sugar frosted fruits/mixed citrus peel and nuts.
2. Work fast and do not over knead as if you do, the fruits will likely get smashed up. I usually stop the machine in between intervals and use my buttered hands and the dough scrapper to help turn the dough over and then turn the machine back on to further mix everything evenly. It should take no longer than 5 minutes. The final mixing is better done with your buttered hands and dough scrapper. If you take too long to mix and over work or over knead, the liquid from the pre-soaked dried fruits will start to seep out, making the dough stickier and more difficult to work with.
3. Whether you use the machine or your hands to mix in the ingredients, work lightly, with buttered hands and dough scrapper. If it should get impossible to work with the dough, cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes and return to work on it.
By hand: Working rum/orange juice soaked dried fruits, nuts and sugar frosted fruits/mixed citrus peel
1. Roll or spread the dough out into a large rectangle and distribute orange/rum soaked dried fruits, nuts and sugar frosted fruits/mixed citrus peel.
2. Roll it up into a sausage and pinch the edges in to seal.
3. Fold the sausage in 3 and work the dough to incorporate and distribute the dough as evenly as you can. It would help if you butter your hands as it will get sticky. Be careful not to squish the dried fruits or the juices will seep and it will be more difficult to handle the sticky dough.
4. As much as you can, butter instead of flour your hands to work the fruits in. If it should get impossible to work with the dough, cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes and return to work on it.
Divide the dough into balls
If baking in ONE ‘3 lb coffee can’ and ONE ‘2 lb coffee can’: Divide the dough into 70% 30%
If baking in TWO ‘2 lb coffee can’ and ONE large ’emptied can of peaches’: Divide dough into 40% 40% 20%
The dough should only reach up between 1/3 – 1/2 the height of the can
Shape dough into balls and let it go through second rise
1. To shape the dough, cup your hands around the dough. With dough and cup hands resting on the work surface, start rotating the dough clockwise, pulling the dough down towards the work surface as you try and stretch dough downwards to neaten the surface of the dough to create a smooth ball. The smoother you can pull in the ends and tuck them under, the better the chance of baking a kulich with a smooth round dome.
2. Place this dough into the can. Unless you have a very long torso, I find it easiest to put the can on the flour and lower the dough in as I can extend my hands fully down to carefully lower the dough into a rather narrow opening.
3. Look at the dough in the can. The dough should be filled up only until it is between 1/3 to 1/2 way up the height of the can. Redistribute the dough accordingly if necessary. If you think you have too much dough, bake it separately in a third can or simply shape into a round ball and bake free form. There should not be too much dough left anyway.
4. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for the second time. It should more than double its size ~ 2 to 4 hours.
5. However, if you had refrigerated the dough overnight instead of letting it rise on the kitchen counter, the dough is unlikely to double in size. That is fine. As the dough had come straight out from the refrigerator, it will take longer than 2 to 4 hours to rise. I can usually count on 6 hours and even then, it will not have doubled in size. When has it proofed sufficiently? When you touch the side of the loaf lightly with one finger, it will spring back and leave and ever so light indentation that will fill back up.
Getting ready to bake
1. Heat oven to 350F (175C). Adjust oven rack to lowest possible position.
2. Baking ONE ‘3 lb coffee can’ and ONE ‘2 lb coffee can’: As soon as dough is placed in the oven, cover with a single sheet of aluminium foil. ‘2 lb coffee can’ – bake 55-60 minutes. ‘3 lb coffee can’ – bake 1 hour and 25-30 minutes. Do not open the oven door before the recommended baking times to check on loaf. However, if you bake bread often enough, your nose really becomes a pretty good judge of when a loaf is ready. Better than any timings I can give you.
3. Baking TWO ‘2 lb coffee can’ and ONE the size of a large ’emptied can of peaches’: As soon as dough is placed in the oven, cover with a single sheet of aluminium foil. ‘2 lb coffee can’ – bake 60 minutes. Large ’emptied can of peaches’ – bake 50 minutes. Do not open the oven door before the recommended baking times to check on loaf.
4. If you decide to use cans that are different from mine, either in terms of size or the ‘thickness’ of the can, adjust baking times accordingly. I have not baked these in kulich paper baking molds (similar to cupcake/muffin paper cups) but my guess is it would take 3/4 of the cooking time compared to those baked in cans.
How to tell when the kulich is baked through?
For those baking kulichi for the first time and even for me (after baking 6 batches), it is at times still a challenge and almost more of guess work to determine when the kulichi are baked through. Kulichi baked in cylindrical food cans will rise very high. No thermometer would be long enough to probe through into the bottom half of the loaf to measure if it is cooked. Even if you did find a long enough thermometer, every insertion will leave holes through the bread and destabilise a loaf that had not completed baking through. Some cookbooks will recommend inserting a long wooden skewer to test for doneness. That will not work either as you have a bread loaded with fruit and if you pierce through fruit, the skewer will not come out clean. You can’t be tapping on the bottom of the loaves either to determine when they are cooked. By the time you remove the loaf from the cylindrical can, an uncooked loaf would have collapsed. Then you have the extra hassle of trying to shove the already uncooked and wobbly loaf back into the long narrow vessel. Each time you open the oven door before the recommended cooking time, the more you destabilise it and the higher the chance of your loaf collapsing.
(1) Set yourself up for a successful bake, by keeping to the recommended baking cans, its respective can dimensions and the respective baking times.
(2) Keep oven doors closed and only check on the bread after the recommended baking times. The top of the loaves will definitely have browned nicely.
(3) Remove the loaves with the cans laying on its side. Slide out the loaves. Cool on cooling rack.
(4 )Before you completely slide out the loaves, if they look at all pale, it would be best to quickly pop them back into the cans and back into the oven to bake further. Try to minimise doing this.
(5) Should any loaf collapse, remove completely from the baking vessel, lay it on its side, dented side facing downwards and continue baking directly on the oven rack until cooked. Don’t fret too much. These make excellent bread and butter pudding.
Making Sugar Lemon Icing
1. Prepare the icing whilst the loaves are baking. Sift the icing sugar to avoid sugar lumps into a deep bowl.
2. Mix the cream/milk with the lemon juice. Add 3 Tablespoons of this into the icing sugar and work it in.
3. Gradually add 1/8 teaspoon or less in at a time as a little goes a long way. Add just enough until you have a thick paste that isn’t too runny but still promises to flow down the sides of the kulichi.
4. This recipe makes just enough of Sugar Lemon Icing to cover the tops. If you would like a more generous flow of icing, increase the ingredients 1.5X.
5. Traditionally, the initials ‘XB’ might be piped on the kulichi. It is the Cyrillic symbol for the phrase ‘Christ is Risen.’ The phrase is apparently used as a greeting exchange at Easter. You decorate it the way you like or not at all. Kulichi must be completely cooled before icing. Store in airtight containers.
6. Leftovers make the most delicious Bread And Butter Pudding.
Kulich will not be kulich if you do not bake them in cylindrical vessels. Choose the size and material of your baking vessels carefully.
Size of the baking vessel
These are the 5 cans I have used to bake kulich and they all worked well except for the Milo can (second from left).
From left to right:
(1) Equivalent to the USA ‘3 lb coffee can’ that is mentioned in recipes: (111.59us fl oz; 6″x8″) (3.3 litres;15x20cm).
(2) Equivalent to the USA ‘3 lb coffee can’ that is mentioned in recipes: (101.44us fl oz; 6.375″x7″) (3 litres;16x18cm). This is a Milo tin, content weight was 1.4kg. Milo is also sold in 500g, 1kg, 1.25kg, 1.8 kg.
(3) Equivalent to the USA ‘2 lb coffee can’: This is often the preferred size of can suggested in recipes.(64.24us fl oz; 5″x6.5″) (1.9 litres 13x17cm)
(4) Equivalent to the USA ‘2 lb coffee can’: This is often the preferred size of can suggested in recipes.(57.48us fl oz) (5″x5.75′) (1.7 litres; 13x15cm)
(5) Large can of fruits/vegetables. Peaches in this case. This is also a preferred size as a smaller can size means an easier, quicker bake and sturdier Kulich.(28us fl oz; 4″x4.75″) (0.825 litres; 10x12cm)
I found this website on USA can sizes useful http://sizes.com/home/cans.htm
What size of a kulich should you bake?
TWO ‘2 lb coffee can’ and ONE ‘Large can of peaches (fruits/vegetables)’
You have a much better chance of success if you split your baking into 3 cans. The loaves will bake faster and is less likely to collapse. As it is, the dough is heavily laden with fruits and nuts, splitting it up to bake into more manageable size(s) helps to bake it through evenly with the best possible rise
ONE ‘3 lb coffee can’ and ONE ‘2 lb coffee can’
A ‘3 lb coffee can’ sized kulich will be more challenging to bake but not impossible. Don’t try and cramp all the dough in this recipe into a ‘3 lb coffee can’. Way too much dough. When I did just that, my loaf always ended up hitting the heating element. Split up the dough as indicated. Any extra dough could be baked into a free form loaf.
Conclusion: Whatever size container you decide to bake the kulich in, the dough should be filled up until it is between 1/3 to 1/2 way up the height of the can. As there are a lot of variables involved with kulich baking, please keep in mind that my recipe and the baking times is in reference to the cylindrical food cans (i.e. dimensions and thinner tin plates) that I had used. I have not baked with kulich baking paper pans and I can only guess that it would take 3/4 of the baking time my recipe requires.
Material of the baking vessel
To get its characteristically tall and dome shaped, baking in emptied cylindrical food cans would be ideal. However, not all cans are made the same. Some cans are made of thicker plates of tin. For my recipe, I want to get thinner ones so that the loaf cooks faster. A real problem with baking Kulich in cans is that the kind people who take the time to share their Kulich recipes do not realise that cans come in varying thickness of tin and this does affect baking times in more ways than one can imagine. If the recipe developer had baked it in a can with a very different thickness composition compared to the one you would be using, and you followed the recommended baking times, you could face either of 2 scenarios:
(1) Kulich would have been over baked – way too brown, too dry (you had clearly used a can with a thinner plate of tin).
(2) Kulich would have been under baked – loaf looks nicely browned on the tops and sides but upon releasing from the can, the bottom 2/3 of the loaf is pale or perhaps lightly browned and the bottom 1/3 of the loaf would have caved in. The loaf definitely will not be able to stand upright (you had used a can with a thicker plate of tin).
These issue would be exacerbated if you were to attempt baking a kulich in a ‘3 lb coffee can’. Consider how heavily laden with eggs, butter, milk, fruits and nuts the dough is to begin with and now we are trying to squeeze almost all of the dough in that can instead of spreading it out into 3 smaller cans. The larger your loaf, the more of a challenge it would be to bake it successfully in a can.
From my frenzied kulich baking episodes, I know a ‘3 lb coffee can’ kulich bakes in 1 hour 30 minutes in a can with thinner tin plates. The same dough will take 2 hours in a can made with thicker tin plates. This is a significant time difference. Baked unwittingly in a can with the wrong thickness, this larger than usual kulich is guaranteed to either be baked close to toast or under baked and collapse. I had my first 3 collapse on me before I realise it was the thickness of the tin plates (and other reasons which I discuss below).
In the grocery store, it would be difficult to tell the thickness of the tin plates on cans. So how do you choose? This is when I say, having those lovely grandmas and mothers who are Russian Kulich Bakers experts in your kitchen would be ideal. After years of annual kulich baking, they would know for certain the best vessels to use and the exact baking time. Then again, if you don’t live where they live, you won’t be able to get your hands on the cans they are using. So we have to settle on choosing, as wisely as we can, with some guesswork and hopefully not through too much trial and error.
Besides using cylindrical food cans, there are kulich (or panettone) baking paper pans (similar to cupcake/muffin paper cups) which you can purchase. These paper liners are rather stout. Kulichi baked in these would not have the characteristically tall and lean look. They will look like cakes. The plus side is, kulichi baked in these paper liners, bake quicker. It is also much easier to tell when the kulich is baked through and hence there is a much reduced chance of a bad bake.
How to choose a can made with a thinner sheet of tin?
I know the Milo can that I used was thick. That Milo was labelled 1.4kg on the outside. For can dimensions, refer to measurements above. It took way too long to bake and I would not recommend it. You would be checking on the bread far too many times – opening and closing oven door, poking a skewer/thermometer through it ever so often, the bread will be ruined one way or another.
I moved on to a wafer can – first can from the left of the image above. I had to spend some time at the grocery store using my thumb and my index figure to flick the can to try and determine if it was made of a thinner sheet of tin than the Milo can. I did get some curious stares from fellow shoppers. After flicking my fingers through, 3 lb cans of baby milk powder, adult milk powder, oats in various forms, whey protein, the wafer can looked and sounded a bit more hollow than the Milo can at home. At home, I took a better look at this new can and the Milo can. It was clearly thinner. This can ended up baking a kulich evenly and in 1 hour 30 minutes and it did not wobble in the slightest bit. I am keeping that can for future kulich baking.
Conclusion: There is really no clear direction I can give as there are too many cans out on the supermarket shelves. So let’s try and minimise the margin of error.
- Stay away from the Milo can. I might also be cautious about milk powder cans.
- As mine is a wafer can, you could try looking for a similar can. A wafer can or biscuit/cookie can perhaps?
- Once you have had a successful bake in the can that you have chosen, make a mental note of it and use the same can for future kulich baking.
- Try and choose one with a replaceable metal lid like the first 4 cans you see in the picture above. If you should for any reason have problems removing the kulich than that replaceable lid will come in very handy as you can loosen and push the kulich from the bottom up and out.
WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?
It has to be the accompaniment to kulich, pashka. It is worth making this home made cheese spread that is studded with fruits. This creamy spread makes the kulich taste richer and more luxurious. Thank goodness, it is way easier to put together compared to the kulich!