No Russian Easter celebration is complete without this amazing, buttery and flaky Russian Easter Bread, also known as Kulich or Paska! I’m sharing my family recipe for this traditional Paska bread, dotted with dried apricots and cranberries and glazed with royal icing! This delicious, sweet yeast bread has been a staple in Russian Orthodox Easter for millennia and is still immensely popular to this day in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. You can also find this recipe in my new cookbook, Beyond Borscht, which includes 75 Eastern European recipes!
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Preparing the Dough
Making this sweet Easter bread or Kulich takes a little bit of time due to the double proofing process but it’s totally worth the effort! The recipe itself is very simple and straightforward and doesn’t require any special equipment or ingredients! I start this dough with the milk and active yeast first and let the yeast proof for 5 minutes. Next, I add the sugar, salt and remaining wet ingredients: melted butter, eggs, egg yolks and sour cream. The butter and sour cream make this sweet bread extra buttery and flaky!
Next, I add in just 2 cups (250 g) of all-purpose flour and the batter is ready for the first proofing stage, which usually takes about 1 to 1 ½ hours. After the first proofing, I add the remaining flour and knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic. Next, it’s time to add the dried fruit, which I soak beforehand in warm water. The rehydrated fruit will make the dough slightly sticky, so I dust it with a little bit of flour and knead it again until it’s smooth. Paska can also be made with chocolate or nuts.
Shaping the Bread
Once I’ve added the dried fruit, I then divide and shape the dough into three pieces. This Easter bread is traditional prepared in paper molds. You’ll need three, 6-inch (15-cm) paper molds for this recipe. I love these pretty, floral bread molds I found on Amazon, but you can also use panettone bread molds. I let the bread proof the second time in the bread molds for at least 2 hours, until doubled in size. Read on for my oven proofing method!
Dried Fruit & Various Fillings
Traditional Russian Easter bread is always made with some sort of dried fruit or nuts mixed into the yeast dough. For my video recipe, I used diced, dried apricots and dried cranberries. Before adding the dried fruit into the bread, I soak it in warm water. The rehydrated fruit will help add moisture to the bread as it bakes. This bread can be made with just about any type of fillings. Here are some more suggestions and popular choices:
- Dried Fruit: cherries, cranberries, plums, figs, apricots, mango, apples, dried blueberries, golden or red raisins.
- Chocolate/Nuts: white, milk or dark chocolate chips; chopped hazelnuts, pecans or almonds.
More Dough Tips
This Russian Easter bread is a breeze to make! Here are more tips for success:
- Measure the temperature of the milk and the butter. The milk should be between 120 and 130F (49 to 54C); hot milk will kill the yeast and cold milk won’t activate it properly. And always make sure the butter isn’t too hot either, which can also kill the yeast.
- Have the eggs and sour cream at room temperature. Cold eggs and sour cream will lower the temperature of the dough.
- Don’t add too much extra flour! This bread needs 5 2/3 cups (708 g) all-purpose flour. I typically use a couple extra tablespoons for dusting my work surface but not more! Too much flour will make the bread too heavy and it won’t rise as well.
- Let the dough proof the second time until it’s doubled. This can take 1 ½ to even 3 hours, depending on the temperature in your kitchen. The more the dough proofs, the better it will be.
Proofing the Bread in the Oven
In commercial bread kitchens, proofing rooms or ovens are used to more efficiently proof yeast breads. The warm and humid environment is the perfect place for dough to proof. You can easily create your own proofing oven at home! This method ensures the yeast dough rises nicely. First, fill a large casserole dish with boiling water and place it in the bottom of the oven. Place the bread in its bread molds onto a baking sheet and space the bread evenly apart. Place the bread onto the middle rack of the oven and close the oven door.
I recommend changing the water every 45 minutes, to keep the oven warm and humid. This Easter bread will take about 2 to 2 ½ or even 3 hours to proof and double in size.
Baking Easter Bread
Once the yeast dough as proofed and doubled in size, it’s time for the final step – baking! I bake this bread at 350F for approximately 45 minutes for 6-inch bread loaves. As this bread bakes, it will darken on the top. I like to place a sheet of foil over the top to prevent the bread from getting too dark. Once the bread is done baking, remove it from the oven and onto a wire rack to cool in the bread molds.
Royal Icing Glaze
You’ll find most Russian Easter bread is covered in a simple glaze or Royal icing as a garnish on top! And, the icing is typically sprinkled with rainbow or colorful nonpareils or sprinkles. This glaze is optional and a personal preference – my husband doesn’t like the glaze but I personally do! When making this bread for the first time, try it with and without to see which one you like better.
Royal icing is made with egg whites and confectioner’s sugar. This glaze contains raw egg whites. You can use pasteurized egg whites, which are safer to use. It’s super easy to make – just slowly incorporate the confectioner’s sugar while whisking the eggs whites, until a thick glaze forms. Don’t want to use raw egg whites? Make a simple sugar glaze with 2 cups confectioner’s sugar and water or lemon juice. Add a couple tablespoons of liquid at a time and mix to the desired consistency.
NOTE: this icing recipe makes enough to generously coat all three loaves. If you don’t want too much glaze, I recommend cutting the recipe in half. For half a recipe you’ll need 1 ½-oz egg whites and 2 cups confectioner’s sugar.
History of Easter Bread
This delicious sweet yeast bread has been a long standing tradition in Russia and Eastern Europe. The Kulich tradition began in Russian Orthodox churches. Parishioners would bake this bread the day before or on Easter day and bring the bread to the church in a large basket decorated with flowers and eggs. The bread would be blessed by the priest then enjoyed for breakfast.
Beyond Borscht Cookbook
You can find the recipe for this traditional Easter bread or Kulich in my Eastern European cookbook, Beyond Borscht. This cookbook features 75 of my favorite traditional recipes from Russian, Ukraine and even Poland. It’s a collection of all the food I grew up enjoying, made by my mother and grandmother. This book includes appetizers, soups and salads, main entrees and of course, desserts. You can purchase this cookbook online on Amazon (direct link), Walmart and Target and in-stores at Barnes & Noble.
Enjoyed this traditional sweet bread recipe? Check out some of my other recipes you’re sure to enjoy!
- Rogaliki – these Russian crescent cookies are made with a soft yeast dough and filled with jam.
- Apple Piroshki – you’ll love these delicious fruit hand pies made with soft yeast dough and baked in the oven.
- Orange Cranberry Bread – one of my favorite breads, with orange zest and juicy cranberries! It’s super easy to make!
- Blueberry Lemon Bread – another fantastic bread with lemon zest, fruity blueberries and a simple glaze!
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Need some supplies to make this recipe? You can get them here (Amazon affiliate links):
- 6-inch Floral Paper Molds – these Ukrainian bread molds come in various different designs.
- 6-inch Panettone Paper Molds – classic paper molds.
- Kitchen Scale – a digital kitchen scale is must for any baker!
- KitchenAid Hand Mixer – this small but powerful mixer is perfect for smaller jobs.
- Glass Mixing Bowls – I love to have everything premeasured and ready to go!
- Rainbow Nonpareils – these are perfect for decorating this Easter bread!
- Copper Measuring Cups – I love anything copper and these are so pretty!