Kulich / CM

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2 pkg. rapid rise yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
4 cups undiluted evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups butter
3 cups sugar
2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
9 eggs
12 cups flour (approximately)
3 cups golden or dark raisins (or both)
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Kulich is a Russian Easter bread but you'll want to serve it any time of the year. Start the process early in the morning. The large amount of butter and sugar causes the rising process to be slower than the rising for a more "lean" dough. There are special yeasts available for sweet breads that may help speed this along.

In a small saucepan, scald the milk. Do this by bringing the temperature to a high simmer quickly (bubbles will begin to form along the edge). Turn off and remove from heat. Allow to cool to lukewarm. A skin will form. (If no skin forms, the milk wasn't heated sufficiently).

Skim the skin from the top. This removes a protein which is not beneficial to the bread making process.

Dissolve yeast in water which is lukewarm. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, add the dissolved yeast and 1 cup of sugar to the cooled milk with 3-4 cups flour along with the cardamom. Stir together, cover, and set the sponge in a warm place, free from draft to rise for several hours.

When the sponge has risen to about double in bulk, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in lemon and orange zest, 3 cups sugar, vanilla, and salt. Allow to cool to lukewarm and stir this mixture into the sponge. Add the lemon juice.

Begin to stir in the flour, a 1/2 cup at a time until the dough can be turned out onto a floured board to be kneaded. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic (5-10 minutes), adding in additional flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking. However, do not add too much flour or the finished bread will be heavy.

This is a sticky dough because there is much sugar, so if you're having trouble keeping the dough from sticking, oil your hands with vegetable oil rather than adding more flour. You may need to use more or less flour than the amount called for in the recipe. The less flour you use (this will become easier as you become more proficient at breadmaking), the sweeter and lighter your bread will be.

Knead in the raisins and nuts. Knead an additional 5 minutes, and place dough in a large bowl greased with butter or oil, turning once to grease the top. Cover and place in a warm place, free from draft, to rise until nearly doubled in bulk. This may take several hours.

After dough has risen, roll into balls of different sizes and place into greased coffee tins or bread pans. Or you may braid the dough and place on a cookie sheet.

Brush the top with an *egg wash and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until bread is golden brown on top and tapping the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow. With experience, you'll be able to tell when the bread is done because the house will smell like a bakery!

Remove bread from pans and set on a wire rack to cool. Don't set it directly on a dish or the bottom will steam. Brush the tops with butter and allow to cool before slicing with a serrated knife.

*Egg wash: Mix the white of an egg with a tablespoon of water. This imparts a glossy sheen to the top of the bread and also allows you to adhere poppy seeds or sesame seeds to the top, if desired.

Note: If you don't have ground cardamom seeds on hand, you can use almond or lemon extract instead.

This bread freezes well. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place in large zipper bags before freezing. Bread must be cooled several hours before freezing.

Extra thick slices make great French toast (perfect way to use it up a day or two later!).

Makes 3-4 loaves.

Submitted by: CM
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