The sun has been shining, we're allowed to meet friends again without the pretense of exercise, and to celebrate that I made the Kulich from Red Sands to take to a park with a flask of tea for a properly long chat with a very dear friend who I've missed seeing regularly more than I can say over the last year.
I think this Easter bread first caught my eye in Darra Goldstein's 'Beyond The North Wind', although I can't shake the feeling that I've seen it somewhere else recently, as well as in 'Red Sands'. If I have I can't find it now, although there's also a version in Olia Hercules 'Mamushka' so I have at least three recipes I can refer to in my kitchen alone.
Darra Goldstein tells me superstition holds that the success of this bread is mood dependent and not to try making it if you're feeling impatient or bad tempered. I was in a very good mood this morning between the sun and the prospect of seeing R, but there was something about this dough which made me happy as well and it behaved beautifully for me. It's a superstition I'm inclined to adopt.
Every recipe I've looked up for Kulich (I've gone through a pile of them online as well) is different, and although they're all versions of an enriched spiced dough with fruit that's about it. The advantage of the Red Sands recipe from my point of view is that it makes a relatively small quantity. It's enough dough for four breads baked in 400g tins (the sort that have had tomatoes or beans in). That's a good individual size and not to many to find homes for if you live alone. The bigger challenge was using enough tins of things the right size over the last week and remembering to keep them.
There are other advantages to the small size version - the modest quantities of ingredients are easy to deal with, which is helpful when you're handling a sticky dough like this one - it was very happy in a food mixer which is a bonus if you have carpel tunnel issues and the alternative is a solid 10 - 12 mins of kneading by hand. I didn't get through endless eggs and it was an excellent way to finish up some of the dried apricots left over from Christmas cakes. Same with the mixed spice as well which saved me making another batch and having half of it hang around for months. Smaller tins cut the baking time too, and these little Kulich are easy to handle as they come out of the tins - instructions for larger versions sound like it could all go wrong at the last minute.
Flavour wise to say they're somewhere between a pantone and a hot cross bun but denser is accurate enough, they also strongly reminded me of the tea loaf of my childhood, a sort that seems to have been particular to Shetland - and also made from an enriched dough, studded with raisins, sometimes spiced, soft in the middle, crusty on the outside. A link doesn't seem impossible, although delicious bread is delicious bread the world over.
Altogether these were a lovely thing to make, fitted well enough around a morning routine, and appeal more to me than either Simnel cake or even chocolate eggs (although I like those too). I really like their mushroomy appearance and the feeling of Sunday best they have about them. I absolutely recommend Red Sands, both for the travel journal elements and the recipes - I've found myself cooking a lot from it this year. I would normally include the recipe, but as every one I've read seems so particular to it's writer it doesn't feel quite right to do it this time.