My Mom, being a good sport, taught me how to make kalach, or kolach, the traditional Ukrainian Christmas bread this weekend. The recipe is my Baba's. Traditionally, this bread is braided into a ring. This ring has some special symbolism. But we just make boules - there are enough things to do at Christmas already.
Kalach is part of the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve meal of 12 meatless dishes. My family celebrates Christmas on Christmas day and usually eat this bread for breakfast.
The dried cranberries are not traditional, but my Mom thought they would be a good idea to try out. The recipe makes four loaves. My mother has an exceptionally large bowl to make this in - it is about twice the size of a regular mixing bowl.
To proof the yeast:
4 packages or 10 tsps of yeast,
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 tsp sugar
For the sponge:
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup melted butter
2 tsp vanilla
zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
juice of one orange
7-8 cups flour
1 1/2 cups raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1. Proof the yeast by dissolving the sugar in the water and adding the yeast. Let the yeast dissolve for about 10mins.
2. Warm the milk. Add to dissolved yeast with 1 cup of flour. Let rest for 45mins in a warm place. My parents keep there house very cool, so my mother turned the oven on for a few minutes to warm it up and then turned off the oven and let the sponge rise in there. The sponge is done when it is full of holes. According to my mom it should look like a sponge; thus, the name. See the picture below.
3. Once the sponge is spongy, in a separate bowl beat the eggs and yolk together, along with the salt. Add the remaining sugar gradually. Then add the melted butter, vanilla, zest and orange juice.
Add the egg mixture to the sponge, then mix in the remaining flour one cup at a time. My mom says the dough will be very soft. I found it very sticky. Knead the dough for 10mins. My mom's tip for kneading the dough is to keep flouring your hands. Once the dough has been kneaded I mixed in the raisins and cranberries.
4. Let the dough rise for about an hour and punch it down. Let rise again and form into four balls. Let the balls rise until double in size.
5. Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook for 15mins. If the bread appears to be browning too quickly, cover with foil. Then bake at 300F for 45mins. The bread is done when it sounds hollow if you tap the bottom.