Kolach or kalach is a traditional Ukrainian Christmas bread. I always make it according to my grandmother’s recipe
Kolach (or kalach) is one of the attributes of Ukrainian Christmas. It’s traditionally baked and served at Ukrainian Christmas Eve supper – Sviata Vecheria (Holy Supper). This braided sweet bread sprinkled with poppy seeds symbolizes the newborn baby Jesus. In addition, kolach is a symbol of prosperity and good luck.
Christmas kolach can be shaped into an oblong loaf or a ring-shaped braided bread (usually, a candle is set in the middle of the round loaf). The shape of this traditional Ukrainian Christmas bread depends on the region.
In our Ukrainian-Italian family, the traditions of the two nations have been combined for many years.
Actually… after our wedding, I brought not only suitcases with personal belongings to Italy, but also a whole bundle of Ukrainian traditions… because traditions are no less important than air… they are a part of our soul and heart, they are our history, our childhood, our roots, our mom and dad and our grandparents…
Ukrainian Christmas Eve and kolach bread
Every year on Christmas Eve my memories take me mentally from Rome to Ternopil (a beautiful city in western Ukraine)… to my childhood… to a small, but such a cozy apartment of my grandparents…
On this day, from the very morning, there was always a happy fuss in our house: my baba Maria (granny), mom, and aunt were busy in the kitchen – they were preparing kutia, uzvar, mushroom and beans soup, Ukrainian pierogi (varenyky), holubtsi, our favorite carrot salad, sweet Ukrainian donuts (pampushky), fish, sliced herring and other dishes. And of course, they were baking kolach bread. There had a lot of work to do – they had to prepare 12 meatless, dairy-free, and eggless dishes (these traditional Ukrainian Christmas meals symbolize the 12 apostles or the 12 months of the year).
My grandfather Petro and I had an easier task – we set the table: we put garlic cloves in the four corners of the table (as protection from evil spirits), and the center of the table was a traditional place for a candle (we always had it in a glass with grain – a symbol of prosperity). We used the best grandmother’s kitchen set and always put one spare plate and spoon on the table (for deceased relatives).
Then the rest of our family would come and there would be even more happy fuss – some would sit on the couch and talk about everything in the world, and others would look impatiently into the kitchen, mesmerized by the delicious aromas that constantly flew out from there like delicious invisible clouds and filled the entire apartment… pierogi were being cooked, fish was being fried, and Christmas kolach bread was cooling on the windowsill…
My father was pouring holy water into a decanter, my uncle was looking for a collection of Christmas carols on my grandmother’s shelves, and my sister, cousin, and I were impatiently waiting for it to finally get dark outside because then grandfather would go out to see if the first star had already risen – a sign that it was time to sit down at the table and start the Holy Supper. We all dressed festively, lit a candle, and always started supper with a prayer, then grandpa (as the head of the family) blessed the food and the Holy Supper began.
First, everyone drank the holy water, then the kutia was tasted, and after that, we could start eating the rest of the dishes on the table. Each of the 12 Ukrainian Christmas dishes symbolizes something: kutia is the spiritual wealth of Christian life, mushrooms are the two natures of Jesus Christ (divine and earthly), uzvar is the life that God gives to every person, sweet donuts are saints in heaven…
And among the 12 dishes on the table there was always a Christmas kolach (or kalach) – a braided sweet bread, generously sprinkled with poppy seeds. It was the only dish on the table that was not eaten during the Holy Supper because it contained butter, milk, and eggs. It could be eaten the next day, on Christmas.
Ukrainian Christmas kalach is one of the most delicious buttery sweet types of bread I have ever tasted. It reminds brioche, but it has a different dough texture, it’s very soft and fluffy. It’s truly special and unique.
This traditional Ukrainian Christmas bread is not as difficult to prepare as it may seem at first glance.
Here are some tips to make a perfect kolach bread:
- Measure the ingredients correctly. If you are a happy digital kitchen scale owner, I highly recommend using it instead of cups and spoons. Especially when it comes to baking recipes. A scale gives you far more accurate results than volume measurements (everyone scoops ingredients differently). Trust me, using a kitchen scale to measure ingredients will take your baking to a new level.
- To make the dough rise faster, put it in the oven with the light on.
- Do not braid the dough into a too tight braid so that it does not crack or tear while baking.
- Leave kalach to rise before baking to prevent it from cracking in the oven.
- You can bake this bread ahead of time and freeze it.
How to serve Christmas kolach bread
I love it with milk. This combination has been special to me since I was a child because it was my Christmas breakfast. Kalach is fantastic for breakfast!
Eat it as is, or spread it with some butter or jam.
Since kalach is not too sweet, you can even make a sandwich out of it. That’s what my grandfather Petro did – he enjoyed a slice of Ukrainian kolach with a piece of homemade smoked ham.
If you didn’t manage to finish this bread, and it got stale, it’s not a problem at all! There are many recipes to give a “second life” to stale bread. Try making:
- bread pudding
- French toast
- bread apple pie
(this recipe will make 2 oblong kolach loaves):
- 500g (4cups) all-purpose flour
- 2tsp active dry yeast
- 75g (1/4 cup + 2Tbsp) sugar
- 1tsp honey
- 50g (3½ Tbsp) unsalted butter (melt it and let it cool)
- 250ml (1cup) milk
- a pinch of salt
Kolach bread recipe
Dissolve the yeast in warm milk, add 2Tbsp of sugar (taken from the total amount) and 4Tbsp of flour. Mix everything well and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes until bubbly
Add the rest of the sugar, vanilla, melted butter (not hot), honey, and eggs (beat them a little with a fork) to the dough (my grandmother always kneads the dough for kalach with her hands, but I use a mixer or a bread machine for kneading – the main thing is to knead it well). At this point add flour and salt.
Knead an elastic dough (if necessary, add more flour – the dough should not stick to your hands, but it should be soft). Cover it with a kitchen towel and leave it to double in a warm place
Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and divide it into 2 halves. Then divide each half into 3 equal parts. Shape each of them into a rope and braid them to make two oblong braided loaves.
Pinch ends to seal. Let the kolach bread rise again in a warm place for 40 minutes (this is very important, otherwise, the bread will crack during baking). Then brush each kalach with a beaten egg and sprinkle it with poppy seeds.
Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and bake it for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Remove the baked Christmas bread from the oven, immediately cover it with a kitchen towel and leave it to cool.
Since this bread is made from a buttery dough, it keeps well for 4-5 days at room temperature. Store it in a plastic bag.
You can freeze a whole loaf of bread, or cut it into slices and freeze it in portions. You can store it like this for up to 6 months.
Cherish your family traditions, meet your relatives as often as possible, sing carols together, and bake a Ukrainian Christmas kolach bread, Italian panettone, German stollen, or other traditional Christmas bread or cakes that are dear to your heart. And no matter how far from your homeland life may take you, don’t forget to take a suitcase with memories and traditions with you, they will warm your heart and give you the feeling of a holiday!
Versione da Stampare
Kolach (Ukrainian Christmas bread) recipe
- 500 g (4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 75 g (¼ cup + 2 Tbsp) sugar
- 1 tsp honey
- 50 g (3½ Tbsp) unsalted butter (melt it and let it cool)
- 2 eggs
- 250 ml (1 cup) milk
- a pinch of salt
- Dissolve the yeast in warm milk, add 2Tbsp of sugar (taken from the total amount) and 4Tbsp of flour. Mix everything well and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes until bubbly
- Add the rest of the sugar, vanilla, melted butter (not hot), honey, and eggs (beat them a little with a fork) to the dough (my grandmother always kneads the dough for kalach with her hands, but I use a mixer or a bread machine for kneading – the main thing is to knead it well). At this point add flour and salt.Knead an elastic dough (if necessary, add more flour – the dough should not stick to your hands, but it should be soft). Cover it with a kitchen towel and leave it to double in a warm place
- Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and divide it into 2 halves. Then divide each half into 3 equal parts. Shape each of them into a rope and braid them to make two oblong braided loaves
- Pinch ends to seal. Let the kolach bread rise again in a warm place for 40 minutes (this is very important, otherwise, the bread will crack during baking). Then brush each kalach with a beaten egg and sprinkle it with poppy seeds.Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and bake it for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Remove the baked Christmas bread from the oven, immediately cover it with a kitchen towel and leave it to cool.