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Worldwide Gastronomy Habits & Trends

Christmas Eve dinner at Polish foresters | Recipe for kulebiak with sauerkraut and wild mushrooms

ByDominika Margolt

Dec 22, 2022

Kulebiak (English: coulibiac, from Russian: кулебя́ка) is a type of Russian pirog usually stuffed with salmon or sturgeon, rice or buckwheat, hard-boiled eggs, mushrooms, onions, and dill. The pie is baked in a pastry shell, usually using brioche or puff pastry.

A classic grand Russian coulibiac usually features several various fillings, often a mixture of some white fish and rice for the top and bottom layers with stuffings made of sturgeon or salmon between. Those fillings are divided into thin pancakes to prevent mixing.  The most unusual ingredient commonly included in the grand version of the dish is vesiga, the spinal marrow of the sturgeon. Yes, yummy.

From Russia to Poland

In spite of its Slavic origin, the name was probably derived from the German word Kohlgeback, which means a pie stuffed with cabbage. Kulebiak was invented in the 17th century in Russia, and it gained popularity in France in the 19th century. Although the name coulibiac or kiulibiak is of Russian origin, some sources claim that the dish was brought to Russia by German immigrants. Kohlgeback was a pastry filled with chopped cooked cabbage, resembling pirog or pirioshki.

Although the old traditional coulibiac comes from beyond Poland’s eastern borders, it has become a traditional dish for the Polish Christmas dinner. The aromatic and flavorsome filling based on cabbage and wild autumn mushrooms matches perfectly the delicate yeast dough. An important advice to remember is that the quantity of fillings should always exceed the quantity of pastry.

Celestial creation

It is no mere trifle, no ordinary pie, something to snack on to fill the time while awaiting a second course. The coulibiac is a celestial creation, manna for the culinary gods and comprises a magnificent main course itself. This sublime invention demands patience, enthusiasm, and passion. If you are possess those traits, your companions at the table are lucky. If you are skilled enough to prepare a brioche dough, standard French crepe, you can easily accept the challenge.

Edouard Nignon, a renowned chef who lived around the turn of the century, wrote lyrically about food and dining properly. In his book, Eloges de la Cuisine Francaise, which is a compilation of essays and recipes, he describes rhapsodically how he served a coulibiac to the Czar Nicholas II at the Kremlin palace and that the Czar was equally astonished by the chef’s sorcery and his coulibiac.

Oddly and sadly there are very few restaurants around the world where you may dine on coulibiac, quite an unfortunate circumstance. This may be the result of the public’s unawareness of the grandeur of the dish as well as of the time consumption. But you can be the one to make it.

Recipe for the Christmas kulebiak

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 500 g of flour
  • 30 g of yeast
  • 1 glass of milk
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Filling:

  • 400 g of sauerkraut
  • 100 g of dried mushrooms
  • 1 onion
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • water
  • allspice, bay leaf
  • salt, pepper

Instructions:

Dough:

Heat the milk with yeast in a saucepan. Add the flour into a bowl through a sieve, add the egg, butter, salt and sugar, and afterwards add the milk with yeast. Knead the mixture and leave for 40 minutes to let it rise.

Filling:

First, soak the dried wild mushrooms for a couple of hours or preferably the whole night. If you haven’t done it the day before, this is where your patience traits come into play. Once you’ve drained your gorgous forest mushrooms, boil them for around 20 minutes in the water they were soaked in, and salt it. After, remove the mushrooms from the water and slice finely. Under no circumstances are you allowed to pour the water away.

Chop the onion and sauté it on a frying pan, adding the oil, salt, and pepper. Then, rinse the cabbage (if you are a sour taste lover and you are brave you can dismiss this step), chop it up and place it on the pan. Add the onion, mushrooms, allspice, bay leaf, salt and pepper and the water the mushrooms were boiled in. Cook everything for about 20 minutes. Leave aside to cool.

Let’s get to business – preparing kulebiak

Roll the yeast dough out thinly into a rectangle. Cut away the extra dough, this can be used to make decorative elements or not used at all, your choice. Lay out a roll of filling on the middle 1/3 of the dough. The top and bottom should be left free to roll and stick. Roll it up with one side of the dough. Lay out the next filling on the rest of the dough and repeat the rolling action. Coat the kulebiak with a beaten egg yolk and place it on a greased baking tray. Bake it in an oven for about 40 minutes in 150 °C.

At the end…

A mug of mushroom soup or barszcz is an excellent accompaniment (yes, the Polish would add barszcz basically to anything during the Christmas time).

Even though kulebiak can be baked at any time of year, everyone knows it tastes best on the Christmas Eve, as it has the greatest charm at the time.