Kalach is a type of Slavic bread made and eaten in several European countries such as Hungary, Russia, and Ukraine. The appearance and the shape of the bread may differ depending on the country, but the bread almost always has a round shape. The Polish version of the bread may have a simple round shape with or without a hole in the middle. The Ukrainian version, however, is especially distinguished by its round, “braided” appearance with a hole in the middle. Kalach is also known as “kolach” or “kolachi” in its plural form.
The name “kalach” is derived from the Slavonic or Ukrainian word “kolo,” which means “circle” or “wheel,” the latter probably pertaining to the primitive method of grinding wheat using two round stones. The bread was said to be a customary part of everyday meals and festivities, whether for the rich or the poor. According to Russian accounts, tzars or monarchs would send kolachi to church clergies as a sign of respect and welcome, and would also give the designated servant a coin to buy himself his own piece of kolach while bringing the kolachi to the recipients. In Ukrainian tradition, the bread, along with some salt, is offered to the guests, who will take a small piece and dip it in the salt.
The ingredients of kalach are commonly used in making any other bread, such as flour, eggs, oil, and yeast. Some sugar and salt are added for some flavor, as well as some milk for a softer texture. Once all the ingredients are kneaded in, the dough is usually set aside to rest so the yeast can let the dough rise and expand to double its initial size. For the Ukrainian “braided” kalach, the dough is broken into three rope pieces, which will be looped and braided together. The three dough ropes also have religious meaning, as they represent the Holy Trinity.
Once the ropes are braided together, the formed bread will be left to rise again so it will expand, before being brushed with some egg to create a glazed appearance. Poppy or sesame seeds can be sprinkled on top for a final embellishment. Bakers usually know that the kalach is cooked if it sounds hollow when tapped lightly.
During Christmas Eve, Ukrainian households will usually have on their tables three pieces of kolachi piled on top of the other, with a lighted candle inserted through the hole. The kalach’s symbolism of eternity also makes it an important part of funeral ceremonies, as Christians believes in the afterlife. A kalach is usually placed near the chest area of the dead person before being buried, so as to provide his soul some food while traveling the afterlife.