We're officially well into December, which means it's almost time to celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra (6/19 December), under whose protection I placed my family not long after my conversion to Orthodoxy. Having a patron saint for an entire extended family is primarily a Serbian Orthodox custom, but when I first came across it the whole idea struck me as extremely practical. I try to pray, but I don't do anywhere near as much praying as I ought to, and so asking someone whose whole life was and is permeated by prayer and who always went out of his way to help others to pray for my family just made sense.
Part of remembering a family patron saint is observing their holiday - either on the day itself or on the evening before - with a service known among the Serbs as the krsna slava, which celebrates the saint, asks for his or her prayers for the family, and prays for the rest of the family's departed members. An integral part of the service is what the Serbs call the slavski kolach, the mildly sweet bread whose recipe is below. Since the dead are remembered kollyva is also prepared for the service.
I only recently started observing St. Nicholas' feast day this way, but it's been both a fun excuse to celebrate him with friends and a great blessing. The recipe below is for a medium-sized loaf of the festal bread, but it can easily be doubled or tripled if you're celebrating your family saint's feast day with more people and need to make a larger kolach. Since I celebrate St. Nicholas' winter holiday this recipe is "fe'asting" (festal, yet fasting), but if you're celebrating your saint during a non-fasting season you can easily switch out the flaxseed mixture for eggs, et cetera, if you prefer.
2 packages of active dry yeast
3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/2 cup of water (warm)
2 tablespoons of flaxseed meal
6 tablespoons of water (warm)
1/2 cup of vegan shortening
1 cup of coconut milk (plain or vanilla)
1/2 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of salt
1 lemon (zested)
1 orange (zested)
6 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of golden raisins
1 bottle of sweet red wine
1) *Lord, bless!
2) Mix the yeast, tablespoons of flour, teaspoon of sugar, and half cup of warm water and set aside.
3) Thoroughly mix the flaxseed meal and tablespoons of warm water and set aside for at least 2 minutes.
4) Soften/melt the shortening, warm the coconut milk, and mix the two with the salt, lemon and orange zests, and remaining sugar until well blended.
5) Once the mixture is lukewarm add 2 cups of the remaining flour and mix until thoroughly blended.
6) Add the flaxseed and yeast mixtures, folding them into the dough until they are thoroughly absorbed.
7) Adding the remaining flour, reserving half a cup for kneading, and fold it in thoroughly. Let the dough rest in a warm place for 5 minutes.
8) Add the golden raisins and knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes until it's smooth. Place the dough in a large, lightly greased bowl, cover, and set it aside in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours until it's doubled in size.
9) Place the dough in a 9-inch round pan or large oven-safe bowl, reserving dough for a cross and braids if desired. (I'm utterly skillless in this department, so I sometimes just make the bread without any decorations on top.) Allow the dough to rise another half hour or so.
10) Place the dough in the oven and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. After this reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake it for a further 30 to 45 minutes. If done the bread should sound hollow when tapped.
11) Place the finished bread on a small table in front of your beautiful corner or wherever you've set up icons for the krsna slava service together with the kollyva, a bread knife, and a small pitcher with some of the sweet red wine.
12) After the bread has been blessed and the service completed cut the bread into large slices or cubes drizzled with more of the wine and share it with those present. If there's extra leftover you can freeze it for use in bread pudding or something similar. If it goes bad, then bury it in your yard or garden as you would prosphora.
*Since this is in memory of St. Nicholas it's nice to say his tropar and/or sing one of the folk hymns to him - of which there are many, Eastern and Western - as the bread gets started and throughout the process.