This recipe has been in our parish for at least twenty years, and in the parish of Groningen for God knows how many years before that. I use a fading copy of a photocopy from the time photocopies were grey and stank, of a handwritten note apparently put down by a Dutchwoman (and I know which Dutchwoman, she's well into her eighties now) from a Russian woman's dictation. It lives in the Russian cookbook, which I never use by itself though it's full of yummy-looking things, only as a container for Easter recipes. I've been meaning to make an easier-to-read version for ages.
Warning: it's complicated. It takes time. One day's work for one person and optionally an apprentice. Pick a day without any major commitments; it's possible to do things like grocery shopping and getting kids to school, but don't expect to get round to anything big, other than the kulich.
Use a large mixing bowl. I make a double portion, for the church and two families, in an 11-liter kettle. I recommend an electric beater as well, though it's perfectly possible to do it with only a wooden spoon and a whisk for the egg whites.
You'll need cylindrical baking tins, higher than they're wide: one-liter food tins are most suitable (next Lent, keep all those tins that the beans come in). Half-liter tins also work, though they're fiddly to line with paper unless you have small hands, high dexterity (I use experience in lieu of dexterity) or a handy nine-year-old.
Note that I list the ingredients twice: fully specified at the beginning, then repeated for each stage separately.
Heat the milk to lukewarm and dissolve the yeast and sugar in it. Put some of the flour into a bowl that's large enough to eventually take all of the mixture, or you'll have to transfer it later. Make a soft batter with the warm dissolved yeast. Allow to rise for about 1 hour.
Soak the saffron in hot water (as little as possible). Separate the eggs. Mix the yolks with the sugar, vanilla, cardamom, lemon zest and saffron with its water. Add this to the mixing bowl and mix well.
Beat the egg whites with the salt until nearly stiff. Add to the mixing bowl, with some flour, and mix well. Allow to rise for about 1 hour.
Melt the butter and stir into the dough alternately with the rest of the flour. Let the last bit brown before adding it. Add the oil. Mix extremely well, until completely smooth. Allow to rise for about 1 hour.
Wash the fruit. Put it over high heat in water to cover. When it boils, take it off the heat and let it stand while the dough is rising.
Drain the fruit and stir it into the dough, as well as the almonds.
Line the tins with greaseproof paper: cut a strip the height of the tin and a square slightly larger than the bottom, put the square in first and then the strip as a roll (roll it the opposite way from its inclination, so the edges don't curl into the dough). You can do this at any time while waiting for the dough to rise, but it doesn't hurt to let the dough wait for it now.
Fill each tin slightly less than halfway with dough. The original recipe says 1/3, but experience shows that this is too little. More than half full results in kulich shaped like a nuclear explosion instead of the proper domed cylinder. Allow to rise for about half an hour.
Heat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius. Bake the kulich for 10 minutes, then turn the heat up to 190 degrees and bake until done (about 40 minutes; they should be golden brown and a skewer should come out clean). If you do two batches, allow the oven to cool to 100 degrees before you put in the second batch.
Let the tins cool on a rack until they're easy to handle. Slide each kulich out of its tin and strip it of the paper. Put upright on a tray and let cool completely before packing for storage.
Pack each kulich individually in a freezer bag. (I mean, you're not doing this on Holy Thursday, are you?)
To thaw, take the kulich out of the freezer two days before you need them (probably on Good Friday morning) and leave the bags closed until the last possible moment. Transport in closed bags in the tins.
Beat the egg whites until loose and foamy. Mix the icing sugar with so much egg white that it just flows. Cover the top of each kulich with icing (it's traditional that a little trickles down the sides) and decorate with decorations. Let it dry.
Stick a candle in the middle. Cut slices, preferably from the bottom up, and serve thickly spread with pascha.