Babka, which literally means "grandmother" in Polish, probably got the name because its shape is reminiscent of an old woman's wide, swirling skirts. Babka is a slightly sweet yeast bread similar to Italian panettone that can be made with rum-soaked raisins or other dried fruit, and iced or left plain. It's an Easter favorite among Poles and Ukrainians, and year-round by Ashkenazi Jews. As one might imagine, the varieties differ by region and by country. Here are some of my favorite babka recipes.
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This babka cake is a light pound cake soaked with rum syrup after it is baked and cooled. You can dust the cake with confectioners' sugar but that's a bit like gilding the lily. Place on a serving plate and surround with colorful jelly beans or decorations of choice.
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This Polish Easter babka celebrates the return of egg and butter to the diet after the Lenten fast. A mere 15 egg yolks are featured in this traditional recipe! Half bread and half cake, a babka is an indispensable component of a Polish Easter feast and is featured in other cuisines, including Ukrainian where it takes a tall shape similar to a Russian Kulich.
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Traditional babka is made with a staggering number of egg yolks. This recipe is lighter on the cholesterol load, requires no kneading and only takes one rise.
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I adapted this recipe for Polish royal babka with raisins, or królewska babka z rodzynkami (kroo-LEF-skah BAHB-kah z roh-jin-KAH-mee), from chef Bogdan Gałązka's "The Cuisine of the Kings of Poland in Malbork Castle" (Multico, 2010). The book is written in both Polish and English. Chef Bogdan soaks his raisins in white wine and I prefer dark rum, and I use a heavier glaze than he does (double the glaze recipe if you like a lot of icing). The recipe's beauty? It only requires one rising, not the traditional two, and sometimes three!Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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This recipe for cheese babka uses the same sweet yeast-raised dough of a traditional babka with the addition of a subtle cheese filling that sinks to the bottom, which becomes the top! Three risings make this cheese babka, which is baked in a babka or fluted Bundt pan, a very light cake. The dough should be slack and pourable after rising.
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This Easter babka recipe is favored by Poles and Russians and comes from Judith Fertig's "200 Fast & Easy Artisan Breads" (Robert Rose Inc., 2009). Unlike traditional babkas, this dough calls for only one egg. It can be baked in a large coffee can, brioche mold, or panettone paper. A baking stone will produce a nice, crisp crust, but this sweet bread can be baked without one.
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Ukrainians also feature babka for Easter but instead of the fluted shape favored by the Poles, theirs looks more like a Russian kulich -- tall and cylindrical. Kulich is a cross between a bread and a cake with a slightly sweet crumb. As with most foods, the recipe varies from family to family. But it usually has raisins, nuts and candied citrus rind. You'll need a 2-pound coffee can or kulich pan to bake it in.
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This chocolate babka recipe was appropriated from the Poles by Eastern European or Ashkenazic Jews. But it depends who talk to. Ashkenazic Jews claim the Poles stole it from them! As with most recipes, changes were made over the years. Instead of being baked in a swirly babka pan the Poles use, most Jewish people bake it in a loaf pan and, often, add a streusel topping. It's a delicious, rich version that, I think, suprasses most Polish babkas.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Jewish cinnamon babka differs from the chocolate version only in the filling. This recipe makes three loaves but they freeze very well.
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