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I have been making hot cross buns for Easter for nearly 30 years. This year, I thought it might be time for some variety. In my search for traditional Easter breads I came across Babka. “Sounds great,” I thought. “Let’s find the true recipe.” Easier said than done.
What Is Babka?
Babka is traditionally made in Poland, Russia, and other Eastern European countries. Apparently babka is a popular Christian Easter bread, but is also made in the Jewish tradition. Perhaps these two traditions for one bread are why I found so many recipes, all claiming to be the true traditional recipe.
I found recipes that add rum or vodka or almond extract or vanilla extract. Recipes that included a chocolate filling or no filling at all. Recipes that had icing and recipes that had no icing. Recipes to be made in a Bundt pan, or a coffee can, or a Brioche pan. Recipes that included raisins or dried cherries or neither. Recipes flavored with allspice or cinnamon or citrus, and recipes that eschewed all spices. Recipes that called for the bread to be soaked in a sugar solution before baking and recipes that called for a sugar soak after baking and recipes that called for no soaking at all.
So what is babka? It is that most traditional of celebration breads. A sweet bread that traditional cooks have adapted to whatever is still in the pantry come spring. Once I realized this, it allowed me to do the same. While I might experiment with other variations in the future, I adapted several recipes to ingredients on hand and developed this soft, tangy, sweet bread.
1. Dissolve the yeast in the water in a large bowl or stand mixer bowl. Add sugar, eggs, sour cream and milk. Beat until smooth.
2. Add salt, citrus peel, and flour. Beat until a soft dough forms.
3. Add dried fruit, beating just to combine with the dough.
4. Push the dough into a greased bowl and cover. Let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
5. Push risen dough into a greased 10-cup Bundt pan. Cover and let rise another 40 – 60 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove babka from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.
7. Combine icing ingredients. Drizzle over nearly cool babka. Cool completely before cutting.
This is a very loose, soft dough, best made using a stand mixer. However a large bowl and hand mixer will work also as there is no kneading involved. I used a greased baking spatula to evenly push the dough into the baking pan.
Any combination of dried fruit can be used instead of the cherries and raisins. Apparently cherries are used in the Polish tradition, but I also found numerous recipes that called for currents and candied fruit. Babka is a recipe that works well with any fruit. Maybe this is the year for you to start your own tradition, using what is available in your pantry.
Renee Pottle is an author, Family and Consumer Scientist, and Master Food Preserver. She writes about canning, baking, and urban homesteading at Seed to Pantry.
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