Easter is just around the corner. Easter marks the end of Lent for all those people who have been fasting it out, and it is a day of celebration. Around the world, different people have different ways to celebrate Easter. For Italians, celebration might mean Easter Pie, packed with meat, cheese and eggs. And for Polish families, its Babka.
Babka is a rich bread, laced with rum syrup and drizzled with icing, comes from the Polish word for grandmother. The loaf is baked in a Bundt pan so that when it is served, it looks like a grandmother’s wide, fluted skirt. Babka is served majorly on Easter days, as the coda to a large and festive meal comprising of smoked and roasted meats, egg dishes of all kinds you can imagine, white borscht which is made with sour cream, horseradish, kielbasa and hard boiled eggs.
Dotted with raisins, dried fruits and citron this rum or brandy soaked cake is an Easter special in most Polish households. Sometimes, holes are poked into the Babka and it is then saturated with rum or brandy syrup and then dusted with confectioner’s sugar and drizzled with a flat icing. There are many varieties of Babka you can make that offers a thick bread and cakey taste, like cinnamon, lemon-cheese, honey-butter, chocolate, etc.
While the debate rages on, many believe that Babka was introduced into France by the court of the exiled Polish King, Stanislaus I Leszczyński, where it became known as a baba au rhum. Other sources note that Leszczyiński invented the baked bread when he soaked his stale kugelhopf in rum and named the turban-shaped dessert after the storybook hero Ali Baba.
What makes Babka so irresistible is the contrast between the slightly dry layers of bread and the sticky, delicious swirls of chocolate spread. Because it manages to be both dense and light at the same time, it is indeed difficult to stop at just one slice.
It is believed that on Shabbat, grandmothers would twist leftover scraps of challah with seeds and nuts, forming something delicious but far less sweet than the babkas we see today. this version of babka existed alongside other Polish babkas, which were baked in taller, round, fluted pans. It wasn’t until Eastern European Jews arrived in New York that chocolate was added to the mix. There, chocolate was affordable and easy to find, and it was thus discovered that finely chopped dark chocolate made for rich and tasty babka. Cinnamon and often almond paste too were spread onto a layer of dough, which was tightly rolled, twisted and folded, and baked into rich loaves we know and love today.
Here’s a recipe if you would like to try making some Babka yourself. This recipe was inspired by a recipe that was a part of the 200th anniversary Cookbook by King Arthur flour that came out back in 1990.
0.5 cup lukewarm milk
3 large eggs at room temperature
0.5 heaped tsp salt
0.25 cup granulated sugar
0.25 cup softened butter
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp instant yeast
0.25 cup currants or raisins
0.25 cup candied mixed fruit or mixed dry fruit
0.5 cup granulated sugar
0.25 cup water
1 to 2 tablespoons rum
(You can substitute the water and rum portion with apple juice if you want)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp milk (or combination of milk (or a combination of milk and rum, or apple juice)
- Place everything except the fruit in a mixing bowl, and beat at medium speed until cohesive. Increase your mixer’s speed to high, and beat for 2 minutes.
- Add the fruit, beating gently just to combine.
- Cover the bowl, and let the dough/thick batter rest/rise for 60 minutes; it won’t appear to do too much.
- Scoop the batter into a greased 10-cup Bundt pan. Cover the pan, and let the dough rest/rise for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F.
Bake the babka for 35 to 40 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads at least 190°F.
- While the babka is baking, prepare the rum syrup. Combine all of the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, and boil, swirling the liquid in the pan, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.
- Remove the babka from the oven. Poke it all over gently with a toothpick or fork, and slowly pour the syrup over the babka’s surface.
- When the syrup is fully absorbed (about 20 minutes or so), carefully loosen the babka’s edges, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack.
- If you choose to use the icing: Mix all of the ingredients together, stirring until smooth. Drizzle over completely cool babka.
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