The aroma would tantalize me; like little fairies playing with my nose hairs. I can still smell it now — 50 or 60 years later — the aroma of Boosha’s Babka baking or cooling on the counter.
Babka is a Poland. Oh, I’m sure other countries and other cultures have something similar but for my grandmother who left the Old Country behind when she was in her early teens, Babka was a bit of home — a bit she wanted to share with her family a lifetime later. My grandmother’s mother died when she was pre-teen. As soon as grandma was old enough to have learned how to cook and clean she was trundled off to an older, well to do man, as a cook and house cleaner. We never found out how she got out of that arrangement and free to accept the steamer ticket her brother sent (Laurence, who had preceded her to America by a few years). And part of me thinks that it was pure luck that she managed the overseas trip, followed by a train journey from Quebec to Detroit (Actually, she took the train to Windsor, ON, where her brother came to pick her up.) This young Polish girl might have crossed the world in hopes of a better life but she brought memories along with her.
In “traditional” homes, Babka is often reserved for holidays — Easter in particular. But, when you’re a young girl who didn’t have a long tradition of when to make it or how, Babka became much more of a routine occurrence in our family. That’s the thing, after all, with traditions. They are what they are because families practice them for a great many years and the attempt to replicate the previous years’ practice each time. I guess Boosha wasn’t all that much into tradition because from what I can remember she simply like that it tasted good. And of course, it was easier and cheaper for her to make the same cake that in her impoverished little town was a special treat reserved for important occasions. The special became the common place.
Boosha made the cake in a way very similar to the one below. It is not at all like the one featured in the photo above. That was more like what my father’s father would make. My paternal grandfather (who lived in Chicago while we were up in Milwaukee) was a baker in his own right. He took his version of Babka and filled it with chocolate, or with poppyseed finely ground into a paste like you might do with almonds. His was a bit richer. A bit showier, and he didn’t make it nearly as often. As a result, it’s Boosha’s that I remember the most fondly.
This recipe is pretty decent. Different from what we did, but still, it’s a good starting point for baking experimenters.
Many different versions of this rich bread, laced with rum syrup and drizzled with icing, are served at Easter in Polish households. It’s such a tradition, and so well-loved, that there are probably as many babka recipes as there are Polish bakers! This particular recipe was inspired by one in our (King Arthur Flour) 1990 200th Anniversary Cookbook, which includes a wealth of recipes and information from cultures around the world. You’ll notice that, despite being made with yeast, it’s an easy batter bread; “no-knead” isn’t as new a concept as you might think.
- PREP: 10 mins
- BAKE: 35 to 40 mins
- TOTAL: 2 hrs 15 mins
- YIELD: 1 loaf, 12 to 16 servings
1/2 cup (113g) lukewarm milk
3 large eggs, at room temperature
heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons, 57g) softened butter
2 cups (241g) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup (43g) currants or raisins (golden raisins preferred)
1/4 cup (43g) candied mixed fruit or candied mixed peel, or mixed dried fruit, chopped
1/2 cup (99g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (57g) water*
1 to 2 tablespoons (14g to 28g) rum*
*Or substitute apple juice for the water and rum.
1 cup (113g) confectioners’ sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (28g) 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.
A moist, cake-like yeast bread, often served at Polish Easter celebrations.
— Read on www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/polish-babka-recipe