27 March, 2010

Babka is a Family Affair

It's only fitting that I felt compelled to make Babka on the day of the bake sale at my parents' church. They would have sold Babka by the hundreds there. Not surprising since every single recipe I had seemed to make enough to feed an entire Ukrainian village. 10 eggs! 3 packages of yeast! 10 cups of flour! Oi vey.

So I did what any good Ukrainian would do. I called my mom. Unfortunately, she was at that bakesale, but my dad totally came through for me. He referred me to another cookbook in the family collection, where we found a recipe that could easily be adapted for a normal family size. And he said it looked a lot like the Babka that he was familiar with.

Did I mention that I've never made Babka before?

Traditionally served at Easter, and part of the required items in the Easter basket to be blessed at church, Babka is a sweet, eggy bread. Our family likes our studded with raisins or currants. A lot of descriptions  online call it something between a cake and a bread. Not so in my world. I always think of Babka as a sweet, rich bread, baked tall and best with creamy butter. Keep your cinnamon and chocolate and your Jerry Seinfeld, Babka is for spring, with a touch of citrus.

So the girls and I gathered our ingredients, put on our aprons, and set about to make a big giant mess. The good thing about making Babka is that it needs a lot of eggs, perfect for little hands. And what gorgeous little hands. I adore watching my girls' attack dough in their attempts to knead it. The Monster even has the push - turn - fold technique down now. And so long as we can keep Smilosaurus from snitching bits of raw dough we end up with a nice piece set to rise. And rise. And rise again. Be forewarned, from start to finish this is a full day affair.

This recipe starts out quite wet, what with all those eggs, milk, and a juiced orange. You will have to play with the flour, adding as much as necessary.  Just go slow, adding a few tablespoons at a time. Your dough is ready when it is smooth, aside from the raisins, no longer sticky, and relaxes a little, just a little, when you stop kneading.

Babka is traditionally made into a tall, round loaf. You do this by baking it in cleaned out cleaned tin cans. You could bake it in a loaf pan, but that doesn't seem quite as fun, or traditional. If, like me, you don't have a lot of cans in your house you can ask a neighbour. Failing that, make plans to make sauce later and use the cans from some tinned tomatoes. Just make sure they are washed well. Then buttered quite well. If you are worried about the bread releasing from the can, line it with a strip of parchment paper, and more butter. 

And when you are all done, make sure you call your parents to share your success. Then butter some slices for the next generation and enjoy with tea. Church blessings optional.

Ukrainian Babka
Makes 5 large tin size loaves, more or less depending on the size of container

1 tsp  plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 package Active Dry Yeast
3 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup warm milk
1 tsp salt
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 tsp vanilla
4-5 cups flour
1 cup golden raisins or currants
1 egg, beaten

1. Dissolve 1 tsp sugar in warm water.  Add yeast and let stand 10 minutes.
2. Soak raisins in warm water. Drain well.
3. Beat eggs and yolks until light - 4 minutes with stand mixer, about 8 minutes by hand. Stir in remaining sugar and beat 30 seconds more. Add melted butter, milk, salt, orange juice and zest, and vanilla. Mix well.
4. Mix the wet ingredients to the 4 cups flour in a large bowl. Mix together well.  Add flour, if necessary, 1/4 cup at a time until you get a wet dough. 
5. Turn out onto a floured countertop and knead.  Add flour in small bits until the dough is smooth.  Knead for 4 minutes or so. In two batches knead the drained raisins into the dough. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, buttered bowl, rub a bit more butter on the dough and set in a warm, draft-free spot to rise.
6. Let rise until double in size.  Punch down and let rise again.
7. Butter cleaned tins, dish, or pans. If preferred, line with a strip of parchment paper, then butter that as well. Form dough into balls that will fill container of choice to 1/3. Place in container and let rise again.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the tops of the babka with beaten egg.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your container. It should be nicely browned and have a hollow sound when you tap it.


Amy - Park City Girl said...

your loaves look amazing! I would love to have tea with you and your girls :) Thanks for sharing the recipe - I might just try it!

bluejeangourmet said...

these are beautiful. I love it when tradition dictates that certain things must be made at certain times of year...the girls will grow up to appreciate that even more, I know.

elle said...

ooh, you have me anticipating, Cheryl!

Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels said...

wow, that's surprisingly similar to panettone (tre traditional Italian cake) - it must be delicious!

Lauren said...

Those are some gorgeous loaves! I love how tall they rose =D.

Vivian said...

I'm just curious as to how you cut the loaves...as tall wedges or round slices?

Cheryl Arkison said...

We like to cut them as rounds in this house, with the top ripped off like a muffin top and slathered in butter!
Three times to rise gives these loaves plenty of loft.

your sis-in-law said...

I wish we were there so the girls could share with their cousin as he would LOVE the bread. I have officially cut ties with yeast so the poor kid will never get home-made bread unless he visits his auntie (or his grandma A)!

Aimee said...

Hat's off to you Cheryl, for both this spectacular loaf and for including the girls in the process. I know that was never an option for you. You're a naptime quilter, not a naptime baker!

missweb said...

What size are your cans? I think I'll try this on the weekend. My baba would be impressed.

Cheryl Arkison said...

Bread is one of the best activities with the girls, you do all the work before naptime and then you have the post-nap snack!

missweb, I used the 19 ounce cans, but it really doesn't matter what size. Just remember to only fill the can 1/3 full with dough before the last rising.

HipHome said...

Yummo-licious!!! Thanks for the introduction to Babka. I think I will try this with the boys this week.

Jeff Rasmussen said...

Oh I can just imagine the hot steam rising once you take the top off! I want them now!!!
Do you serve them with Easter Dinner or as a brunch meal?

gail said...

Beautiful! Love how the kids are involved too.

Kristine said...

Delicius and inspiring ;)
I love those tall breads.
Thanks for sharing!

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Beautiful! If the reduced version made all that bread, it's scary to thing how much the full version would make!

A word of caution about the cans, I've been looking for cans to bake in and have found that lots of cans now have a white plastic lining. It's toxic for baking, so steer clear of those!

Isabelle said...

These look amazing. I love rich eggy bread! Nice tulips too!

Anonymous said...

I've been eating my fair share of babka this weekend. I love it toasted slathered in butter. (toasted because ours was frozen and a bit on the dry side) Baba (my husband's mom) would be so impressed if I made some. I'll have to try next Easter. What colour blue do you have on your walls? Amazing - I want to do a wall or two and that's a great colour. - cranbran

Julie said...

Brilliant! I've always wanted to make babka - chocolate, as per the Seinfeld episode - but never have. Never made the Easter connection! wonder if it's too late...

Jennifer Jo said...

My great grandmother used to always bake her bread (a simple whole wheat) in old coffee tins. We called it "round bread."

Your loaves look lovely.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Love that last picture, spectacular loaves!!

Stacie D said...

Very very cool. I've never tried a recipe like this and now I'm inspired to give it a go!