Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Babka

     During the last couple of months, I have experimented with a few types of babkas. Here are some I have made Nutella,Apple Cinnamon, Chocolate Cinnamon, and Caramel Apple.
     There are two types of Babka's; Jewish and Eastern European. The main difference is that the Jewish babka is sweet and cake-like, while the Eastern European version is more like bread.
     For Easter, I decided to try my hand at a traditional Easter Babka. This is a round shaped bread, called Paska in Ukrainian, or Babka in Polish.  The top of this bread is elaborately decorated with fancy dough ornaments, having a cross as the central motif. The bread is made with a lot of eggs since Easter marks the end of Lent. Traditionally, during Lent the faithful maintain a very strict diet with no eggs, among other things.
     I really enjoy this bread. It is very flavorful and surprisingly light tasting. I think this is a result of the lemon and orange zests. It would definitely be a perfect accompaniment to a traditional Easter dinner of ham and all the "fixin's" since it tastes like a sweet dinner bread....along the same lines as Hawaiian bread.
    As a side note, I will make a half batch next time around. This experience could have been an SNL sketch for sure. The dough just kept growing and growing. I didn't seem to have a bowl big enough to contain it! In the end, it was all worth it. The bread is not only beautiful, but a perfect and delicious addition to our Easter celebration.

from Suburban Grandma
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
1 package dry granular yeast
3 cups scalded whole milk, lukewarm
5 cups of flour
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
½ cup melted butter
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. orange zest
1 tsp. lemon zest
6 cups of sifted all purpose flour

  • Dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm water and sprinkle the yeast over it.
  • Let it stand for 10 minutes.
  • Combine the softened yeast with the lukewarm milk and 5 cups of flour.
  • Beat well until smooth.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and let the batter rise in a warm place until light and bubbly (30min)
  • Add the beaten eggs, sugar, melted butter, salt, and orange and lemon zest.
  • Mix thoroughly.
  • Stir in enough flour to make dough that is neither too soft nor too stiff.
  • Knead until the dough no longer sticks to the hand.
  • Turn the dough on a floured board, or other work surface, and knead until smooth and satiny.
  • Place in a bowl, cover, and let it rise in a warm place until double in bulk (45 minutes).
  • Punch down and let it rise again (45 minutes).
  •  Prepare your pans by thoroughly greasing them with shortening. I used two 9-inch cake pans...and a couple ramekins for some HUGE mini-loaves.
  • divide the dough into 3 parts; the third part is for ornamental decorations
  • If you wish to make several small breads, then fill your greased pans 1/3 full with the dough, still leaving some dough for decorations
  • To make ornaments, one of them being the cross, you roll out some dough into a rope like shape and form it into an ornamental cross to place in the middle of the top of the bread.
  • Now that your loaves are decorated, dip a pastry brush in whole milk, and gently brush the bread tops, and ornaments, to give them a nice golden color once baked.  For a darker shade, you may use a wash made out of one egg beaten with 2 Tbs. of water.
  • Set the loaves in a warm place, once more, until almost double in bulk (25 minutes).
    Do not let the loaves rise longer than necessary, because the ornaments will lose their shape.
  • Preheat you oven to 400 degrees, and bake the bread for 10 minutes.
  • Lower the temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for 30 minutes longer, or until done.
    For smaller loaves your baking time should be shorter, so you need to use your judgment.
  • To prevent over browning of the tops, you may cover them with loose pieces of aluminum foil, once the babka is lightly browned.
  • Remove the loves from the pans, and cool completely.
  • You may wrap cooled loaves in aluminum foil, and plastic bag, and freeze until ready to use, to keep them fresh.
  • To thaw, keep covered, to prevent from drying out.
Tip: If you like raisins in your bread, you may add 1-2 cups of golden raisins to your dough, and you need to make sure to push them deeper into the dough before baking, or they will burn if sticking out of the bread.

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