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.
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.