Recipe: Polish babka

By admin
19 March 2010

Variations of Poland’s most traditional Easter cake, the babka, which means “grandmother” in Polish, are baked worldwide.

This rich yeast loaf is called a kulich in Russia and paska in the Ukraine where, like in America, it is baked in a tin so it resembles a granny’s bun. It’s usually baked on the Friday before Easter Sunday and dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with a runny icing.

In Russia and the Ukraine families bring the Easter cake and an unbaked cheesecake (pashka), to church so it can be blessed by the priests just before midnight. The entire Sunday is spent around the dining-room table and the highlight of the meal is when the kulich is brought out. Traditionally crystallised fruit is used to decorate the cake with the letters XB (Christos Woskres – Christ has risen).

Makes 6-8 small Easter cakes or 1 large one

Preparation time: 50 min

Resting time: 3 hours

Baking time: 25-60 min

CAKE

125 ml (½ c) milk

30 ml (2 T) honey

30 ml (2 T) oil

5 x 250 ml (5 c) cake flour, sifted twice

80 ml (? c) lukewarm water

20 g (2 packets) active dry yeast

9 egg yolks

375 ml (1½ c) sugar

5 ml (1 t) freshly grated nutmeg

5 ml (1 t) ground cardamom

5 ml (1 t) vanilla essence

30 ml (2 T) brandy

Grated rind and juice of 1 orange

225 g butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm

125 ml (½ c) yellow sultanas

125 ml (½ c) toasted almonds, finely chopped

2 ml (generous ¼ t) almond essence

1 egg white

ICING

540 ml icing sugar

45 ml (3 T) water

7 ml (1½ t) fresh lemon juice

crystallised fruit to decorate

Grease a clean 750 g coffee tin, medium-sized soufflé dish or 6-8 ramekins with butter, margarine or nonstick spray. Wrap baking paper around the tin, dish or ramekins to increase the height by 15 cm.

CAKE

Bring the milk to the boil over moderate heat. Remove from the heat, add the honey and oil and stir until the honey has melted. Gradually add 125 ml (½ c) of the flour, beating until the mixture is smooth. Leave to cool until lukewarm. Pour the lukewarm water into a large mixing bowl, stir in the yeast and leave until it begins to froth – about 5 minutes. Add the flour mixture to the yeast mixture, stirring until smooth. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 1 hour or until double in volume.

In a separate bowl whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale. Add the spices, vanilla essence and brandy and beat until well blended. Stir in the butter, sultanas, almonds and almond essence. Whisk the egg white until soft peaks form and fold it into the egg yolk mixture. Add the sponge to the egg mixture, mixing carefully but thoroughly. Using an electric beater, gradually incorporate the remaining flour, beating until a smooth, soft dough forms.

Put the dough in clean, greased bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for about 90 minutes or until double in volume. Knock down the dough and put it in the prepared tin, dish or ramekins. Cover and leave it to rise again for about 45 minutes or until double in volume.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180 °C. Bake for 1 hour (25 minutes if using ramekins) or until golden and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the loaf. Leave to cool slightly in the container before turning out. Remove the baking paper and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

ICING 

Mix the icing sugar, water and lemon juice until smooth and drizzle the icing over the loaf so it runs down the sides. Decorate with crystallised fruit.

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