This Ukrainian Babka Cake is actually a sweet bread that often contains golden raisins and made for Easter Sunday. Babka is one of my very favorite bread recipes.
Ukrainian Babka Cake
When I was growing up, my mother talked a lot about growing up in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, in a duplex with her Nana in the apartment below my grandparents. Both of my grandparents were Polish, so even when I was growing up, there was a huge Polish influence when I was with my mother’s family.
Babka means glazed sweet bread made with dried fruit (such as raisins) and it’s traditionally served at Easter or other special holidays. It is an eastern European bread with different variations. My mom grew up with Polish babka which is the shape of traditional bread. Ukrainian Babka Cake (or bread) is tall and cylindrical like an Italian panettone. Also Ukrainian Babka can be iced or left plain.
The easiest way to make this bread is by using 2-pound coffee cans with the top rim cut off with a can opener. I made panettone this way and saved my cans. Just make sure there is no paper left on the outside and no coating on the inside. These days a lot of coffee cans look metal but are in fact plastic.
How do you eat Ukrainian Babka Cake?
Ukrainian babka is sliced across the loaf beginning at the bottom. However, the bottom slice is not eaten until the rest of the bread is gone. It serves to keep the rest of the bread fresh.
Babkas are baked differently than traditional bread, as they start baking at a high temperature so the dough will puff up and form a firm crust. Then the temperature is lowered so the exterior dough doesn’t scorch before the inside has finished baking.
What is the difference between Paska and Babka?
Ukrainian babka is similar to paska, but it is sweeter and richer and almost cake-like. Traditionally, paska is baked in a large round decorated on the top with symbols, including crosses, flowers, braids, wheat, or other designs representing aspects of Orthodox and Eastern Catholic faith.
How do you make Ukrainian Babka Cake?
First, you need to make the sponge by scalding the milk and then cooling it. I don’t pay attention to the temperature – I just put it in the microwave for 2 minutes and then allow it to cool. If you put your finger in the milk and it’s mildly warm or cool then it’s fine. Mix the flour into the milk. Add your yeast, sugar and water mixture to the milk and flour and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise.
Next, make the dough by beating the egg yolks, whole eggs, and salt in the mixer or large bowl. Add 1 cup sugar and continue beating until light in color. Add the butter, vanilla, and lemon zest.
Next, add the sponge to this mixture and mix well. Mix in your 6 cups flour and knead for 7-10 minutes depending on whether you use the machine or your hands. Knead in the optional raisins. My family isn’t crazy about raisins so I left them out.
Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about an hour. Punch down dough, knead a few times, and let it rise again, about an hour.
Grease 3 babka cylinders or food-grade coffee tins and fill each pan 1/3 full. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until tripled, about an hour.
Before baking, brush the tops of dough with with 1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk or water. I actually forgot to do this so the bread isn’t shiny.
Bake the babkas in the oven at 375 F for 10 minutes first. Then lower the temperature to 325 F and bake for 30 minutes. After this, finally lower the temperature to 275 F and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer. If needed, cover the tops with aluminum foil, so they don’t brown too much.
Remove from the oven and let stand in the can for 10 minutes. Then slide out of cans and cool completely on a wire rack. If desired, the cooled loaves can be iced with a simple confectioners’ sugar glaze, letting it drip down the sides.
- For the Sponge
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 cup water (lukewarm)
- 3 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast
- For the Dough
- 10 large egg yolks (room-temperature)
- 2 large eggs (room-temperature)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 8 ounces butter (melted)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest (grated)
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- Optional: 1 cup raisins (light or dark)
- 1 large egg (room-temperature)
- 2 tablespoons milk (or water, room-temperature)
- Make the Sponge: Scald the milk and cool it to 110 F. Place 1/3 cup flour in a medium bowl and pour the cooled scalded milk over, beating until smooth. Set aside.
- In a measuring cup or small bowl, dissolve 2 teaspoons sugar in lukewarm water and stir in the yeast.Transfer the yeast mixture to the milk-flour paste, mixing well. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until light and bubbly.
- Make the Dough: In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the egg yolks, whole eggs, and salt. Add 1 cup sugar and continue beating until light. Beat in the butter, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the sponge to this mixture and mix well.
- Add 6 cups flour and knead 7 minutes by machine or 10 minutes by hand. Knead in the optional raisins. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about an hour.
- Punch down dough, knead a few times, and let it rise again, about an hour.
- Grease 3 babka cylinders or food-grade coffee tins and fill each pan 1/3 full. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until tripled, about an hour.
- Brush tops with 1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk or water.
- Bake the Babkas: Heat oven to 375 F. Bake babkas 10 minutes. Then lower temperature to 325 F and bake 30 minutes. Then lower temperature to 275 F and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer. Cover tops with aluminum foil, if they are browning too quickly.
- Remove from the oven and let stand in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn loaves out of the pan, running a knife around them, if necessary, and cool completely on a wire rack. If desired, the cooled loaves can be iced with a simple confectioners' sugar glaze, letting it drip down the sides.
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