Monday, March 30, 2015

There Is No Chocolate Babka

No, that's not a line from Seinfeld. Fans of the show will recall the episode in which he mugged an old lady because she got the last chocolate Babka at the bakery. When I was little, I asked my dad if we could have a chocolate Babka. He laughed and told me there was no such thing. Seinfeld fans know differently! I can only guess that clever American bakers incorporated chocolate into the bread.

I have baked a typical western Ukrainian Babka, which is traditional at Easter. I understand Babka means "grandmother." It's baked in a pot which is taller than it is wide. I read somewhere that it's supposed to be the shape of a woman's skirt. I'm a little afraid to imagine what their skirts looked like!

Every year, we had a Babka (never chocolate much to my dismay) at Easter. It was always amazing to look at. However, while my mom was a great cook and a fantastic baker, her Babka was always, er, a little on the dry side. So when I set out to bake a Babka, the first thing I dismissed was my mom's recipe. (Don't tell her if you see her, okay?)

I went straight to the cookbook called A BOOK OF FAVORITE RECIPES Compiled by THE SISTERHOOD of St. John's Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Johnson City, New York. Copyrighted in 1968, I assume these recipes were by women who had eaten and cooked Ukrainian food all their lives. My mother's dry Babka in mind, I selected BABKA WITH PUMPKIN by Pani Lawryk. She says, "This is a very old recipe and worth preserving. Mashed pumpkin imparts a mellow yellow color to Babka and keeps it fresh and soft for days." I hope so!

Now, while some of you are bakers who love to tackle big projects, I do realize that most of you won't be tackling this. So just enjoy the fact that I slaved over it and that at least one very old recipe will go on the net and be preserved for generations to come.

If you like to bake bread, this is no big deal. The most difficult part is finding the correct pot in which to bake the bread. Ukrainian women are particularly fond of using coffee cans. Soup cans and the like will work as well, but won't be quite as large as the one you see here.

(by Pani Lawryk in A BOOK OF FAVORITE RECIPES Compiled by THE SISTERHOOD of St. John's Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Johnson City, New York)

1 cup scalded milk, lukewarm
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 c. lukewarm water
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
 2 tablespoons grated orange rind
2/3 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup orange juice
5 cups flour, more or less
soft butter for greasing the pans
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons milk

1. Scald the milk and set aside to cool.

2. Dissolve 2 teaspoons sugar in the water and sprinkle yeast over top. Stir gently. Let stand about 5 minutes, until it begins to expand and bubble. Add the milk, and 1 cup flour and beat well. It will be very thin. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set in a warm spot until light and bubbly. (Note: it took about 40 minutes).

3. Beat the eggs with the salt. Add the sugar and continue beating. Add the butter, orange rind, pumpkin, vanilla, and orange juice and beat to combine. Pour into the yeast mixture and mix. Stir in the five cups of flour and knead (I let the machine do it) in the bowl for ten minutes. (Note, I needed six cups of flour but I used jumbo eggs.) The dough should be very soft. If necessary, remove from bowl and slowly add flour while kneading by hand. Place in a deep bowl, cover with the towel and let rise until double.

4. Punch down and knead a couple of times. Cover and let rise again until it doubles in size.

5. Thoroughly butter the baking pans. The should be taller than they are wide. You can make them taller by buttering parchment paper and inserting it in the pan so that it extends from the top. Fill them 1/3 full. Cover and allow to rise to the top.

6. Preheat oven to 375. Whisk the beaten egg with the 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush on the top of the loaves. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes. (15 if very large like mine). Lower heat to 325 and bake for 30 minutes. If at any time you think the top is getting too brown, cover with aluminum foil. Lower heat to 275 and bake 15-20 minutes longer (or 20-30 minutes if very large). The baking times depends on the size of your loaves.

7. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes. Pani Lawryk recommends covering a pillow with a cloth and tipping them out gently, rolling them every few minutes as they cool. I found I could tip the pan and ease mine out without any problem - without a pillow.

8. Drizzle white sugar icing over the top. I mixed 2/3 cup powdered sugar with enough lemon juice to make it the right consistency. Pani recommends mixing 1 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water and a few drops lemon juice. Cook to soft ball stage and stir in one direction until it turns white.

Oops. Needed a larger cup!

It will be very thin.

It was actually bubbling!

Again, very thin.

That's a lot of dough!

The parchment paper reminds me of a chef's hat!

After baking.

Happy Easter!


  1. I have never had Babka but I like the pictures. It looks wonderful.

  2. Wow, that looks great. I might have to try this. At least once.

    1. I went by the original recipe but feel free to add raisins or cinnamon or both!

  3. It turned out beautifully, Krista! Did you give your mother a bite?

    1. I did. In fact I gave her a lot of it. It's big!

  4. Gee Krista, I have no problem finding Chocolate Bobka at any of the Kosher Bakeries here in Brooklyn. Maybe next year I'll try and remember to send you one for Easter.

    Of course it wont be a dairy one since most of the cakes they produce are "Pareve" (made without dairy products).

    1. That looks yummy. I'd certainly try it.

    2. NoraA, you're very sweet. Don't worry, I'll try baking chocolate Babka one day. My point was simply that I think chocolate Babka is probably an Americanization of the original Babka.

  5. A beautiful job.
    But why didn't you go for chocolate and make your inner girl happy?

    1. Libby, I felt I should try baking "the real thing" first. Next year - chocolate Babka!

  6. I occasionally bake bread. This looks interesting. Could you taste the pumpkin?

    1. The pumpkin does flavor it just a little bit. I would bet most people couldn't identify pumpkin as an ingredient, though. I stayed with the original recipe but feel free to add cinnamon, raisins, or both. I think they would make it even better.

  7. Good job! It looks great. Happy Easter!

    1. Thanks, Margaret! Happy Easter to you, too!

  8. Is a babka like pannetone, kind of a delicate "feathery" texture?