Russian Easter Babka
In Eastern and Central European Countries (like the area of the former Polish-Lihuanian Commonwealth, which includes Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Belarus, Ukraine, Western Russia and a part of northeastern Hungary) a special cake is prepared to celebrate Easter. It is the Babka, also called Kulich, served with a cheese mixture that is called Paskha….
Babka or Kulich is a tall cylindrical sweet yeast cake. It is flavored with rum soaked raisins, and candied fruit. Sometimes Saffron is added to make the cake more yellow. However, I feel that the egg yolks give me enough yellow color therefore I do not add the Saffron.
I remember my grandmother adding saffron to her yeast cakes at Easter. When I was a little girl I watched her making the cakes and asked her why she added the red strings to the dough…she answered: “Saffron macht den Kucha gel,” speaking in her Swabian dialect. (Saffron makes the cake yellow.)
This cylindrical cake when baked is traditionally crowned with a white icing, Royal Icing, and is sprinkled with chopped candied fruit and almonds.
Babka is also traditionally served with Paskha, a creamy cheese mold. It consists of a combination of sweetened Pot Cheese, or cottage cheese, nuts, mostly almonds and candied fruit. It is molded into a four sided pyramid, and decorated with nuts or candy to form the letters XB, which stands for “Christ is risen.” Paskha is the traditional and classical accompaniment for this sweet yeast bread, Babka, also called Kulich.
I make my Paskha with a tub of whipped cream cheese and add:
Rum or brandy soaked chopped apricots – do not add the run or alcohol that the fruit has soaked in
1 Tbsp Candied lemon and orange peels
1 Tbsp Chopped almonds or hazelnuts
1 Tbsp chopped chocolate
1 tsp Zest of a lemon
1 tsp Zest of an orange
1 tsp of either brandy or rum
Mix all the ingredients together and serve it in a bowl with the Babka,
or form the pyramid and design the letters XB on one side of the Paskha.
One can also add the letters XB on top of the Paskha when served in a bowl.
If one does not like the alcohol…. brandy or rum flavoring can be added in stead,
1 tsp of either one.
The Easter Babka
To make it simple….
I sometimes serve the Babka with whipped cream cheese and home made jam!
Prepare the yeast:
2 pkg dry yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
1 ½ cups milk, warmed
1 cup flour
Warm the milk in a glass bowl in the microwave…to lukewarm. Gradually stir into the milk the two packets of dry yeast, sugar and the flour using a whisk or a fork whisking until the mixture is smooth.
Cover the mixture with a towel or plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place until it doubles in bulk.
Ingredients for the cake batter
½ cup softened butter
1 cup of sugar
7 egg yolks
4 cups of flour
¼ tsp salt
Zest of one orange
2 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Orange Flavoring
1 cup rum soaked raisins or craisins, discard the soaking alcohol
½ cup sliced almonds
In an Electric Mixer
Cream butter and sugar until very creamy and add the 7 egg yolks, one at a time and mixing well between each one. Add the vanilla and the orange flavoring. Mix well.
Add the risen yeast mixture and add the 4 cups of flour/salt mixture and beat well. The dough will be quite soft.
Leave the dough in the mixing bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and, place it in a warm spot in your kitchen
to rise until it is double in bulk.
Baking the Babka
I have saved some of the metal coffee cans from the past and bake the Babka in them. However you can bake it in a Bundt pan or Kugelhupf form or even in loaf pans. It is, after all a breakfast bread. But, if you are from Russian decent and want to be traditional, look and see if you have some old 2 pound metal coffee cans in some of your kitchen cabinets hidden away.
Whatever baking form you will use, you will probably need two of them, grease them; you do not need to dust them with flour and set them aside until the dough is risen and is ready to be baked.
While you wait…heat the oven to 350 F
When the dough has doubled in size, mix it gently and bring it down to almost the original bulk.
Fill each prepared baking form about half full with the dough, and let it rise again until it doubles in bulk.
Now place it into the pre-heated 350 F oven and bake the cake about 50 to 60 minutes, depending on your oven.
Watch that the top does not brown too quickly, if it does place a piece of foil over each of the cakes to slow down the browning.
At about 45 minutes into the baking time, I usually check the cakes with a thermometer to see if the cakes are close to be baked. The thermometer needs to read between 190 F and 200 F to be completely baked.
When done, remove from the oven and place it on a rack to cool.
Do not take it out of the baking pans until it is almost completely cooled. This is a very delicate cake it will break into pieces if taken out too soon.
When it is out of the baking pan let it completely cool before glazing it with Royal Icing.
1 egg white
½ pound powdered sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Place egg white and sugar into a mixing bowl and beat until very white in color and thick, but runny.
Now add the 2 Tbsp of lemon juice and mix again. The icing has to be thick but able to run down the sides of the cake. Place the cake onto a plate or platter to ice them, not on the platter that you will serve the cake on your buffet.
With a big spoon drop the icing on top of the cake and help it a little to run down the sides. The drips do not have to drip all the way to the bottom of the cake, but do not be too concerned when they do in some cases and puddles collect at the bottom.
When the icing is quite dry, I usually let it dry uncovered overnight on my kitchen counter.
Next day I gently lift it off the plate and place it on a pretty platter ready for the occasion I have planned it for.
Hope you have fun preparing wonderful, not too sweet, yeast bread that will go well with either tea or coffee and the rest of your Easter Breakfast.
Cutting and Serving the Babka
This cake can be cut into large rounds and then the rounds can be cut in half
Or………..it can be cut from the top down and then cut into little triangles.
The Babka can be made a couple weeks in advance because it freezes well, however the decoration with the Royal Icing needs to be done after the cake is thawed and before it is served. I do it the night before the breakfast. To freeze it I wrap the cake with three layers of plastic wrap before I place it into the freezer.
I wish you all a wonderful and Happy Easter!
Copyright: Maria Reisz Springer……..
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