Babka is the name of a Polish cake. The name means grandmother and it is thought to refer to the the shape of the cake which is round and dumpy or tall and tapered and looks like the full and pleated skirts found in Polish costumes.
A yeast babka is a classic Polish cake. It is usually made with the addition of some dried fruits or peel.
A yeast babka is traditional for Easter Sunday.
My mother never had much success with making yeast cakes and so abandoned the process.
In the past I have tried to make a yeast babka also without much success.
Once I started writing this blog I went back to my old Polish cookery book – “my bible”
Kuchnia Polska – Polish Kitchen or Polish Cookery – 15th edition published in 1971.
I used one of the recipes from this book and the result was wonderful!
I have now realised where I was going wrong:
I had been treating this cake as if I was making bread and in fact the technique is quite different.
You have to use ordinary plain flour not strong flour.
The mixture is a batter – you do not knead it.
You have to have lots of patience – the yeast can take hours and hours to rise.
The yeast will rise even in a coldish kitchen – it just takes a long time – even overnight or in the fridge.
I used dried yeast for this recipe as that is easier for me and nearer to using fresh yeast.
I am sure you can adapt this to use the quick action yeast although I have not tried this myself.
100g plain flour
250 ml of milk
50g of fresh yeast or 25g of dried yeast
25g of granulated sugar
Rest of cake
5 egg yolks
150g of granulated sugar
400g of plain flour
pinch of salt
2 drops of vanilla essence
100g of melted butter or margarine
50g of raisins or sultanas
First make the starter
Mix together the yeast and sugar.
Add this to the milk and flour.
Leave in to bubble and rise to around double its size.
Grease and flour a babka tin
Pre-heat the oven to GM5
Place the egg yolks and the sugar in a bowl and whisk until they are pale and creamy.
Add the rest of the flour, the risen starter, the pinch of salt and the drops of vanilla essence and mix it all together.
Add the melted butter a little at a time, mixing it in after each addition.
Add the raisins or sultanas and mix them well in so you have a unified mixture.
Place the mixture in the prepared tin – it should fill around a 1/3rd of the tin.
Cover the tin with a clean tea towel and leave the mixture to rise and nearly fill the tin.
This can take several hours.
Bake in the oven for around 40 to 45 minutes.
Leave to cool and then carefully remove out of the tin.
Dust with icing sugar.
The tea plates are Greenway Hostess designed by John Russell 1960 – 1979.
The babka for Easter is normally glazed with a thin icing made with lemon juice & icing sugar or instead of lemon juice you can use vanilla essence and a little water or you can use rum.
Also prior to this glaze you can make a poncz (this word originates from the English word punch) and drizzle this over the babka.
A rum poncz can be made from around 150ml of weak black tea, 45 ml of rum, 1 to 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. These are mixed together until the sugar has dissolved. (You can use tepid tea to dissolve the sugar but not too hot to evaporate the rum.)
A lemon poncz can be make from the juice of a lemon and around 2 tablespoons of icing sugar.
A yeast cake which is fresh will not absorb as much of the liquid poncz, so if you have time you can made this the day before you want add the poncz or wait for several hours at least.
I am hoping to make a yeast babka for Easter with a glaze and will include photos of this in my post for Easter.
I do not know why but the smell of baking yeast cakes just fills me with warm loving feeling, it is so wonderful.
Yeast cakes feature greatly in Polish festivals and there is Babka for Easter, Makowiec (Poppy seed roll) for Christmas Eve and doughnuts before the start of Lent and New Year’s Eve and Epiphany.
Surprisingly my mother did not seem to have a great success with yeast cookery, maybe her kitchen was a bit cool, I do not know. We got our yeast cakes from her friends. I have done lots of experimenting with yeast recipes and have had a lot of success (and some failures from which I also learnt much!). I now know that you can succeed in a cool kitchen; you just have to start a day beforehand.
Watching the yeast rise still seems like magic to me even though I am well aware of the science that makes it happen. It can be unpredictable and depends on the yeast and the temperature.
I prefer to use fresh yeast but cannot always get it, so now I use dried yeast and also get good results. I have used the type of yeast that you add straight to the flour but I like to see that the yeast is active before it goes into the flour so this is not my favourite type – but I have to admit is does work in many recipes.
Many recipes use a batter starter and I like this method as you can see the yeast making the mixture really rise.
The best time to make a yeast cake is on a day when you are in and doing other things as the times for rising and proving can vary, you have to be around and do the next stage when the time is right, you cannot rush it.
One of the drawbacks with yeast pastry is that the cakes go stale very quickly so you need lots of people on hand to help to eat it all.
Poppy seeds are the blue-grey seeds of the poppy – Papaver somniferum. They have been used since antiquity and were known in Egyptian, Minoan and Sumerian cultures. They are used in European and Middle Eastern cooking and are especially popular in Jewish and in Polish cooking.
Mak is the Polish word for poppy seed and a cake made with poppy seeds is called makowiec.
This is one of the dishes served on Christmas Eve and I will be writing about the food for that evening later in the year.
Makowiec – Poppy Seed Roll
This classic yeast cake is served on Christmas Eve. Poppy seeds and honey are used to make a filling which I think is just so delicious. Some fillings also use dried fruits such as raisins but I prefer it without.
I have been searching for many years for the best recipe for this cake and I think I now have it. Many recipes that I have tried, have made a cake which is so large that it has tried to escape out of the baking tray and the oven and I have been experimenting to get an amount which is more suitable for the standard size oven in the United Kingdom.
Also the shape of a nice roll of cake has eluded me till now, mine seemed to rise too much and crack and spread across the baking tray with all the filling escaping!
On a visit to Poland I was given a suggested that you wrap the rising yeast roll in greaseproof paper to keep its shape and this worked. So at last I have the size and shape that works well.
Without a doubt this recipes is time consuming – so in my next posts I will give some easier simpler variations which are also delicious.
There are 3 parts to the making of this cake: the poppy seed filling, the yeast pastry and the icing.
Poppy Seed Filling
I make the poppy seed filling first, or during the time the yeast is rising, as it has to be cool when used. You can make the filling ahead of time – there are several stages where you can leave it to finish later. I often make till until the addition of the butter and add the rum and egg just before I need it. You can also freeze this filling at this stage.
200g poppy seeds
500ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
50g ground almonds
120 ml runny honey & 1 tablespoon
1 large egg – separated
1 tablespoon of rum
¼ teaspoon of vanilla essence
Put the poppy seeds and milk into a saucepan and simmer then together for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop any sticking or burning. The aim is to cook the seeds and adsorb as much of the milk as possible. You need to watch this carefully and keep adjusting the heat to stop the mixture burning.
Using a fine sieve, strain the poppy seeds from the liquid – leave this for a while to remove as much liquid as possible.
The poppy seeds need to be crushed, I use a hand held blender for about 5 minutes which I find is the easiest way but you can use a pestle and mortar or a mincer.
Once crushed, place the poppy seeds back into a saucepan and add the ground almonds, the vanilla essence and the 120ml of honey and mix thoroughly.
Add the butter to the mixture and simmer gently for about 5 minutes and then leave this mixture to cool completely and then add the rum.
Whisk the 15ml (1 tablespoon) of honey with the egg yolk until this is thick and creamy and then add this to the mixture.
Just before you need the filling, whisk the egg white until it is stiff and then fold this egg white into the poppy seed mixture.
This is made in 2 stages
5g fresh yeast or a 1/2 teaspoon of dried yeast
40g plain flour
60ml of milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
Mix the ingredients together in a bowl then cover this with a tea towel or cling film and leave the bowl in a warm place for 3 hours.
After this place the bowl in the fridge – you can leave this overnight.
Rest of Dough
10g fresh yeast or 1 teaspoon of dried yeast
60ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)
1 egg and 2 egg yolks
300g plain flour
pinch of salt
100g butter at room temperature
Warm the milk slightly and put it into a large bowl, add the yeast and sugar and leave in a warm place for 15 minutes or until you can see that the yeast is active and rising.
Add the starter, the egg and egg yolks, the pinch of salt and the flour. Mix and then knead the dough until it forms a soft ball.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel or cling film and leave for 15 minutes.
Add the butter in tablespoonful amounts to the dough, kneading slightly at each addition and then knead the dough for 10 minutes. The dough should be soft and elastic but not sticky, if it is too sticky add some more flour knead till it is the correct texture.
Place the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling film and leave to rise.
Putting together the poppy seed roll
Have ready a greased baking tray as the size of rectangle of dough you need is governed by the length of the baking tray.
When the dough is ready, roll it out into a rectangle of around 20cm by 25cm. It will be about 1cm in thickness.
Place the filling onto the dough leaving about 2cm clear at all the edges.
Roll up the poppy seed roll lengthwise and then enclose the roll reasonably tightly lengthwise in greaseproof paper, do not cover the ends of the roll which will rise and expand lengthwise.
Place the roll onto a baking sheet with at least 5cm at each end to allow for the expansion and leave this to rise for about 1 hour.
Pre heat the oven to GM4 – 180oC
Place the risen roll into the oven with the greaseproof paper still on.
Bake for about 40 minutes and then cool on a wire rack, remove the greaseproof paper as soon as the roll has cooled slightly.
Before serving dust the roll with icing sugar – or you can glaze it with a thin lemon icing.
I cut the short end of the roll off and do not serve these.
Juice of ½ lemon
100g icing sugar – sieved
The amount of icing sugar you need will vary, depending on the size of the lemon and the dampness of the sugar.
Place the lemon juice in a bowl and slowly add the sugar mixing it with a wooden spoon is best, use more or less sugar to make a soft runny icing which will coat the back of the spoon.
So that is the end of my first recipe, which does take quite a while to make but I felt I had to include this traditional version especially now I have mastered it.
There are many other poppy seed cakes and I will be continuing next with a few of these. They quicker and easier to make but are still very delicious and also a few recipes for poppy seed cakes which have evolved from these.