Yeast Babka – Polish Yeast Cake

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.

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Book title

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.

  1. You have to use ordinary plain flour not strong flour.
  2. The mixture is a batter – you do not knead it.
  3. You have to have lots of patience – the yeast can take hours and hours to rise.
  4. The yeast will rise even in a coldish kitchen – it just takes a long time – even overnight or in the fridge.

Note

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.

Ingredients

Starter

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

Method

First make the starter

Mix toIMG_20151210_072305828gether the yeast and sugar.

Add this to the milk and flour.

Leave in to bubble and rise to around double its size.

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Grease and flour a babka tin

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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.

Easter babka

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.)

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Weak Black Tea

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.

Poppy Seed Cake 2

Makowiec – Poppy Seed Cake 2

 

There are many versions of Polish poppy seed cakes and many of them use yeast pastry.

This one does not have a yeast based pastry and is much easier to make as it does not take as much time as the more traditional roll.

I often make this one now for Wigilia – Christmas Eve.

The original recipe used twice this amount but I often found it would sink in the middle which did not look as nice so now I always make this smaller one.

This version has a lemon glaze followed by lemon icing – this is my favourite but you could just dust the cooled cake with icing sugar or use the glaze then dust with icing sugar before serving.

Ingredients

125g caster sugar

1 egg

5ml vanilla extract

100g poppy seeds

Grated rind of 1 lemon

65g self-raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

60ml milk

65g melted butter

15 ml sunflower oil

Lemon Glaze & Icing 

Glaze – Juice of 1 lemon & 50g caster sugar

Icing – Juice of 1 lemon & 200g icing sugar

Method

Pre heat the oven to Gas mark 4 – 1800C

I find this easer to remove using either a loose bottom or spring form tin –  Grease a 20cm diameter tin.

or

grease and line with one piece of greasproof  for the 2 long sides and base -so you can remove the cake from the tin easily – a 16 x 27 cm tin.

 

 

 

 

Whisk the egg, sugar and vanilla extract until they are thick and creamy.

Stir in the poppy seeds and lemon rind.

Sift the flour and add the baking powder and salt.

Fold this into the egg and poppy seed mixture alternating with the milk – do this in about three batches.

Fold in the melted butter and the oil.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for around 30 to 35 minutes.

 

Leave to cool for about 5 minutes and release the cake from the tin and put on a cooling rack or remove using the 2 ends of the greaseproof.

Prick the top in several places with a thin cake testing skewer.

Lemon Glaze

Mix the lemon juice and caster sugar to dissolve the sugar, dribble this over the cake so the top in covered. Leave till nearly cool then put the cake on a plate or stand.

Lemon Icing

The amount of icing sugar you need will vary depending on the size of the lemon and the dampness of the sugar. (If you want less icing use a small lemon or half a large one and 100g of icing 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.

Pour this over the cake.

You can aim for just the top covered or to have drips down the sides.

Poppy Seed Cakes and Yeast Cakes

Yeast Cake

Makowiec
Traditional Poppy Seed Cake
book pic mak
Photo from my Old Polish Cookbook
Kuchnia Polska - Polish Kitchen or Polish Cookery
Kuchnia Polska – Polish Kitchen or Polish Cookery

 

Weighing Poppy Seeds
Weighing Poppy Seeds

 

poppy mix
Poppy seed mix

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

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

Traditional Recipe

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.

 Ingredients

200g poppy seeds

500ml milk (whole or semi-skimmed)

50g ground almonds

120 ml runny honey & 1 tablespoon

25g butter

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.

Yeast Pastry

This is made in 2 stages

Yeast Starter

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

40g sugar

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.

Lemon Icing

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.

Easier Recipes

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.