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.
This photo is taken from a very old slide but the plant is still growing in my garden and most years looks as good as this.
However this year it has not done so well. I think it must be a combination of the alternating very dry days and the cold wet days this summer.
It is a good job I am not relying on this as my source of seeds. My best source of seeds is an indoor stall in Leeds Market. The stall sells dried fruits and nuts which are weighed out on request from large jars as well as other aids for baking.
On my first visit to Poland I went to stay with my mother’s sister and her family who had a small farm in the Masurian Lakes in the North East of Poland. This was still in Communist times.
I saw there was a huge field of large headed purple flowered poppies. My auntie had a Government contract that year to grow these poppies for the production of morphine for hospital use.
Poppy seeds of superior quality for culinary purposes are harvested when they are ripe, after the seed pod has dried.
Seeds for the production of morphine are harvested while the seed pods are green and their latex is abundant and when the seeds have only just begun to grow.
Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake
This Poppy Seed cake is inspired by one I had when I was in America. It is like a lemon drizzle cake with fewer poppy seeds than in my other recipes.
This can be made with butter or block baking margarine. I find that with many flavoured cakes margarine is as good if not better than butter.
To get the most zest from the lemons I use a fine Microplane Zester – It is the best!
60g poppy seeds
125g self-raising flour
100g butter/block margarine
100g caster sugar
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons of warm water
80g caster sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Pre-heat the oven to GM4 – 1800 C
Grease and line a 20cm/8inch square tin.
Beat the butter and sugar together till they are light and creamy.
Stir in the lemon zest.
Sift the flour.
Lightly beat the eggs together and then beat them into the mixture, a little at a time, adding a little of the flour with the last of the eggs.
Using a metal spoon, fold in the remaining flour and the water and then fold in the poppy seeds.
Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and bake the cake for about 35 minutes, or until it starts to shrink from the sides of the tin.
In a small pan dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice over a gentle heat.
When the cake is baked remove it from the oven and leave for a few minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
Put a plate underneath, prick the cake all over with a fine skewer whilst it is still warm and spoon the lemon glaze over it. If any runs through spoon it back on.
When the cake is cold dust it with icing sugar before serving.