Polish Babka: an Easter tradition – and no need to knead!

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Easter is coming, the geese are getting fat…

So starts my mom’s variation on an old Christmas song, one she sang to us each spring, when Easter was indeed coming.

In centuries gone by, the geese may indeed have been getting fat. But for those fasting for Lent, waistlines were going in the opposite direction.

For Catholics, Lent is a time of self-denial; 40 days of “give it up” – and I don’t mean applause.

For kids, it was often candy. For adults, cigarettes or liquor. Or maybe swearing. Heck, any semi-vice would do. The point was sacrifice and suffering.

As Easter approached, signaling the end of Lent, you could practically feel your mouth begin to water. Snickers! Milk Duds! Jujubes! (Why did we even like Jujubes, anyway?) Until at last, Easter Sunday arrived, with a basketful of chocolate bunnies and sugar eggs and Peeps.

And maybe a Milky Way bar tucked under the more traditional treats.

I’m sure Christians living before the time of Mars Bars enjoyed the same anticipatory excitement around Easter, and the end of Lent.

Traditionally, what was given up were the “richer” parts of your diet: butter, candied fruit, eggs, sugar. And rather than break the fast with candy, it was often a special main dish or bread that said, “OK, time’s up – let’s celebrate!”

For Italians, celebration means Easter Pie, packed with meat and cheese and eggs.

And for Polish families?

Babka.

This rich bread, laced with rum syrup and drizzled with icing, comes from the Polish word for grandmother. The loaf is baked in a Bundt pan so that, when it’s served, it looks like a grandmother’s wide, fluted skirt.

Babka is served on Easter Day, as the coda to a large and festive meal based on smoked and roasted meats, egg dishes of all kinds, and white borscht, made with sour cream, horseradish, kielbasa and hard-boiled eggs.

This particular babka recipe was inspired by one in our 1990 200th Anniversary Cookbook, which includes a wealth of recipes and information from cultures around the world.

You’ll notice that, despite being made with yeast, it’s an easy batter bread; “no-knead” isn’t as new a concept as you might think!

Place the following in a mixing bowl:

1/2 cup lukewarm milk
3 large eggs, at room temperature
heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) softened butter
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast, SAF Gold preferred

Beat at medium speed until cohesive. Increase your mixer’s speed to high, and beat for 2 minutes. The dough will be very soft; more thick batter than dough.

Add 1/4 cup currants or raisins (golden raisins preferred); and 1/4 cup mixed candied fruit or peel, or mixed chopped dried fruit. Beat gently just to combine.

Cover the bowl, and let the dough/thick batter rest/rise for 60 minutes; it won’t appear to do too much, as you can see in the pictures above.

Scoop the batter into a greased 9- or 10-cup Bundt pan. Don’t have a Bundt pan? Spoon the dough into an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan, instead.

Cover the pan, and let the dough rest/rise for 30 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 350°F. Again, very little (if any) discernible rise; still, the yeast is working, even if you can’t see the result.

Bake the babka for 35 to 40 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads at least 190°F.

While the babka is baking, prepare rum syrup.

Place the following in a small saucepan:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 to 2 tablespoons rum

Substitute apple juice for the water and rum, if you like.

Set the saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, and boil, swirling the liquid in the pan, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.

When the babka is fully baked, remove it from the oven. Poke it all over gently with a toothpick or fork, and slowly pour the syrup over the babka’s surface.

When the syrup is fully absorbed (about 20 minutes or so), carefully loosen the babka’s edges, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack.

It may stick a bit in places; but don’t worry, once you slice it no one will notice.

If you like, gild the lily (and hide any rough spots, if they bother you), with icing. Mix together 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, a pinch of salt, and 2 tablespoons milk; or a combination of milk and rum or apple juice. Drizzle over the completely cool babka.

Slice and serve – as part of your Easter “break fast,” or any time you’re looking for a sweet, tender, cake-like yeast bread.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Polish Babka.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. gaitedgirl

    Would doing this as a chocolate babka change the recipe at all? Or even doing a marbled babka? I love the recipe (esp. the no knead part!) but I prefer chocolate babka. Thanks!! :)
    We actually have 2 recipes on our site for Chocolate Babka. Take a look at these Babka recipes. Elisabeth

    Reply
  2. Cobicles

    I noticed that you suggested subbing apple juice for the rum and water in the sauce. I was thinking about using boiled cider instead, however that’s more potent than apple juice. Would you suggest leaving the water alone and just subbing the boiled cider for the rum, or should I stick to apple juice?

    Yes, the latter – substitute boiled cider for the rum, but keep the water. You don’t want TOO much apple flavor in here, it’ll clash with the dried fruits, IMHO… PJH

    Reply
  3. bubbysoo

    Wouldn’t it be easier to add the syrup after you remove the cake from the pan? Seems like it would save the cake from sticking and make it easier to clean the pan. I think I’d just put the cake on a cooling rack with parchment paper under the rack and add the syrup.
    You can certainly do that too, you may have to scoop up some of the syrup and put it back on top, but the method should be fine. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. jacquie

    i tend to back w/ whole grains or at least a combination – would you have suggestions on how to modify this recipe for them? or does it need to be AP to achieve the correct texture?

    thanks.
    Sure you could try using some whole grains in place of all purpose flour. Doing a blend would be best for the first go-through. Try doing 1/4 to 1/3 whole wheat or white whole wheat. You may want to add a little more liquid to your dough to your dough. Whole grains are like sponges! They will absorb more of the moisture than an all purpose flour will. Elisabeth

    Reply
  5. Kaitlyn

    Would the GF Flour work for this recipe???
    We don’t actually recommend applying a gluten free flour to a yeast bread recipe. Here is a gluten free babka recipe for you to try. ~Amy

    Reply
  6. MuaKapiamba

    I don’t have SAF Gold. Is it okay to use SAF Red instant yeast? Thanks

    Yes. The Gold is preferred, but the Red will work. Use the same amount. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  7. denisei

    looks delicious.

    I have no Bundt pan. does it bake as well in the loaf pan? or would an angelfood cake pan work better? any bake time adjustments needed?

    also, with having the wet syrup in the cake, do leftovers need to be refrigerated? what if apple juice is used in place of the rum?

    Denise, please read the recipe carefully – it gives directions for baking in a loaf pan, and substituting apple juice for the rum. No need for refrigeration. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  8. footballmomnva

    My family isn’t a fan of raisins in baked goods/breads. I’m thinking about using dried cherries or cranberries instead. Do you think this will taste okay with the rum syrup flavoring? If not, any recommendations for replacing the raisins? Thanks!I think either would be wonderful. You can even cut up apricots, dates or figs. betsy@kaf

    Reply
  9. wilkwise

    This is similar to the recipe we’ve been using for years and years, except: our amounts are double, we don’t use fruit or peel only golden raisins and no syrup just a powdered sugar dusting. Babka is a wonderful Easter bread and so easy to make. Glad it was in the newsletter because it reminds me that I need to make up the Easter grocery shopping list. We are making poppy seed makowiec for Easter this year.

    Reply
  10. dianevarholak

    This recipe is so interesting that it is called a Babka. I am Polish and Czech and our Babka is more breadlike and made with yeast and needs to rise, like bread. This recipe seems more like a cake. Sounds nice, but maybe not all that authentic?

    It’s authentic, Diane – I think it may depend what part of Poland you’re from? The woman who wrote it, Brinna Sands, is a stickler for research; and when she says something is an authentic recipe, I believe her. Anyway – isn’t it nice to have two different babka recipes? :) PJH

    Reply
  11. rwbernold

    Sound easy and delicious !

    I notice that the recipe calls for luke warm milk -should it be scalded first – or is that not necessary any more ?
    I use the SAFRed yeast . What is the advantage of using SAF Gold ?

    Not necessary to scald – we’ve done the tests, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference. SAF Gold is specially formulated for sweet yeast breads – it helps avoid what can be some very long rising times, which aren’t always optimal in sweet breads, esp. those that contain lots of eggs/milk/butter… PJH

    Reply
  12. libbynet

    My husband is allergic to yeast, so we rarely do any yeast breads. But, he’s of Polish descent, and this sounds so good that I’m hoping you can tell me how to substitute baking powder or some other leavening so I can make this for us.

    Hmmm…. I hesitate to guess how to substitute some other leavening for yeast. How about if you make him a vanilla pound cake, adding the same fruits and glaze? See the cake recipe’s directions for baking in a bundt-style pan. This would be the closest approximation, and I think it would be delicious! PJH

    Reply
  13. kaf-sub-cmf7

    I see you also have a recipe for chocolate babka. Do you have any ideas for adjusting this or that recipe to make a cinnamon babka?
    You could use the baker’s cinnamon filling in place of the chocolate filling with either of our chocolate babka recipes. ~Amy

    Reply
  14. gslades

    Can I use reg. yeast instead of instant yeast in this recipe?
    Using active dry yeast is fine for this recipe. ~Amy

    Reply
  15. markjenj

    This will most definitely be on our Easter table this weekend. It reminds me of things my grandmother always had, although she was of German descent. She was a wonderful baker and definitely a celebrator of rum in her baked goods! :) My first thought, as I don’t have the SAF Gold on hand, was to use the SAF Perfect Rise. Is a regular active dry the better choice for this and my other enriched breads? I am just learning that yeast choices can be so complex.

    I’d use the regular SAF; active dry is OK, too, though it’ll take a bit longer to get started. I prefer SAF as I know it’s fresh; “supermarket” yeast, you never know how long it’s been sitting around (despite its “good by” date), or how it’s been handled. Good luck, and Happy Easter. PJH

    Reply
  16. acz56

    Just took it out of the oven. It looks and smells delicious. However, it did not rise as much as I would have liked. I wish I had read the review that said to make a sponge first. I think the results would have been better. If it tastes as good as it smells I may try it again using the sponge method.

    Gold instant yeast is preferred as this is a sweet dough – richer ingredients (eggs, sugar, butter) that benefit from the gold yeast instead of the red instant yeast. The red instant yeast will work, but rise time may be longer. Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  17. marshall201

    I also made this without reading all the reviews first, and next time will try the sponge method. I did add a bit of spice as it seemed to me the recipe would be a bit bland. I let it rise both times for 60 minutes. The internal temperature was reached at just under 30 minutes – that may be the result of faster cooking times where I live, at 4200 feet up. Serving it tonight to a Polish couple in their 80s; the real test!

    Marshall, sure hope it passes the test! Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  18. marshall201

    Well! My Polish friend said it was better than anything she had ever made!!

    Now THAT’S quite the endorsement, Marshall – congratulations! And Happy Easter… PJH

    Reply
  19. ashchurova

    Hi, I have a quick question. Can I use 6-cup mini-bundt pan with this recipe? I would like to bake 6 mini bundt cakes because I want to give them away as gifts. Thank you.

    I think each one would fill two pans – that’s my educated guess. Bake at the same temperature, but start testing for doneness sooner, OK? Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  20. WP

    Made it for Easter and found that it was very dry, baked minimum time. Didn’t make the “icing”, just used the rum syrup. Also, added about 1/2 tsp. lemon extract to batter.

    We’re sorry this babka didn’t meet your texture expectations. Dry baked good may be an indication of too much flour or mixing/baking time problems. If you’d like to make this recipe again, we’d love to chat before you start. Call our bakers hotline at 802–649-3717 and we can help troubleshoot. Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF>strong>

    Reply
  21. tngranny1

    I wanted to make some polish dishes and desserts for my mother’s 90th birthday. I’m making and freezing a varity of desserts and this is one of them. I followed the directions to a T and I must say this is so good. I didn’t have any problems with getting the bread out of the pan after soaking in the rum sauce. All I did was sliped it out of the pan when it just came out of the oven and put it right back in again, I poked the holes and pour the sauce on top and waited about 20 min. It came right out. I love KAF. Every recipe is spot on. One thing though I did test it after 25 min. and It was done 200* and it is perfect.
    Thanks again.

    Reply
  22. PeteO

    Hello. I have the 200th Anniversary Cookbook. Several times I’ve tried the Cheese Babka recipe. The filling tasted very good however I always had a problem with it running out as I was trying to make a mock braid. Is this why you no longer list the recipe for a cheese babka? Can you suggest how I may fix my problem?
    Thank you,
    Pete

    Pete, we didn’t “de-list” the cheese babka from our Web site; it was never there. Lots of recipes from our cookbooks aren’t online; we like to offer folks a variety of ways to access them, so not everything is everywhere… Looking at the cottage cheese filling recipe, I’d suggest 1) you drain your cottage cheese for 24 hours before using it (a fine sieve set over a bowl works well); 2) you increase the flour by 1 tablespoon; and 3) you substitute 1 whole egg for the 2 egg yolks; the egg white will add more protein, which will act like “glue” to hold the filling in place. Hope this helps – good luck! PJH

    Reply
  23. Ted

    Um…Why mix up the dough and let it rise in a bowl for an hour before putting it into the pan to rise for 30 mins? Why not just mix and put in the pan to rise for 90 minutes? Is it that the transfer acts as a “punch down” and aids in the final rise somehow?

    You don’t want to over-proof the batter by letting it rise 90 minutes all at once. This can damage the yeast and prevent the second rise from performing well. You are correct that scraping the dough into the pan gently deflates it and gets it ready for the second and final rise. Best, Kim@KAF

    Reply
  24. Donna D.

    Very much miss this Easter tradition….would I be able to use the Gluten Free Flour and if so, what measurements would change for the remaining ingredients….thanks

    Reply
  25. Anna

    It would be more authentic if fresh yeast were used. Really quick babka recipes use baking powder. It looks like a muffin not a Polish babka.

    Reply
  26. Anna

    I just threw the whole thing in the trash. I called King Arthur flour hotline and did not get much help. I used dry yeast and mixed it all together in the bowl as the recipe was written. I used my usual bundt pan and it looked burnt on the bottom and sides. Am I missing something in the recipe ? I Reread and rechecked the ingredients. Everyone else had such great success.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Anna, I’m so sorry – all I can think is that your pan perhaps is dark-colored? A dark pan will bake more quickly, and with a higher-sugar dough (like this is), it could very well have been the cause of the scorching. I’m also sorry you didn’t feel you were helped by our hotline folks. Please give us another try – that’s not the service we strive for. With apologies for both of your unhappy experiences – PJH

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