This year Easter is going to be at my place. Normally we would have it at my parents, but their oven broke and won’t be repaired in time. Most of the prep is still being done by my parents. Right now they are marinating a huge leg of lamb that will be roasted here tomorrow. My mom is also taking care of the pierogi, and the stuffed vine leaves (we have a multicultural Easter, part Polish, part Egyptian). All of the baking was done here yesterday. My mom came over around 10 and we baked all day.
The first thing we made were the Babkas. Babkas are a traditional Eastern and Central European yeasted sweet bread that are served for Easter. The traditional version is flavoured with dried fruit. That’s what my mom always makes. This year, I wanted to try something a little less traditional, chocolate babka.
My mom wasn’t super enthusiastic at first, but then I reminded her of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine tries to buy a chocolate babka. Everyone loves chocolate babka! That helped convince her. Once we decided to veer from the traditional, my mom suggested a third option, poppy seed babka.
So we made all three.
We made one batch of dough and divided it into three, using a different filling for each. In the traditional version, we used raisins and dried apricots soaked in rum. For the poppy seed version we used a store bought poppy seed paste that also had raisins and candied orange peel. The chocolate version was originally based on Smitten Kitchens technique. Unfortunately, the dough we used could not hold up to the weight of the chocolate and sort of .. imploded. So this morning I made another chocolate babka. This time I used Smitten Kitchens dough recipe and just added chunks of chocolate. Her babka dough is very similar to a brioche recipe. Although it tasted very good, I found my moms recipe much easier to work with. My moms also has a much lighter texture. I can understand now why her chocolate babka didn’t implode, the dough is much stronger.
This basic dough can be used with any filling or flavourings. It makes enough for three loaves.
Basic Babka Dough
- 5 tsps dry active yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 4 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 8 cups all purpose flour, divided
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cups milk, warm
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 2 tsps vanilla
- 2 tbsp dark rum
- zest of one orange
- Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and set aside for the yeast to dissolve. Note, make sure the water is below 105 degrees F, otherwise it might kill the yeast.
- While the yeast is dissolving, whisk the eggs slightly.
- Put 6 cups of flour and the salt in the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl if kneading by hand). Create a well, and pour in the eggs, yeast, warm milk, melted butter, vanilla, and rum. Add the orange zest. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined, then place in the mixer with the dough hook attached and knead. Slowly add the remaining two cups of flour. Knead for 10 minutes. If kneading by hand, this will take about 30 minutes.
- If using dried fruit or chocolate chunks, add them to the mixer at this point and knead until combined.
- Divide dough into three and place in separate greased bowls. Cover with plastic wrap let rise for an hour until doubled in bulk (or overnight in the fridge).
- Punch down the dough. If using a filling like the poppy seed paste or a chocolate spread, roll the dough out into a rectangle, spread the filling over the dough, then roll the dough tightly like a jelly roll.
- Place dough in a loaf pan, baking sheet or bundt pan. Cover, and let rise for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Bake the babka for 15-20 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 and bake for another 15 to 20. Note, if using a loaf pan it may take a few extra minutes. When done, the bread will sound hollow if tapped.