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.
This Tuesday is Pancake Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday is the last day before Lent. Traditionally people would prepare for 40 days of fasting before Easter by eating all the fatty foods they possibly could. Unfortunately, I don’t have time on weekday mornings to make myself a pancake breakfast, so I decided to celebrate a few days early.
Generally I prefer crepes to pancakes, but these apple pancakes are the exception to that rule. My mom used to make them for me and my brother pretty often when we were kids. My memories might be a little exaggerated, but I remember being to eat tons of them in one sitting. The apples stay a little crisp, and have a bit a tart flavour. The tartness is balanced by maple syrup in this case. My mom usually sprinkles cinnamon and sugar on them, I think that might be my favourite way to eat them.
These are really easy to make. Apple slices are dipped into a standard pancake batter then fried in butter. You could use oil, but the flavour just isn’t the same. Top them with any syrup or sweetener you have.
Polish Apple Pancakes
- 2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into rounds
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cups milk
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp melted butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- butter for frying
- maple syrup for serving
- In a large bowl, whisk the milk and eggs together. Add the flour, baking powder, melted butter, salt, and cinnamon. Stir together. If the batter is very lumpy set it aside for a few minutes to rest then stir again.
- Pour the apple slices into the batter and coat them.
- In a large frying pan melt about 1 tbsp of butter. When the pan is hot, place 2 or 3 apple slices in the oil. When the bottom is golden and the pancakes can easily be moved, flip and fry the other side.
- Repeat with remaining apple slices. (any left over batter can be used for regular pancakes)
The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.
I was really excited by this challenge. I’ve been meaning to make Polish doughnuts, or Paczki (pronounced ponchkee), for a while and since the challenge allowed us to use any recipe we wanted I decided now is the time. If you’ve never had Paczki, they are yeast doughnuts filled with jam (often plum) and topped with a sugar glaze and sometimes candied orange peel. They are light and fluffy and oh so delicious.
You know what makes them so good? Booze. That’s right, booze.
I got to work on the doughnuts sure that everything would come together perfectly. I believed that my half Polish self must have an innate knowledge of how to make beautifully golden and fluffy doughnuts. I was mistaken.
All of the recipes I saw called for a range of flour rather than a specific amount. It is to be added until the dough “blisters”. I thought my dough was blistering, but in hindsight I think it was still too wet. The dough is then to rise until doubled in bulk, be punched down and risen again. After an hour my dough had barely moved. I took it out of the bowl, kneaded some more flour in and tried again. On the second rise it increased a little more, but nowhere near double. No matter, I cut out the doughnuts out anyway. I brought the oil up to 350 degrees and dropped 4 or five doughnuts in, let them brown on one side then flipped them over. Except the wouldn’t stay flipped! I frantically tried to re-flip each of the doughnuts but there were too many in the pot to manage. So my first few doughnuts ended up burnt on one side and undercooked on the other. I learned my lesson and put fewer doughnuts in the oil for the second round, but in the mean time my oil had increased in temperature and these burnt immediately, although the inside was still raw. I lowered the oil temp and got a couple of decent doughnuts made. The oil temperature dropped too much though, and the last few doughnuts I made looked beautifully golden on the outside but where once again raw inside.
The few doughnuts I made that turned out were delicious. I filled some with plum jam and others with apple sauce. My filling technique needs some work because all of them were filled on one side only, as you can see below.
The conclusion I came to after all this: I need to make Paczki more often to get the technique down, otherwise I’ll have to stop claiming to be Polish.
- 6 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1/3 cup room temperature butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 1/2 to 5 cups flour
- 1/4 cup rum
- 1 cup scalded 35% cream
- Plum jam or apple sauce
- oil for deep frying
- Powdered sugar
- Beat the eggs and salt until the eggs are light yellow, about 5 minutes. Set aside/
- In a small bowl, combine the yeast and warm water. While the yeast is softening beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy in an stand mixer. Beat the yeast into the butter.
- Add one cup of flour to the butter yeast mixture, mix till combined.
- Add the rum and half of the cream.
- Beat in another cup of the flour.
- Add the remaining cream.
- Beat in a third cup of flour and the egg mixture. Beat for two minutes.
- Add remaining flour slowly until the dough looks like it’s blistering.
- Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover in plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down and let rise again.
- On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough till it’s about 1 cm thick. Cut out 2 inch circles, re-roll out the dough and cut circles again until all the dough is used.
- Heat oil to 350 in a deep fryer or a wide skillet. Fry 2-3 doughnuts at a time, when one side of the doughnut is golden flip it over and fry the other side. Drain on paper towels.
- Using a pastry bag fill the doughnuts with jam or applesauce.
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar.