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Russian Easter Bread and Polish Babka Recipes

Stephanie loves dessert. She also loves to bake delicious new recipes to share with family and friends.

Babka, or Russian Easter bread, can be glazed and decorated with candy or candied fruit.

Babka, or Russian Easter bread, can be glazed and decorated with candy or candied fruit.

Traditional Polish Babka and Russian Easter Bread

One of the most delightful smells that can come from a kitchen is that of bread baking. It seems that people of every heritage have their favorite breads—those that remind them of Grandmother's and Mother's kitchen, or of family and family celebrations. In our house, babka, or Russian Easter bread, were part of the holiday tradition at both Easter and Christmas.

Babka is a sweet yeast bread that is traditionally eaten at Easter time in Poland, Russia, and other Eastern European countries. Our family's traditional babka had raisins in it. My mother liked to use golden raisins, although the dark raisins are fine, too. Usually, babka is glazed with a thin icing made with powdered sugar and lemon juice. This will harden into a sugary icing that gives the bread an extra added sweetness.

Russian Easter bread is very similar to babka, in fact, it is referred to as "babka" in our household. The main difference between the two sweet breads is that my Russian Easter bread recipe calls for glaceed fruit as well as raisins. I also add a dash of cardamom, which is sometimes hard to find in grocery stores but seems to add a subtle unique flavor.

Russian Easter Bread Recipe

Get the necessary supplies together. You will need: one small bowl, one large bowl, measuring spoons, measuring cup, clean countertop or large board where you can turn out dough to knead it, two bread pans or two round casseroles.

Please read instructions before beginning to mix ingredients together.

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110°F)
  • 2 packages of dry yeast (Place the warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let stand while you mix the other ingredients in the large bowl.)
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup glaceed fruit
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 6 cups flour (approximately)

Instructions

  1. In the large bowl, mix the very hot milk, sugar, butter, cardamom, salt and lemon rind.
  2. When this the butter is melted and this mixture is lukewarm, add the vanilla, eggs, fruit, and raisins. Stir in the dissolved yeast mixture.
  3. The amount of flour is really an estimate as it can vary depending on the flour. When mixing the flour into the wet mixture, start with about 4 cups of flour and stir it in.
  4. Place about a cup of flour on your counter or kneading board and spread it around to about a 10" circle. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface and begin kneading with your hands. Add more flour as needed until the ball of dough sticks together in a smooth satiny ball. You may have to add more than the 6 cups recommended so that it isn't sticky.
  5. Knead for about 5 minutes, then place in a large, greased bowl.
  6. Cover with a light cloth and set in a warm place to rise. Since this is rather a fine-textured bread and heavier than traditional babka, it may take longer to rise. Allow about 2 hours for the dough to double. (Tip: I like to set my dough in my oven to rise if I'm not using it for anything else. It's a nice draft-free, out-of-the-way place.)
  7. Punch down and divide in half. Place each half into a round 1 1/2 quart casserole or loaf bread pan that has been greased well.
  8. Cover with a lightweight cloth and let rise until double again.
  9. Bake bread at 350°F for about 35 minutes.
  10. At this point, use a pastry brush to quickly brush the top of the bread with milk. Do not remove it from the oven, just pull the rack out a bit.
  11. Bake for 5 to 10 more minutes. The top should be browned and babka should be coming slightly away from sides of the pan.
  12. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for a few minutes before turning out on racks.
  13. While still warm, drizzle with glaze made from 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar mixed with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and decorate with a few candied cherries cut in half.

Polish Babka Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 packages of active dry yeast (Place the warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let stand while you mix the other ingredients in the large bowl.)
  • 3/4 cup scalded milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup soft butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange or lemon peel (fresh)
  • 6 cups unsifted flour

Instructions

Follow instructions for mixing, kneading and rising bread as for the Russian Easter bread. This will make two nice round loaves that you can bake in a cake pan or a springform pan. Bake at 350°F for about 45–50 minutes.

Babka may be glazed with a lemon glaze made from 1 cup of confectioner's sugar and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Spread on cooled babka and decorate with candied fruit.

Savor the Moment

Now the trick is to keep the bread from being eaten immediately! The aroma alone draws the family into the kitchen hoping for a taste or the fresh, warm bread. Because it is so tantalizing, I always make two batches so that the family can have some on the day it's baked and some on Easter Sunday. Although it is certainly very tasty plain, we always serve this bread with unsalted butter.

The Smell of Baking Bread!

On the Saturday afternoon before Easter Sunday, with the baking done, the spring cleaning finished, and the fresh flowers blooming on the table, make a fresh pot of coffee and take it into the living room with a slice of warm babka. As the scent of newly baked bread fills your home, savor the the smells and flavors of that moment.

Happy Easter, Happy Spring!

Crocus, A Sign of Spring. Watercolor painting by Stephanie Henkel.

Crocus, A Sign of Spring. Watercolor painting by Stephanie Henkel.

© 2011 Stephanie Henkel

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