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Polish Babka

Polish Babka - A traditional bread served on Easter morning.

Yesterday, we shared a fancier, dessert-suitable version of a babka – but today’s Polish Babka is more in line with the kind that I remember eating on holidays at my grandmother’s house.

Babka – a soft, dense cross between a cake and a bread – is traditionally baked for Easter Sunday in Poland. It has a distinctive yeasty smell that is lightly sweet with a citrusy flavor. As the dough is formed into a loaf shape (or sometimes a cake pan), a filling of raisins, currants, rum, and walnuts is rolled inside.

Polish Babka - A traditional bread served on Easter morning.

This Polish Babka is well suited to be served alongside a traditional holiday meal of baked ham, creamed pearl onions, pierogi, and stuffed cabbage. But this Polish Babka is also very delicious toasted up for breakfast as well!

Polish Babka - A traditional bread served on Easter morning.

This recipe makes a generous three loaves of Polish Babka. Like most homemade breads baked without preservatives, this bread will go stale quickly, so be sure to wrap it tightly to maintain its freshness before serving. You can also freeze this babka to enjoy later at another meal.

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Polish Babka

Note: This recipe uses a pre-fermentation called Biga which must be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight. Also, this recipe makes three loaves which means a typical 5-quart stand mixer is not big enough. If you don’t own a six or seven quart mixer, then the dough must be made the old fashioned way, which is by hand on your counter. (Easier than it sounds) Finally, you will need three 9X5 non-stick loaf pans.

  • Prep Time: 12 hours
  • Cook Time: 35 mins
  • Total Time: 12 hours 35 minutes
  • Yield: 3 loaves

Ingredients

Biga pre-fermentation dough made day prior

  • 2 ½ cups bread flour
  • ½ teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F tap water)

Babka dough

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 ½ sticks butter (3/4 cup)
  • ¼ cup warm water (110 degrees F tap water)
  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 3 room temperature eggs
  • 3 room temperature egg yolks
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon orange extract
  • Zest from one large naval orange
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or Triple Sec or other orange liquor
  • 6 cups bread flour plus more for dusting counter

Filling

  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup regular raisins
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1/3 cup spiced rum
  • 1 cup walnuts chopped to rice sized pieces

Egg wash

  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tablespoon water

Instructions

  1. Make the Biga pre-fermentation the day before by combining the flour, yeast and water. Mix by hand or with a stand mixer with a dough hook to form a dough that sticks a little to the bottom while mixing. Add more water or flour to achieve that consistency. Place in an oiled covered bowl and set in a warm place for an hour or two until doubled in size. Punch down, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. Four to five hours before serving, remove Biga from the refrigerator and cut into golf ball sized pieces and lay out on your counter. Cover with plastic and a towel and let come up to room temperature for 45 minutes.
  3. While Biga is coming to room temperature, measure out all of your ingredients and prepare milk and butter by combining in a microwave safe bowl and microwaving until hot and the butter has melted. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  4. In a small bowl, combine water and yeast.
  5. In a medium bowl, combine eggs, egg yolks, sugar and salt. Using an electric mixer or by hand whip for about three minutes or until the mixture turns pale.
  6. To the egg mixture, add nutmeg, both extracts, both zests and orange liquor and stir to combine.
  7. Place all six cups of flour on your counter and make a large well in the center.
  8. Mix and stir as you go and add each of the three bowls a little at a time starting with warm yeast and water, then cooled milk and butter and finally eggs and sugar mixture, pulling the sides into the center over and over to form a dough.
  9. Add the pieces of Biga to the dough working them in as you press and turn. This process will take a good five minutes working the dough to completely blend together. (If using a 6 or 7 quart stand mixer, the process will take less time).
  10. The dough now needs to be kneaded for five additional minutes. Pull the back of the dough to the front and press with the heel of your palm over and over working the dough for five minutes. This step is necessary.
  11. Oil a large bowl and place the dough ball in and swirl to coat all sides with oil.
  12. Cover with plastic and a towel and place in a warm place for at least two hours or until doubled in size.
  13. In a medium bowl place both raisins, currants and rum, cover and microwave one minute on high. Set aside covered at room temperature.
  14. Once the dough has doubled in size, generously flour your counter and pour out the dough. Cut into three equal pieces, about 1 ½ pounds each.
  15. One at a time, roll out each piece of dough to 9 inches wide by 13 inches long.
  16. Divide the raisin mixture into thirds and place one third over the rolled out dough bringing it right to the sides. Discard any liquid in the bowl, if any.
  17. Do the same for the chopped nuts; dividing in thirds and sprinkling to the edges.
  18. Take the long end and roll tightly towards the center. Take the other long end and do the same so that both rolls end in the center.
  19. Gently lift and place in a loaf pan, seam side up.
  20. Brush a little water between the seam and pinch together to seal.
  21. Repeat this procedure for the other two loaves.
  22. Cover with plastic and a dish towel and let proof for 90 minutes or until almost doubled in size.
  23. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  24. Beat the egg with the water and brush the tops of each loaf, trying not to let the egg wash leak down the sides.
  25. Place all three in the center of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and when tapped, sounds hollow. Half way through baking, rotate pans so that they brown evenly. Ours took 33 minutes.
  26. Cool for a few minutes on a rack then invert out of the pan and cool.
  27. Once cool, bread should be tightly wrapped. Can be frozen if baking ahead.

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Polish Babka - A traditional bread served on Easter morning.

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