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Paska: Velykodnia Babka
(Ukrainian Easter Babka)

During Easter, two breads showcase the Ukrainian homemaker- "Paska", and "Babka". "Baba" means "grandmother" in Ukrainian or "woman" and the diminutive form is "babka". Every household has itís own variation of this special bread, and I have always preferred this recipe that my Mother uses. It is quite complex as bread recipes go, and while there are much simpler versions, this one stands alone in its taste and texture. This recipe, as well as others on these pages, comes from "Traditional Ukrainian Cookery" by Savella Stechishin, Trident Press Ltd. Winnipeg, Canada 1959.

1-cup milk
1/3-cup flour
2 teaspoons sugar
½ cup lukewarm water
3 packages dry granular yeast
10 to 12 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1-teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar, scant
1 cup melted butter, scant
2 teaspoons vanilla
Grated rind of one lemon
5 ½ cups to 6 cups sifted flour
1 cup golden raisins dusted in flour, if desired

Bring the milk to a boil and remove from the range. Add the hot milk gradually to the ½ cup flour and beat thoroughly until smooth and free of lumps. If necessary, strain or press the mixture through a sieve. Cool it to lukewarm. Dissolve the 2 teaspoons sugar in the lukewarm water, sprinkle the yeast over it, and let stand till every yeast granule is softened. Combine with the lukewarm milk-flour paste, beat well, cover, and let it rise in a warm place until light and bubbly (usually on top of the gas range is a good idea, away from flames). Beat the egg yolks (find another use for the whites) and the whole eggs together along with the salt; add the 1-cup sugar gradually and continue beating till light. Beat in the butter, vanilla, and lemon rind. Combine this mixture with the sponge and mix well. Stir in enough flour to make a very soft dough and knead it in the bowl by hand by working the dough over and up continually for about 10 minutes. The usual method of kneading does not apply to babka dough. This dough is very soft. Thorough kneading is essential to develop its elasticity. When raisins are used, add them after the dough has been kneaded. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk. Punch it down, knead a few more times, and let it rise again. This second rising may be omitted, but there are those cooks who claim the second rising gives a superior product (we always let it rise twice).

Prepare tall, 2 and 3 pound coffee cans by buttering them generously with soft butter and sprinkling them lightly with fine breadcrumbs. Traditional Ukrainian babka is always baked in tall, cylindrical cans. Fill the cans one third full with dough. This is very important. If there is a bit of dough left over, use a proportionately smaller can prepared in the same manner as above. Gather the cans together in a warm place and cover with a towel again and let it rise until it reaches the brim of the pan. It should triple in bulk. Brush the tops with beaten eggs diluted with 2 tablespoons of milk or water. Bake in a moderate oven (375 F) for about 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 F and bake for about 30 minutes; then again lower the temperature to 275 F and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes longer. The baking period depends on the size of the loaves. If needed, cover with aluminum foil to prevent scorching. Babka dough is very delicate and temperamental. Loud noises or constant opening of the ovenís door is not encouraged. Babka dough should be baked at a moderately high temperature at first in order to puff up and form a firm crust, and then the temperature is lowered because this dough is very rich and scorches easily.

Remove the baked loaves from the oven and let them stand in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes. Tip each loaf very carefully from the pan onto a soft, cloth-covered pillow. Do not cool the loaves on a hard surface. This is extremely important, because careless handling of the loaves at this point could cause them to collapse or settle. As the loaves are cooling, gently change their position a few times to prevent settling.

Babka is always sliced in rounds across the loaf. The sliced bottom crust serves as a protective cover, and it is put back to prevent the loaf from drying out. If desired, cooled loaves may be iced or glazed and decorated with bakerís confetti.

Babka Glaze
Mix together ½ cup of confectionerís sugar with ½ teaspoon of lemon juice and enough warm water to give a spreading consistency. Spread this icing over the top of the babka and sprinkle with bakerís confetti.

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Updated June 1, 2008 - LS

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