One of the downsides of growing up in the American South in the 1960s and 1970s (besides no liquor sales on Sunday) was that there was a dearth of ethnic foods.  While these days, the greater Atlanta area boasts a large Asian and Hispanic population, when I was a kid, we had a choice of Southern food, Southern food or the ever popular … Southern food.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that – god knows, I love hush puppies, fried chicken, and sausage and biscuits as much as the next person.  The downside is that you miss out on learning about great cultural traditions, particularly around holidays. 

Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m an expat living in London.  While everyone knows about the Indian and Pakistani populations living in the country, did you know that there’s also a huge Polish and Eastern European community here, as well?  And, with the opening of the European borders comes new foods, new traditions to try.  When I mentioned to one of my coworkers that I was hoping to make babka, a traditional Polish Easter bread, she was more than happy to give me the recipe.

And it is SO!  GOOD!  My baking-mate, Diane, and I shared a slice with the mister when it was hot out of the oven and it was outstanding.  Not as eggy-rich as last week’s tsourekis, babka has a slightly sweet taste, a beautifully spongy texture and a vanilla-flavored streusel topping.  Streusel topping!  On bread!  A little butter, a little jam – or Nutella! – and you’ve got yourself a delicious way to start your Easter morning!

While this recipe doesn’t include any dried fruit, I think this would be great with raisins or maybe dried cherries!

Babka

Bread

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (body temperature)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 oz butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • healthy pinch salt
  • 1 egg, beaten, for an egg wash

Streusel topping

  • 2 oz butter, chilled
  • 10 level Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp vanilla sugar (sugar mixed with 1 or 2 drops of vanilla extract)

To make the bread, toss together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast, and make a well in the middle.  Pour the warm milk, melted butter and egg into the center, then use a wooden spoon to mix it together.  Pour it onto a floured surface, and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour a tablespoon at a time until you get a smooth texture that’s only slightly tacky.  Oil a large bowl, then turn the dough to cover with oil, seal with plastic wrap and let sit for 90 minutes until doubled.  While the dough is rising, prepare a loaf tin by buttering and lining with parchment paper (it makes it easier to remove the loaf when it’s done).  Punch down the dough, then form a tight ball by turning and tucking the sides underneath until the top is tight and smooth.  Place into your prepared loaf tin and cover with a towel to let it rise for another 30-45 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 and prepare your streusel by grating the butter into the other ingredients and rubbing together until it looks pebbley.  When the bread is finished with its second rise, brush it with the beaten egg, then pour the streusel over the top and bake for 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

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