One of the fondest memories I have of my grandmother is baking Easter bread with her. This Easter bread, or what my grandmother referred to as Babka bread, is an Eastern European bread that is sweet and almost cake-like. My Baba, Ukrainian for grandmother, set aside an entire day solely dedicated to baking loaves and loaves of this wonderful bread. She had several of her own techniques for baking this bread including using heavy bath towels to cover the loaves so they would be warm and rise faster instead of kitchen towels. She braided her Babka so that it looked more like a Jewish challah bread. She also placed the loaves of bread into aluminum roasting pans that would enable the loaves to expand during the rising stage as well as during baking. I don’t recall my Baba having a recipe that she referred to, but instead, baked these loaves purely from memory. There were no kitchen aids or kneading hooks when she baked. She did everything by hand and every loaf had to be pampered and prepped just right. I remember being impatient — I always wanted to cut the rising time short so I could eat this bread sooner. This bread is extremely versatile – – it can be eaten warm right out of the oven, cold spread with jam, toasted with butter, or even used as sandwich for leftover Easter ham. This year, my mother and I both decided to bake this bread. While my bread did not come out as delicious as I remember my Baba’s being, I know that this Sunday when I eat my mother’s babka bread, it will bring back irreplaceable memories of baking this wonderful Easter treat with my Baba. While I did not share my grandmother’s family recipe that I used here, I did find a recipe that is very similar. Enjoy and Христос воскрес (Happy Easter)!
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1 c warm water
- 1/2 c sugar
- 3 large eggs, beaten, plus 1 for glaze
- 5 c flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 c unsalted butter at room temp
- 1 c golden or regular raisins (optional)
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
- Add the sugar, 3 eggs, 4 1/2 cups of the flour, the salt, butter, and raisins. Place the bowl on the mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on low speed, working in the remaining flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too sticky, until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. (The dough should stay soft and will become less sticky with kneading.)
- Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 2 hours.
- Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper. Punch down the dough. To make a 3-strand braid, cut the dough into 3 equal pieces with a sharp knife. Using your palms, and starting in the center and working outward, elongate 1 piece by rolling it gently against the work surface with even pressure until you have formed a rope as long as the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining pieces.
- Lay the 3 pieces out and begin braiding them. Pinch the ends together at the top and at the bottom, and tuck the strands under at the ends.
- Place the braided loaf on the prepared pan, cover with a dry kitchen towel, and let rise again in a warm, draft-free spot until the loaf doubles in size, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Preheat to 350°F
- Brush the braid gently with the beaten egg. Bake the braid until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Makes 1 large braided loaf.