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Babka is a Polish tradition for Easter

— Babka is a big part of my childhood memories. If you don’t know what babka is, I guess the best way to describe it is a very spongy, briochelike yeast cake.

It’s sweet and usually has a fruit filling such as golden raisins. It’s a very dense cake, and the dough can be very finicky and easily overmixed.

My grandmother and my mother always had a babka marathon leading up to Easter Sunday.

A recipe only makes a few loaves, and it seemed 10 or 12 were always needed for family, friends and church bake sales.

Babka is def initely not for the novice baker. It helps to make it a few times with someone who is used to working with the dough. It’s one of those doughs that benefits from a familiar touch of knowing when to stop mixing or to add more flour.

My mom had been using the same babka recipe for years, but recently we were treated to a babka made by my friend’s mother, Sharon.

(The recipe had been passed to Sharon from her mother-inlaw many years ago.) The babka was fantastic.

It was the perfect texture and sweetness, and it really stood out as an excellent example of what a good Polish babka could be.

There are so many versionsof babka out there, depending on your ethnic heritage or religion. But this recipe is outstanding. If you’ve eaten as many babkas as I have, you just know. Take it from a babka expert - this is good.

BABKA Makes 2-3 loaf-sized cakes.

Yeast dough: 1 cup whole milk 2 packages dry yeast 1 1/2 cups flour 1 tablespoon sugar Next part of dough: 1 1/4 cups whole milk 1/2 cup butter 12 egg yolks 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 6 1/2 cups flour 1 cup golden raisins Topping: Handful of dough 1/2 cup sugar 1/3 cup flour1/2 cup butter, room temperature To make the yeast dough, scald milk, remove from heat and cool.

When cool, add yeast, flour and sugar. Mix well and set aside.

To make the main dough, scald milk with butter. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar until light and fluffy (use a kitchen mixer with a whisk attachment if you can).

Add salt and vanilla. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, alternately with cooled milk-butter mixture (switch to dough hook). After you have added 4 cups of flour, add the cooled milk-yeast mixture from earlier. Add raisins. Set a handful of dough aside for the topping.

Let the dough rise until double in size. Punch down and put in 2 or 3 greased loaf pans (depending on size of pans). Mix reservedhandful of dough with sugar, flour and butter, and add crumbled topping; let dough rise again until double.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Cathy Pollak runs her own vineyard and winery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and shares her love of food and wine at noblepig.com. Her work is sometimes featured on One for the Table, Amy Ephron’s online magazine that specializes in food, politics and love and can be found at www.oneforthetable.com.

Three Rivers, Pages 47 on 03/08/2012

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