What Is a Babka?

Babka
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Definition of 'Babka'

The word babka is Polish for "grandmother," often used in a rude way.

In the culinary sense, however, it refers to a slightly sweet yeast cake dotted with raisins and/or dried fruits and citron that have been soaked in rum or brandy.

Sometimes the baked cake is poked with holes and saturated with a rum or brandy syrup, and then dusted with confectioners' sugar or drizzled with a flat icing.

Babka is traditionally served for Easter, but it can be enjoyed year-round. It is typically baked in a swirled pan, resembling an old peasant woman's swirling skirts, but any round pan with a funnel (middle hole), like a Bundt pan, kugelhopf pan or turban mold, will work. Even a straight-sided pan that isn't fluted will work as long as it has a funnel.

Pronunciation: BAHB-kah

Also known as: baba

Example of Babka used in a sentence: You can cut down on the typical 15 egg yolks in traditional Easter Babka by making this Easy Babka Recipe.

Origin of the Babka

The debate rages on, but many believe the babka was introduced into France by the court of the exiled Polish King Stanislaus I Leszczyński, where it became known as a baba au rhum. Another story says Leszczyiński invented it when he soaked his stale kugelhopf in rum and named the turban-shaped dessert after the storybook hero Ali Baba.

Many Varieties of Polish Babka Exist

For comparison purposes, Polish babka is not unlike Italian panettone.

It's light, slightly sweet and yeasty and studded with rum- or wine-soaked dried fruits. Thre are as many recipes for babka as there are cooks. Some recipes call for whole eggs, while others use egg yolks only. Some babkas require three rises and others make do with one rise. Some baked babkas are left plain, while others are glazed with a flat icing or dusted with confectioners' sugar.

The variations come down to the baker's whim, the preference of the family, and grandmother's recipe.

Jewish Babka Recipes

It's anyone's guess who originated the babka in Poland. Was it appropriated from the Poles by Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jews or was it the other way around? As with most recipes, changes were made over the years. Instead of being baked in a swirly babka pan the Poles use, Jewish babkas are usually baked in a loaf pan and have a streusel topping.