The GFCF Recipe Experience: Babka (Polish Yeast Cake)
Posted Jan 03 2011 2:47pm
Babka, or yeast cake, is another traditional Eastern European food that is served for special occasions. While many Eastern European countries have their own versions of babka, it's origins lie in Eastern Poland and Western Russia. The traditional cake contains a fruit filling, typically raisins, and some sort of topping, either a chocolate or fruit glaze, streusel, or, in the case of my family, a simple topping of cinnamon, sugar, and brown sugar.
In my family, babka has been a staple at our Christmas and Easter celebrations since well before I was born. And I think it's wonderful that they are made only a couple times a year at most - there is always a great anticipation of getting the first bite of that cake you missed having for so long!
It's appropriate that the word "babka" can be translated to mean "Grandmother" as it was my maternal Grandmother (Little Grandmom) who traditionally made these cakes. I can still remember her stern warnings to me not to jump around while the cakes were rising. My mother eventually followed and still makes them to this day. It is her recipe that I used in my first attempts to make a GFCF version.
Yes, I said "attempts." My first attempt was on Christmas Eve, after the kids were snuggled in their beds awaiting a certain someone. Everything was going well, until I got to baking. I mean, it was 11:45 pm, and I just closed my eyes for a minute....
The result - I left the cakes in the oven about 10 minutes too long, and while they didn't burn, the outside was definitely well cooked. But that wasn't the biggest problem. The biggest problem was that they fell in the middle. And then I realized I forgot to add one ingredient - xanthan gum.
So New Year's Eve, I tried again. This time I added a tsp of xanthan gum per cup of flour used - 4 1/2 tsp total. And this time, I was awake enough to take the cakes out of the oven at the right time.
And this time, the xanthan gum turned out to be too much. Yes, my cakes didn't fall, but the dough was so dense that they didn't really rise either.
You can see the difference in the two pics below. The pic on the left is the first cake, while the pic on the right is the second.
So the reality is that the amount of xanthan gum needed is somewhere in the middle, maybe 2 - 2 1/2 tsp. Which is what I will try next time I make this for Easter.
Xanthan gum issues aside, the flavor was spot on. The touch of lemon from the lemon extract, the cinnamon, sugar, and brown sugar topping - it's been six years since I last had one of Mom's babkas, and this cake brought me home once again.
BABKA (Polish Yeast Cake) Adapted from Mom's recipe
Note that the recipe as written below is enough to make two cakes, one in a standard bread loaf pan, and one in a round tube pan. And this is after halving the recipe my Mom sent me!
3 cups GF all purpose flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup rice flour
2 - 2 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 cup CF milk (I used almond milk)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) CF butter (I used Earthbalance Buttery Sticks)
1/2 tbsp salt
2 1/2 tsp active yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 pound raisins (I used golden but dark raisins will work too)
6 large eggs
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp mace
1 tbsp lemon extract
cinnamon, sugar, and light brown sugar for topping.
Sift together the flours, xanthan gum, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace. Make sure they are mixed well. Set aside.
Place the raisins in a bowl and cover with warm water. Let the raisins soak until ready to use.
Place the milk, butter, and sugar in a saucepan and warm over medium heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm.
In a small bowl stir the yeast into the warm water. Add 1/2 tbsp sugar and 2 tbsp of the flour mixture and stir until combined. Set aside.
In a stand mixer beat the eggs and salt until foamy. Add 1/2 cup of the flour mixture to the milk mixture and mix well, then slowly add this mixture to the eggs and salt. Add some of the flour mixture and then the yeast mixture, mixing well. Add the remaining flour and the lemon extract and mix well. Drain the raisins and add them to the mixture and mix to combine.
Replace the beater head in the mixer with a dough hook. Using the dough hook, knead the mixture for 15 minutes on low speed.
Spray a large mixing bowl with cooking spray. Transfer the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, allow the mixtue to sit until the volume doubles (about 45 minutes for me). Note that I used the large mixing bowl only because my stand mixer bowl was not large enough to allow the mixture to double in size.
Grease a standard loaf pan and a round tube pan (or whichever pans you choose) with CF butter (again I used Earthbalance Buttery Sticks). Fill each pan about halfway with the dough. Pat the top of each cake with butter, then liberally sprinkle cinnamon, sugar, and brown sugar on top of each cake. Cover with plastic wrap and again let rise until the dough doubles in size.
Preheat oven to 350°. Place the pans in the preheated oven and bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and place on wire racks to cool for 15 minutes before removing the cakes from the pans and allowing them to cool completely (make sure the cakes are not inverted).
The cakes can be served immediately as is or with a little CF butter. These cakes also freeze well - I sliced them into servings first, then reheat with a little CF butter.