Easter Babka #CookForUkraine

The top of a baked babka showing some scattered raisins

“Why are you baking babka now?” my mom asked. It’s a few days into Lent so Lenten babka threw her. Babka is an Easter bread, and I wanted to bake it and post a recipe for #CookForUkraine.

There aren’t words that can describe the invasion of Ukraine. #CookForUkraine aims to increase awareness of the humanitarian crisis the world faces right now, as well as raise the funds needed to aid children & families in Ukraine who have been displaced by the current situation.

#CookForUkraine is raising funds for UNICEF UK. Please consider donating to this cause or to a foundation in your country. In Canada, the UCC has Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. However you can contribute or offer support – Дуже дякую.

I hope that this little recipe can spark the memories of smells and flavours of Easter and springtime.

Ukrainian bread culture

You can often hear people use the cliche that Ukraine is “the breadbasket of Europe.” Wheat is not the biggest crop – that is sunflowers to produce oil. The sunflower is also the national flower. Wheat is part of the Ukrainian soul.

There are so many kinds of Ukrainian bread. Kolach, a braided circle bread, is served at Christmas. There are buns and loaves. Flatbreads. Bread dough stuffed with buckwheat. Heavy rye breads. Easter breads like paskas and babkas. I’m part of the Ukrainian-Canadian community, and there are even more bread variants in the regions of Ukraine. Olia Hercules has a babka recipe with a potato starter in her book Mamushka.

Me and my baba in her kitchen. She has a giant bowl with enough bread dough to make 6 loaves that she's kneading. I'm almost 2 years old looking into the vast amount of dough.

My baba baked everything. In this photo, I’m “helping” but mostly just a toddler looking on. She kneaded everything by hand in that giant vessel. Behind her, there is a large metal container of flour that I almost could have fit in at that age.

Baba and the women who authored recipes in church cookbooks would add vague details in their recipes like “add enough flour.” It could mean half a cup or it could mean 10 cups. You should just know what’s enough. How the dough feels, if it pulls away from the bowl. If you make enough bread, you’ll just know, too.

Paska and babka

These are Easter breads. Some use these two terms interchangeably. Others have hard definitions. Many recipes make dough that is for either type of bread.

Paska and babka share a rich, golden, sweet dough.  To me, paska is round, wider with braided dough and decorations on top, and babkas are round, tall and skinny.

Both Ukrainian Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic parishoners take elaborate baskets lined with embroidery and filled with all their prepared Easter foods to church. The food is blessed on Easter Saturday. In this ceremony, the paska is centre-stage but most baskets will also have babkas. Also included are hard-boiled eggs, ham, kovbasa (garlic sausage), butter, cheese, horseradish, salt and pysanky (decorated Easter eggs).

Paskas are works of art. As such, making one can be a little daunting. There are braided dough decorations of crosses, twists, rosettes, and leaves. My favourite decoration is the tiny, beautiful birds made out of dough with poppy seed eyes.

I’m making a babka because it’s a little easier. It takes a long time but that’s just the rising time.

Babkas are baked in tins. I know you may be thinking that lots of breads are baked in tins but we’re talking about cans.

Two cans side by side, one without a label. The label reads Heinz Tomato Juice

Really big cans. These are 48 fl oz / 1.36 L cans. One older recipe recommends using lard, jam or juice cans because that worked in 1967. After surveying my local grocery store today, Heinz tomato juice is the only large-format can remaining on the grocery shelf.

Opening the cans with a can opener that does not leave a sharp edge is a good idea. Once you remove the label and get rid of the glue, empty out the contents. This amount of tomato juice is useful for making a large batch of holubtsi.

Instant Pot Cabbage Rolls / Holubtsi
Speed up traditional meatless cabbage rolls with the Instant Pot
Check out this recipe
Three small cabbage rolls on a plate

If you can’t find giant cans, use 400 mL / 14 oz cans. You can make smaller, single-serving babkas. Just adjust the baking time a little.

Once you have the cans, you can use them over and over. When you think about doubling, tripling the recipe, this vertical baking format can bake six or eight loaves in a standard sized oven at the same time.

I grease the cans with some sunflower oil and put a circle of parchment paper in the bottom and lightly greased parchment paper around the side.

The tomato juice can with the outline of its circumference drawn on parchment paper ready to be cut out with scissors

Instant Pot bread

This recipe uses the Instant Pot’s Yogurt setting to proof the bread. You don’t need an Instant Pot – just a warm area to proof the bread. Then, this bread is baked in an oven.

I’ve read some posts online that talk about the Instant Pot being half the proofing time. I did not find that true here – you’re just wanting the dough to double in size. Sometimes that can happen more quickly. I found my times to be pretty regular. But, it is reassuring that the pot keeps the same correct proofing temperature.

I use an Instant Pot Duo, and this recipe fits into a 6qt pot with room to rise. If you double the recipe, you likely won’t be able to use the Instant Pot for proofing.

Fruit

Golden raisins have a great colour. While this recipe uses only ¾ cup of raisins, you can certainly add more.

Golden raisins in a colander

Before using the raisins, rinse them gently. Pick out any odd or hardened ones. Allow the raisins to dry (or paper towel them if need be).

Yeast

Combine 2 Tablespoons dry yeast with 1 teaspoon sugar and ⅓ cup warm water (not boiling). After 10 minutes it should be bubbly and yeasty.

Yeast in a 2 cup measuring cup bubbled up almost to the 2 cup mark

Eggs and dairy

Heat 1 cup of milk in a saucepan to scald it (just before boiling). When it’s hot, add ½ butter. Set this mixture aside to cool.

A stick of butter slowly melting into hot milk in a saucepan

Babka has a lot of egg yolks in it.  This is part of what gives it the golden hue in the finished loaf.

9 egg yolks and 1 egg white in a bowlThis recipe uses 8 egg yolks and 1 whole egg. What’s great about having a lot of leftover egg whites? Angel food cakes and meringue pies for Easter.

Beaten eggs with sugar ready to be mixed in

Beat the eggs. Then, add 1 cup of white sugar.

In this recipe, I add 1 Tablespoon each of orange and lemon zest, half a cup of frozen orange juice concentrate, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon salt.

Some people colour their babkas (and paskas) with saffron. This babka is going to get its colour from the yolks, golden raisins, and citrus.  Too much saffron can have a weird flavour but some swear by it.

Combine the butter-milk mixture and yeast mixture into this liquid.

The dough

Starting with 3 cups of flour in a large bowl, add the liquid ingredients and stir with a spoon.
All the ingredients combined with some of the flour forming a batter at this point

Toss the raisins in some of the flour you’re adding to coat them. Add the remaining 3 cups of flour. Flours can be really different. I used about 7.5 cups of flour – your flour is likely different. Knead until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl or your board.

You can also do this with a stand mixer. It would be best to start with the paddle and then switch to the dough hook after about 4 cups of flour have been added.

Dough studded with golden raisins that has formed a ball

When the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl, knead for several minutes. An opportunity to get out some frustration – the dough can take it.

The large ball of dough on top of parchment paper inside the Instant PotPlace the dough on a large sheet of parchment paper and slip it into the Instant Pot. Set the Instant Pot to Yogurt and Low. Use a glass lid to keep the environment perfect.

One interesting thing I found with the Yogurt setting is that it counts up. You’ll know exactly how long the dough has been rising.  The glass lid helps you judge whether it has doubled in size.

The dough doubled ready to be punched down Each time the dough rises, you’ll punch it down.

  1. First rise, punch down, knead (About 60 minutes)
  2. Second rise, punch down, knead (About 60 minutes)
  3. Third rise, punch down, shape into containers for baking (About 45 minutes)

Parchment paper wrapped around the dough before sliding it into the can for baking

It’s far easier to wrap the greased parchment paper lining around the dough before sliding it into the can. If you slide the dough into a can with parchment paper in it, the paper will end up crumpled at the bottom of the can.

Remember it’s very important to only fill the cans about two-thirds full before the last rise. I had one babka overflow while baking in the oven. The top detached and fell over (still edible and enjoyed by all). But, not the desired outcome. The dough pictured here was too much dough.

Baking

In my oven, it’s easiest to put the rack on the lowest level and put a large cookie sheet on top. Then, the height of the cans plus rising fits.

Optionally, you can also top the loafs with a quick egg wash right before baking.

A lot of recipes mention cooling babkas on a soft surface so they don’t fall. It’s easy to just lay them sideways on a couple kitchen towels and rotate occasionally.

Serving

To get the loaf out of the can, loosen around the top with a butter knife and gently twist. It should come out.

If for some reason you can’t get it out, you can always open the bottom end of the can and push from the bottom.

Slice into rounds to serve with butter and jam.

Finished babka, a tall loaf with a rounded top

Easter Babka

A tall, golden bread made for Easter.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 4 hrs
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 4 hrs 45 mins
Course Baking
Cuisine Ukrainian-Canadian
Servings 2 babkas

Equipment

  • Instant Pot optional
  • Parchment paper
  • Instant Pot or Multi-cooker with yogurt setting, optional
  • 2 48 oz cans
  • Dough scrapers
  • Instant Pot glass lid
  • Stand mixer optional

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup butter one stick
  • 2 Tbsp dry yeast
  • cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1 Tbsp orange rind
  • 1 Tbsp lemon rind
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ cup golden raisins
  • 6 cup flour plus additional required for kneading

Instructions
 

  • Heat 1 cup milk in a saucepan to scald. Add ½ cup butter. Remove from heat and allow to melt. Cool.
  • Rinse ¾ cup golden raisins. Dry and set aside.
  • Combine 2 Tablespoons dry yeast with 1 teaspoon white sugar and ⅓ cup warm water in a 2 cup capacity container. Set aside for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, separate 8 egg yolks. Set aside egg whites for another use. Add one whole egg and beat the eggs. Add 1 cup sugar to the mixture and combine.
  • Add ½ cup orange juice concentrate, 1 Tablespoon lemon rind, 1 Tablespoon orange rind, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon salt with the egg mixture. Add the cooled (room temperature) milk/butter mixture and yeast mixture.
  • In a large bowl, combine 3 cups flour with the liquid. Stir with a spoon.
  • Combine some of the flour to coat the raisins. Add the raisins to the dough.
  • Add remaining 3 cups flour and knead into dough. Add more flour if the dough does not pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  • Place the dough on parchment paper in the Instant Pot. Set Yogurt and Low and cover with the glass lid. Allow to rise for about 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
  • Punch the dough down. Knead again on the counter. Return to Instant Pot and reset the Yogurt and Low setting. Allow to rise for about 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
  • Prepare tins by greasing with vegetable oil. Line with greased parchment paper.
  • Punch dough down again. Divide in two and shape into loaves.
    Hint: shape the loaf to only fill ⅔ of the tin, arrange the dough on the parchment lining before fitting into the cans.
  • Bake 45 minutes in a preheated 350°F oven.

Notes

Half this recipe to make just one loaf
Portion dough into 150g amounts in smaller cans

Слава Україні! Героям слава!

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