Entry in progress—B.P.
Babka, or Bobka, also known as baba, is a sweet yeast cake.
East European version
It is a spongy yeast cake that is traditionally baked for Easter Sunday in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Western Russia. Darra Goldstein, professor of Russian at Williams College says “babka comes from baba, a very tall, delicate yet rich yeast-risen cake eaten in Western Russia and Eastern Poland (Ukraine?).” Traditional babka has some type of fruit filling, especially raisins, and is glazed with a fruit-flavored icing, sometimes with rum added. Modern babka may be chocolate or have a cheese filling.
Babka is popular among Jews, particularly those with family origins in Eastern Europe. The Jewish version however is different from the one described above. It is made from a doubled and twisted length of yeast dough and is typically baked in a high loaf pan. There is never a fruit filling; the dough contains either cinnamon or chocolate. It is usually topped with streusel. A similar cake called a kokosh is also popular in Jewish bakeries. Kokosh also comes in chocolate and cinnamon varieties, but it is lower and longer than babka, is not twisted, and not topped with streusel.
Babka of this style has become popular in North American cities with large Jewish populations, including Montreal, New York and Toronto.
Other than the dessert variety, there also exists a traditional Eastern European Jewish variety prepared during Passover in lieu of bread. Generally, this sort is not sweet and is prepared using crushed matzos with water, egg, and salt. Some Polish Jews refer to pancakes with these ingredients as bubbeleh, a name similar to babka.
The Polish noun babka and Russian baba (Russian: баба) mean “grandmother,” and as applied to the pastry probably refer to its shape, a tall cylinder, sometimes with corrugations resembling a skirt’s pleats. The name of the pastry entered the English language from Polish, via French, although “babka” is also sometimes used in its original sense ("grandmother"), especially among those of Eastern European descent.
Epicurious.com: Food Dictionary
Hailing from Poland, this rum-scented sweet yeast bread is studded with almonds, raisins and orange peel.
What is a Baba Cake?
Baba cake or baba au rhum is a European cake which is made with rum and raisins or currants. Some bakers classify baba is a bread, rather than a cake, since it includes yeast. In either case, the dessert is rich, sweet, and extremely flavorful. Numerous European nations have different regional recipes for baba cake, which is usually served on special occasions. Outside of Europe, the dessert can sometimes be difficult to find, but it can fortunately be made at home.
Different nations call baba cake by different names. In Turkey, it is known as “father’s cake,” while French and Polish speakers know it as babka. In France, a baba cake made in a large ring mold called a savarin. The recipes for the cake are slightly different in each of these countries, but the cakes are clearly related, and all of them show a common thread of Middle Eastern influence, since they are usually very strongly sweetened. When baked in individual molds, baba cakes are very tall, and they may have textured sides to hold their sugar and rum glaze.
Many tales to explain the origins of baba cake have been bandied about. The concept was probably brought over from Russia to Eastern Europe. Popular mythology has it that a King of Poland was eating stale kugelhopf, a very similar pastry, and decided to dip it in rum to refresh the flavor. The result was apparently so pleasing that the king decided it should be added to the pastry repertoire of his nation.
What is Babka?
Babka is described in many ways, and its origins tend to be obscured. Some say babka is a classic Czech coffee cake, while others call it a traditional Polish cake. What is known is that babka is a yeasted sweet cake, popular in most of Eastern Europe, which is flavored with rum, studded with raisins, and considered a traditional treat on Easter.
There’s no reason to wait for Easter if you’d like to try a babka. If you have a good European bakery nearby, you’ll probably find the bread/coffee cake available most times of the year. Though the babka is a celebratory food associated with Easter, check good Jewish bakeries and delis too, since many Jews from Eastern Europe also make the cake.
You can also make your own babka. Many recipes suggest mixing and rising the babka dough in a breadmaker, prior to shaping it and rising it again before you bake it. Of course, you can also make the babka by hand, especially if you’re an experienced hand at the dough. You will need to finish and mold the dough outside a bread machine if you’re planning on adding fillings.
You’ll find babka with numerous fillings including chocolate or cream cheese. These are not traditional babka fillings but they are nevertheless enjoyed. More traditionally, babka is filled with cinnamon. This can sometimes be known as the “lesser babka.”
(Oxford English Dictionary)
A kind of light plum-cake. Now esp. rum baba, baba au rhum, a rich cake soaked in a rum syrup.
1827 L. E. UDE French Cook 461 The oven must be moderately hot, as the babas must remain a long time in.
1846 A. SOYER Gastron. Regenerator 566 Take off the band of paper, turn the baba over upon a hair sieve, and serve either hot or cold.
c1864 FRANCATELLI Cook’s Guide 298 Particular care should be taken in baking the baba to prevent its acquiring a deep colour.
1868 GOUFFE Cookery Bk. (1869) 533 Butter a baba-mould, 6 inches in diameter.
1933 A. CHRISTIE Lord Edgware Dies xiv. 126 We had a delicious omelette, a sole, a chicken and a Baba au Rhum.
1939 M. ALLINGHAM Mr. Campion & Others 135 Accepting a rhum-baba.
1952 B. NILSON Penguin Cookery Book xxiv. 417 Rum Babas.
1958 W. BICKEL tr. Hering’s Dict. Class. & Mod. Cookery 668 Baba au rhum, savarin dough mixed with raisins and currants, baked in baba mould, soaked while still hot with hot syrup flavored with rum; served with rum-flavored apricot sauce.
“Aunt Babette’s” Cook Book:
Foreign and domestic receipts for the household: A vaulable collection of receipts and hints for the housewife, many of which are not to be found elsewhere.
By “Aunt Babette”
Cincinnati, OH: Block Pub. and Print Co.
BABA A LA PARISIENNE.
Prepare the yeast as above; cream a scant cup of butter with four tablespoonfuls of sugar, the grated peel of a lemon, add seven eggs, one at a time, stirring each egg a few minutes before (Pg. 321—ed.) you add the next. Have ready two cups of sifted flour, and add two spoonfuls between each egg, until all is used up. Male a soft dough of the yeast, a small cupful of lukewarm milk and a cupful of flour. Let it rise for fifteen minutes. Now mix all well, rub the form well with butter, and blanch a handful of almonds, cut into long strips, and strew all over the form. Fill in the mixture of cake batter, let it rise two hours and bake very slowly.
The Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering
By Jessup Whitehead
Chicago, IL: J. Anderson & Co.
Pg. 243, col. 2:
BABA—Polish cake in common use; a yeast-raised, white sort of fruit cake, made of sugar, butter and eggs, few raisins and almonds mixed with a piece of light dough about equal in weight to all of them, thoroughly beaten; let rise in moulds, and baked. BABA AU RHUM—The baba cake served as pudding with hot syrup, containing rum, poured over it.
10 September 1947, New York (NY) Times, “News of Food” by Jane Nickerson, pg. 33:
Though not all of them are, the specialties, babka and kulich, turn out to be Polish and Russian, respectively.
The work is supervised by Samuel Held, whose babka and kulich have already become famous through Leblang’s, the bakery that he opened five or six years ago at 647 Columbus Avenue, which will continue in operation.
Babka, from which the new shop derives its name, and kulich are essentially the same, though not identical. The polish babka, dipped in rum, is baked in an angel-food pan, with the conventional hole in the center, while the Russian kulich, in particular demand at the Russian Easter, is solidly round and tall, like a stove-pipe hat.
THe yeast dough in both is yellow with eggs and butter, dotted with raisins and citron, and both babka and kulich are frosted with confectioners’ sugar icing. Babka is always rum-dipped, kulich may or may not be. Seventy-five cents a pound is the cost of each, with both available in a variety of sizes.
(Babka, 905 Madison Avenue, near 72nd Street—ed.)
30 June 1955, Brownsville (TX) Herald, “Coffee Cake Can Be Plain Or Very Fancy” by Ella Elvin, pg. B9, col. 1:
Today’s Polish Babka is baked in a tube pan, its cinnamon dusted top rising high and handsome above the rim. We have used candied cherries and citron to supplement the raisins but these are not essential. Walnuts or pecans would be a good addition too.
One-fourth cup lukewarm water
One package active dry yeast
One cup milk, scalded
One-half cup butter
One teaspoon salt
One-half cup sugar
Two eggs beaten
Five cups sifted flour, or more
Two tablespoons grated lemon rind
One-third cup halved candied cherries
One-third cup chopped citron
One-half cup seedless raisins
Kneading time: Two minutes
First rising time: One hour
Second risingtime: Thirty minutes
One teaspoon sugar
One-fourth teaspoon cinnamon
Over temperature: 350 degrees
Baking time: Forty minutes
Yield: One babke (...)
17 March 1961, Valley Independent (Monessen, PA), pg. 9, col. 6 ad:
Bobka Coffee Cake
Vanilla . Chocolate . Strawberry
(R. O. Valdiserri Bakery—ed.)
29 March 1961, New York (NY) Times, pg. 13 ad:
BOBKA Barton’s Passover version of Old World kugelhopf. Marbleized chocolate and vanilla with ground nuts. 1 lb. 6 oz. $1.98.
22 September 1965, Wilton (CT) Bulletin, pg. 5B, col. 1 ad:
18 August 1966, Tucson (AZ) Daily Citizen pg. 38, col. 2 ad:
El Rancho Bakery
Seinfeld NBC (Ended 1998)
Episode Guide > Season 5, Episode 13
Air Date: Thursday February 3, 1994
The Dinner Party
Jerry: We’ve got to get the cinnamon.
Elaine: No, but they got the chocolate. We’ll be going in with a lesser babka.
Jerry: I beg your pardon? Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka. People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, “Oh, this is so good. What’s in it?,” the answer invariably comes back, cinnamon. Cinnamon, again and again. Lesser babka? I think not.
New York (NY) Times
Inviting an Old Favorite to the Hanukkah Table
By JOAN NATHAN
Published: December 5, 2007
IT is probably impossible for many people to hear the word “babka” and not think of the “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry and Elaine, desperate to bring a chocolate babka to a dinner party, angrily confront another customer at a bakery who gets the last one. They settle for cinnamon, even though Elaine calls it “a lesser babka.”
“Cinnamon takes a back seat to no babka,” he says. “Lesser babka? I think not!”
Babka evokes dogmatic opinions. The babka you knew as a child is the babka that you defend passionately as an adult. My husband, Allan, insists that his be dry. Some say fruit has no place in babka; others say it’s incomplete without it.
But babka became a Jewish favorite because Eastern European cooks found common ground.
“Babka comes from baba, a very tall, delicate yet rich yeast-risen cake eaten in Western Russia and Eastern Poland,” said Darra Goldstein, a professor of Russian at Williams College. “A very elaborate babka was eaten at Easter.”
“It can include rose oil, lemon zest, bitter almonds, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, lemon, bergamot or rose water,” she said, “but the most basic one has the finest flour, yeast, milk, with a little sugar and lots of egg yolks.”
The Italians call their version panettone, the French baba au rhum, and the Viennese and Alsatians kugelhopf.
Jews called it babka, the diminutive of baba, and gave it their own twist when they came to the United States. They filled it with chocolate and lots of cinnamon and sugar, making it more like a coffee cake with a streusel topping. Although not a Hanukkah dish per se, chocolate babka is served by many families at Hanukkah, like other iconic Jewish dishes.
The Atlantic Food Channel
Apr 30 2009, 12:45 pm by Ari Weinzweig
Babka, Trans-Atlantic Jewish Delight
One theory says Babka is indigenous to the Ukraine, where it was part of an ancient fertility symbol used in the matriarchal system once in place in the region. Historian and food writer Lesley Chamberlain believes that babka came up from Italy, brought by Queen Bona Sforza of Poland in the 16th century and developed into a Russified version of the typical Italian pannetone.
In either case, the old forms of the babka were likely much larger, somewhere from the size of a modern day pannetone on up to some a few feet high. The original name was likely “baba,” meaning grandmother.
One theory says that with the “modern era’s” smaller sizes the name shifted to the diminutive, “babka,” meaning “little grandmother.” Some others say the tall shape they were made in resembles a grandmother’s pleated skirts.
As much as many folks today both swear by it and swoon for it, chocolate babka seems to have been a mid-century American Jewish invention. A very good one, mind you. But I doubt my great-grandparents would ever have conceived of it.