Before I got married I had a ten-letter last name that ended in “ski.” With the name came room for horrible pick up lines like, “Great name. Is that French?” And, of course, way too many Polack jokes. I’ll spare you. But I am proud to be Polish, because the Poles know how to eat.
Our family, much like Martha Stewart’s family (just a side note), celebrates our Polish heritage mainly through food. This, of course, means pierogies, kielbasa, sauerkraut and…babka. Fresh, warm, citrusy babka. Babka is a yeast cake normally made with citrus zest and sweetened with dried fruit. My sister and I have baked our grandmother’s babka recipe together since we were kids. I’ll zest while she mixes. It’s always a family affair.
Last week Grandma had a birthday, and while I knew my sister was going to visit, I didn’t know she was making all the other grandkids look bad until I heard that she was bringing Grandma a homemade babka. In our family, babkas are usually only baked around the holidays, so a birthday-babka traveling across state lines is something special.
I called Grandma to wish her a happy birthday and you better believe the first question she asked, “Kris, you make babka don’t you?” “Yes Grandma. ALL the time.” She totally called me out and once I hung up I actually thought about it. I, meaning just me, had never made a babka. Did I just lie to my Grandma? It has always been me and my sister. I couldn’t lie to Grandma. I had a new challenge – make a babka entirely on my own.
I took Grandma’s recipe and changed it up a bit. Grandma’s calls for raisins and maraschino cherries. I know you don’t mess with Grandma’s recipes, but I figured since I was already out for granddaughter of the year I might as well go out big. I replaced the raisins with dried blueberries and left out the cherries. I added more lemon zest, and the result was nothing less than spectacular.
I had intentions of mailing Grandma the cake, but I ate it all. I’ve been home sick for the past few days, and it seems babka is the only thing that sounded remotely appetizing in addition to my diet of chicken broth and water crackers. I needed sustenance, don’t judge me. I recommend you make this…very soon.
It’s best served warm with a glass of milk. The cake is airy and moist with tart lemon and sweet blueberry flavors speckled throughout. I know I changed a family classic, but I think this might put me back in the running for granddaughter of the year, if only I can summon the willpower to actually save a slice for Grandma.
2 pkgs active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup (10⅔ tablespoons) butter
1 cup whole milk (scalded)
4 cups all purpose flour
4 egg yolks
zest of 2 large lemons
zest of 1 small orange
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 cup dried blueberries
Posted on January 28, 2011