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Babka
tastes of my own family.

(Grandma’s Bread)

This is an Eastern European bread, rather sweet and cake-like, traditionally baked at Easter and other holidays. Everyone’s grandmother (babci, babca) had her own recipe, which she would defend as the only ‘true’ babka. This recipe is based on what my own grandmother (a Carpathian Russian) had made for decades. I tweaked it for the particular

The process: We make a rich mixture of milk, eggs, butter, yeast, and sugar, then add flour to make a soft, kneadable dough. We work in the raisins, let the dough rise once in a bowl, then a second time in the loaf pans. It bakes for 30 to 40 minutes. Time: From start to baked loaves, about four hours. (Or, about an hour one day, an overnight rise in the fridge, then two hours the next day.)

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Hardware
Two 9x5 loaf pans, glass, metal, or stoneware Two big mixing bowls, wooden spoon or stout spatula Measuring cups and spoons

Ingredients, for two loaves
1 to 1 1/2 cups 'golden' raisins 2 cups whole milk 1/2 stick butter 5 egg yolks (no whites) 1/4 cup sugar 1 Tablespoon salt Vanilla extract 2 pkgs active dry yeast, regular or rapid-rise (Comes in 3-pkg strips) 5-6 cups bread flour (better) or all-purpose flour (About 1/3 of a 5 lb. bag) To brush on baking loaves: 1 beaten egg, 1 Tbs milk, 1 drop vanilla extract

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Plumping the Raisins
In a small bowl, cover raisins with hot tap water and let them soak while you continue.

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The Liquids
In a large mixing bowl, blend together: 2 cups whole milk, warmed to about body temperature or so. (At least take the chill off it.) 5 egg yolks, no whites ! cup sugar " stick melted butter 1 tablespoon salt ! teaspoon vanilla extract To this mixture, add two packages of yeast. Sprinkle in and let stand for a minute or two to dissolve.

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The dough: About 20 minutes
Take about two cups of the bread flour, and add it to the milk mixture. Stir with a spatula or wooden spoon to form a smooth paste. Don’t worry about lumps.

Then mix in more flour, about a handful at a time, to create a soft dough. (You may need to abandon the spoon and use your hands.)

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Add just enough flour to form a shaggy, slightly sticky dough that you can just about pick up. In general, softer and stickier is better than stiff and dry.

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Kneading: 5-10 minutes
Sprinkle flour liberally on a countertop or work surface. Keep more flour handy.

Empty the dough onto the floured surface. Sprinkle more flour atop the dough. Coat your hands with flour. To knead, flatten the dough with the heels of your hands. Then fold it over on itself, give it a quarter turn, then flatten it again. Flatten, fold, turn. Or use whatever kneading technique you like. Continue. If the dough sticks to your hands or the countertop, sprinkle on just enough flour to make it handleable. Don’t work in too much flour and stiffen the dough. After about five minutes, the dough will become satiny and elastic, and feel alive under your hands. The time is not critical. Flatten the dough into a rough oval, and let it rest while to you tend to the raisins.

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Raisins
Pour off the water from the raisins, and pat them with a paper towel to remove excess water. They will be plump and soft. Spread the raisins onto your flattened dough.

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Now fold the dough to incorporate the raisins.

Knead the dough for a minute or two to work in the raisins. If some raisins try to escape, just tuck them back in. Eventually they’ll stay.

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First Rising: 1 hour or so
Liberally coat a large mixing bowl with oil or butter. Form your dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Then flip the dough over, so the uppermost surface is coated with butter. This prevents the dough from crusting over during the rising.

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Cover the bowl with a towel, and leave it in a warm place (such as the oven with just the light on) for about an hour.

Or, place the covered bowl in the fridge overnight, and continue the next day. In the cold, it will take the dough 8-10 hours to rise.

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After an hour or so, the dough will rise to double its original size. Sort of like this.

To see if it has risen enough, poke two fingers deep into the dough. If the holes remain, and don’t spring back, the dough is ready.

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Forming the Loaves: Second Rising (About 1 hour)
Liberally butter the insides of your two loaf pans. More butter is better than less. You don’t want sticking. Turn the risen dough onto a well-floured work surface. Knead a few strokes to press out the bubbles. Divide in two. Form loaves by pressing the dough into a rough oval. . . .

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. . . .and rolling it up into a short loaf shape.

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Pinch the seams together and drop into the loaf pan. (The loaves won’t fill the pans, but they will rise again.) If any raisins pop out of the dough, pick them off. They will burn in the oven.

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Cover the pans with a towel and return to the warm place for about an hour.

Until they have about doubled in volume.

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The dough should be about 1 inch above the rim of the pan. (Not to worry, they will rise still more in the oven.)

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Baking: About 35 minutes at 360
Preheat oven to 360 degrees. In a small bowl, beat one egg, 1 Tablespoon milk, and one drop of Vanilla extract. Brush onto the loaves.

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Now slide the loaf pans onto middle shelf of the oven.

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After about 10 minutes, they will blossom nicely.

If they begin to brown unevenly, just rotate the pans every ten minutes or so, to even out the browning.

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After about 40 minutes they’ll look like this.

They are done when the loaves are a rich glossy brown, and have firm hollow sound when tapped. Or they look like Babka. If in doubt, bake five more minutes. Five minutes over is better than five minutes too little.

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Remove from oven, and tilt the loaves out of the pans. If they’re reluctant to come out, run a knife around the edges of the pan to release them. (And use more butter next time.) Let the loaves cool on a wire rack before slicing or storing in plastic bags.

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Eat.