Monday, April 27, 2015

Cheese Babka

I just returned from trip #3 to Poland.  This trip was quite different than the others.  We weren't on our genealogical journey this time; we were there for Actor Boy's marriage to the lovely "M".  If you believe in fate, this union is one to put in the journal.  Both AB and M were attending the same conference, she from Warsaw and he from Toronto and met in Montreal.  Although many say that long distance relationships are particularly challenging, this one seemed to thrive and after many cross Atlantic visits for extended periods at a time, they decided to tie the knot.

Each trip reminded me of my European roots; the phrases people use to describe things, the quirky shared history that summons both grief and uncontrollable laughter, words in a foreign language that I remember hearing my parents say and most familiar - the food.  I would often think to myself that I used to have this or a version of it at home. And the pastries - simple, plentiful (every street corner type of plentiful) and delicious.  It's easy to see how I developed a love for, no... love isn't exactly the word, it's more like obsession for European cuisine.  It started with Polish recipes and has now spread to the rest of Europe and moving into Asia.  I keep thinking that one of these days my European recipes on Pinterest will just explode but for the time being, we'll go through them one at a time.  It's a good thing there's a fair amount of overlap in European cuisine; often different names for the same thing with maybe just a little twist here or there.  Some recipes have ingredients that are similar but not the same as North American varieties so the challenge is always to recreate flavours with twists here or there.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.

Today I decided to give the Cheese Babka a whirl.  Even the name "babka" is endearing - it means "grandmother" so we associate this sweet with a kindly old grandmother kneading and filling pastries for her family to enjoy.  What could give you a warmer feeling of home than that vision?  Afraid of yeasted doughs?  Don't be.  This recipe is so simple and the hardest part of the whole thing is waiting for the dough to rise.


2 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 tsp and 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup 110 degree water
1 cup milk
4 oz. (1 stick) softened butter
1 tsp salt
3 large beaten egg yolks - reserve 1 egg white for basting top before baking
5 cups all-purpose flour


36 oz. softened cream cheese ***
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar

Crumb Topping

8 Tbsp all-purpose flour
8 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp cold butter

*** The cream cheese in this recipe is a dry curd cheese or quark cheese that's a full milk variety and when you mix it, becomes very smooth and cream cheese like.  Don't use the Philadelphia style cream cheese.

Prepare 3 - 9x5 bread pans (you can either spray them or grease with a little canola oil)


Stir the yeast and 1/2 tsp sugar into warm water.  Set aside until frothy.

Scald the milk and place in a large mixing bowl or stand mixer.  Add soften butter and stir to melt.   Add 1/2 cup sugar, salt, yeast mixture and the 3 beaten egg yolks.

Add the flour and knead until shiny and elastic.  Place in a greased bowl, turning to coat both sides; cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.  This could take a couple of hours.

The Crumb Topping

Mix the flour and sugar and cut in cold butter as you would for a pie crust until it's crumbly.


Punch down dough and divide into three equal parts.  Working with one part at a time while covering the rest, roll into a large rectangle 1/8 - inch thick.

Spread dough with 1/3 of the cheese filling.  Fold the short sides towards the centre (about1 1/2 inches of dough) and roll up the long side away from you.( the way you would make a jellyroll)  Place into prepared bread pan.

Brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with 1/3 of the crumb topping.  Repeat with remaining two dough balls.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest until the dough rises above the rim of the pan.

Place the rack in centre of the oven and heat to 350 F.  Bake babkas for 40-50 or until an instant-read thermometer registers 190 degrees.  Let cool in pan for 5 minutes.  Using a knife, loosen babka from sides of pan.  Cool completely in the loaf pan.

There's always some learning when we follow a recipe for the first time.  I learned:

1.  Make sure there isn't an overabundance of moisture in your final mixed cheese filling.
2.  Don't be impatient with the rising process.  It takes as much time as it takes and works better when your dough is in a warmer part of your kitchen.
3.  Just because you may like raisins, overloading the babka with goodness isn't always going to get you the outcome you're looking for.  I think I went a little crazy on the raisins.
4.  I didn't put the crumble on the top - I think having it there would have been a good addition  OR I can still put icing sugar over the top.


Torviewtoronto said...

looks fabulous

That Girl said...

Congratulations to Actor Boy!

The Old Fat Guy said...

This babka looks delicious! Nice post.

The Old Fat Guy

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

It has been a whirlwind of a year with AB & M's wedding. I almost felt like I was there. Congratulations to them both. I am enjoying your journey into broadening your culinary repertoire :-)