Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sourdough Surprises: Babka Almost like Ciotka Polly's Paska

If there is one thing I can appreciate Sourdough Surprises for more than getting me to try new things, it's all the things I end up learning.

This month's challenge was “a sweet, swirly, enriched bread with roots in Eastern Europe” known as babka. As I clicked through all of the suggested links, I came across this one. And my first thought was that it sounded like my great aunt's paska.

No, Jessica, that would be more like exactly like your great aunt's paska. It's just another name. (“Babka” is actually Polish for “grandmother,” whereas “paska” is the Ukranian spelling of pascha, meaning Easter - when it is traditionally served.)

My great aunt sends home paska much more often than she sends home pizzelles. Doing my research, I'm not sure how traditionally Polish hers is or not. It's a kind-of-sweetened bread with raisins mixed in, until you get to the streusel topping. I'm not totally fond of it, save for the streusel. But it's a challenge, and I had an additional challenge this month: Make my family proud.

The regional and cultural variations on babka/paska seem to vary from the brioche rolled out and filled with a filling, as Sourdough Surprises suggests, to a coffee cake that is traditionally made in a bundt-style pan flavored with raisins and orange peel. (So my great aunt's is more of a cross between the two.) After some searching, I found King Arthur Flour's recipe, which seemed pretty similar to Aunt Polly's. I played with it some to make it as close to the familiar recipe as possible.

My gut said that this might not work, owing to the small amount of liquid and the relatively large amount of yeast. My first attempt didn't rise, so I added a half teaspoon of baking soda.

And what do you know, it worked! It's cakier in texture than Aunt Polly's, and I used a different streusel. Otherwise, it's pretty spot on.

The recipe I settled on:
Sourdough Paska
Inspired by Ciotka Polly & adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 1 loaf


  • 1/2 cup fresh sourdough starter
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and mix well
  2. Add all other ingredients except for raisins. Mix until combined. Dough will be very wet.
  3. Gently fold in raisins. Cover and allow to rest for 1 hour.
  4. Spread dough in a loaf pan sprayed with baker's spray. Cover and allow to rest 1/2 hour, while oven is preheating to 350 degrees.
  5. Prepare the streusel. Melt butter in microwave. Mix in other ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Spread over dough.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting.

Like I said, I've never been all that fond of paska/babka. But something about having made such an accurate analog to the family recipe was exciting. It happily became my breakfast:

Ciotka Polly (“Ciotka” is Polish for “aunt”) is well into her 80s now. I know that we won't be bringing home her paska for too much longer. Now, I have a sense of pride knowing that I've remade a family recipe, that I can now hand down.

And perhaps I can send one up to her next time...

Check out our other great babkas/paskas!