Sunday, April 18, 2010

Babcia Bread - a rich, sweet Polish bread

“Babcia” means grandmother in Polish, and this is a bread that my husband’s grandmother would make for holidays and family gatherings. It was one that my husband particularly liked when he was growing up, but we thought the recipe had been lost forever.

Rewind a few years, and Grandma had been staying with her son (my husband's uncle) and while she was there, he translated and transcribed some of her recipes. Uncle belonged to a Polish social club that was putting together a club cookbook, and he submitted Grandma's recipes to the project.

When Uncle found out that I liked to cook, he sent us a copy of the cookbook. Much to my surprise, I found a recipe called "Polish Sweet Bread" with Grandma's name on it. I decided to give it a try, and immediately hit a few snags.

It's one thing to be able to cook something from memory when you've done it a million times. It's another thing to tell someone the recipe when you're not standing at the stove. Add to that the onset of Alzheimer's and the inevitable translation errors, and what I had in my hands was an incomplete and confusing recipe.

I forged on. First, I cut the recipe down to a managable size. Then I matched the ingredients with the instructions. Then I baked and tweaked and fiddled some more.

My husband recognized the bread immediately, and my mother-in-law said that it was one of the better versions of her mother's bread. Since it had never been written down before, the bread Grandma made always varied from batch to batch, but everyone agreed that this was undoubtedly one of the versions.

That updated recipe appeared in the November, 2008, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier, in a special section of recipes submitted by the staff.

Since then, I've nailed down the ingredients and instructions a little bit better. For instance, Grandma's instructions say, "knead about 20 minutes," and she's not talking about using a stand mixer. I've adapted it to the stand mixer, with a few more clues about what it should look like when it's done. And I've given it a few of my own tweaks, as well. It's still Grandma's bread, but now it's also my recipe.

As far as what this bread is, I really can't say what it's supposed to be or where the recipe originally came from. It might have been born as a baba or a paska or any other number of holiday breads. But this is what it became in my husband's family, where we simply called it "Babcia Bread" because there was no one else who made it.

The bread is slightly sweet and a little bit eggy, but it's not quite dessert on its own and definately not for sandwiches. It’s perfect for breakfast with a bit of butter and maybe a sprinkling of cinnamon, or toasted and topped with fruit and ice cream.

The recipe says that raisins are optional, but I hate raisins, so you know what side of that option I stand on. And for the record, I don't remember Grandma ever putting raisins in the bread. Maybe it's one of the things she always left out, but she decided to mention it anyway.

This bread also makes a nice blank canvas for other flavors. It's particularly nice with cinnamon or nuts. This time when I made it, I sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on top before baking, instead of just the eggwash. I'm sure Grandma did such a thing. A little almond extract would also play very well here.

The taste test of this version got tentative approval, with the comment that the original version might have been more yellow. So I have more tweaks to make, but meanwhile, this is a lovely bread, even though it's not quite the replica I was looking for..

Babcia Bread
AKA Polish Sweet Bread
(Chleb Drozdzowy)

1/3 c. water
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups AP flour, divided
2 eggs at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla

Put water and butter into microwave-safe container and heat to take the chill off the butter and to warm the water. The butter should begin to melt, but doesn't need to melt completely; it just needs to be soft. Add milk and let the mixture cool (if needed) to lukewarm.

Put the liquid mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer, add the yeast and 1 cup of flour, and mix well.

Let sit, covered, for 30 minutes. It will rise a bit during this time.

Add eggs and mix until well combined. Add salt, raisins (if desired), sugar and vanilla and mix to combine. Add 2 1/4 cups of flour and knead with the dough hook.

During kneading, the dough will begin sticking to the sides of the bowl and building up, until very little is left on the hook. Stop the mixer and scrape it down as this happens. It may take several times before the dough gives up on this sticking.

Eventually, the dough will form a ball around the hook, with just a little "foot" of dough stuck to the bottom of the bowl, but the sides will remain clean.

Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and shiny. It will be a soft dough, but it shouldn't be sticky or goopy at all. If it is sticky, add additional flour as needed, in small increments. It shouldn't need a lot more flour; this should remain a soft dough.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest until doubled in size; it may take 2 hours, or more.

Knead dough again, shape, and put into a bread pan.

Let it rise again until doubled in size. It can take a long time to rise. Be patient.
Brush top with beaten egg yolk mixed with water, if desired, for a shiny top. Sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar, if you'd like. Or just leave it plain. Bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes, until nicely browned.

Let the loaf cool for five minutes before taking it out of the pan to cool completely on a rack before cutting.



Pcat said...

We called our grandmother "Babcia" too! I'm definitely gonna try this.

CJ said...

We called gandma and grandpa busha and jaja.

And the bread- delicious, tender and a little sweet.

Donna Currie said...

Keep your eyes peeled for a newer version, now with more yellow.

CJ, we called grandpa jaja, but we spelled it dziadzia. :) I think buscia might be "grandma" where babcia is "grandmother" but I don't know for sure.

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