High Country Baking: Holiday babka bread is light and flavorful for spring
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
If you’ve celebrated Easter in eastern Europe, then you may have nibbled a version of this delicate, mildly-sweet and nicely flavored yeast bread. Babka is a holiday favorite in that part of the world and for good reason; it’s a lovely pastry with a fine crumb, a texture reminiscent of a light pound cake, and the subtle tastes of dried fruits, peels and rum.
If you have no experience making yeast breads, then this recipe is a good place to start; it’s surprisingly easy to make. With a reliance on instant yeast and an electric mixer, I doubt that the preparation process is traditional, but I can vouch for the results; the bread is a charmer.
My favorite dried fruit and peel mixture is a combination of candied orange peel, dried cherries, dried cranberries, raisins and dried blueberries, but choose whatever you like.
Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above.
Make in a 6-cup Bundt pan, preferably non-stick.
1/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons whole milk or light cream, lukewarm
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 1/2 tablespoons superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
5 generous tablespoons dried fruit/candied peel mixture
5 tablespoons superfine sugar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoon dark rum
2-3 tablespoons whole milk
2-3 tablespoons dark rum
About ¾ (three fourths) cup of confectioners’ sugar
Check the dried fruit and/or peel you’re using to assure that it’s soft. If it isn’t, put it in a microwave-safe bowl with a little water, cover with plastic wrap and heat in a microwave on high for 15 seconds. Check to see if it’s softened (you want it soft but not cooked). If necessary, repeat. Dry on paper towels and cut into pieces about the size of half a raisin. The fruit/peel should all be a uniform size.
Combine all the bread ingredients except the fruit/peel in a mixing bowl and beat at medium speed until blended, then increase the speed of your mixer to medium-high and beat for about 2 minutes. Stir in the fruit, making sure it’s distributed evenly throughout the dough. Cover the bowl, place it in a warm spot, and let it rest for 50 to 60 minutes. It won’t rise much.
Spray your Bundt pan with a vegetable oil-flour spray and wipe it with a paper towel to make sure the whole pan is well greased. Spoon the dough into the pan; it will fill it to a little over half way from the top. Cover the pan, set it in a warm spot, and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position.
Bake the bread until it rises to almost the top of the pan, is set, golden and an instant-read thermometer reads 195 degrees or higher. This takes from 22 to 26 minutes in my oven. While the babka bakes, make the rum syrup: Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low, stirring, until it comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Remove it from the heat and set it aside.
Take the babka out of the oven, quickly turn it out of the pan onto a cooling rack and, then, immediately put it back in the pan (this will help prevent it from sticking to the pan after its bath in the rum syrup). Use a toothpick to gently poke holes all over the bottom of the bread. Generously brush syrup over the bottom, let it absorb for a few minutes, then repeat several more times until most of it is absorbed and the bread has a glistening, thick coat of syrup (you may not use it all). Let it cool for 15 minutes, then invert the pan, carefully remove the bread, and let it cool completely.
Glaze the bread: Combine two tablespoons of milk and two tablespoons of rum. Add a quarter cup of confectioner’s’ sugar and whisk until smooth and combined. Add more sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time, whisking until the glaze reaches a consistency that will hold its shape when drizzled over the bread. Add more milk and/or rum if the glaze is too thick. Drizzle it decoratively over the bread and let it set. Cover the bread and store at cool room temperature. Give it at least 5 hours and up to overnight for the tastes to blend before serving.
This is a variation of a recipe from “King Arthur Flour.”
Vera Dawson, author of the new high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. She lives in Summit County where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.