Updated: Aug 25
My maternal grandparents arrived in Israel from Polland on the same boat in 1933, members of a Zionist youth movement that believed in the redemption of Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish People through manual labor and the revival of the Hebrew language. They left behind their parents and siblings, not imagining that some years later, they would all be sent to their deaths. Grandma Leah spent her first years in the Kibbutz and Grandpa Zvi worked in building houses in Tel Aviv. They met two years later and settled down in Rehovot, where my grandpa opened a small shoe repair shop and my grandma stayed home to care for the house and their three children who were born soon after. Safta (Hebrew for grandma) Leah was a talented, hard-working cook, in her tiny little kitchen there was always something cooking on the stove and in the oven. It was a humble household, and nothing went to waste, we grew up with this notion and felt her deep love through the food she made. Today I know that cooking for her was much more than feeding the family she built on a low budget and a way to express love and warmth. The aroma and the flavors of these dishes took her back home to her childhood in Polland and gave both her and my grandfather (who lost his mother at a very young age), a sense of home.
This Babka cake was one of Safta Leah's signature dishes, she made the dough the day before and stored it in the fridge overnight. Her long cylinder-shaped cakes were filled with either poppy seeds, homemade jam, sweet cheese and raisins, or chocolate cream, and placed side by side on one sheet pan. I have a vivid memory of these loaded pans coming out of the oven, and of myself sneaking around, waiting impatiently until it will be cooled down and finally separated and sliced.
Makes 4 logs/cylinders (to fill standard size 13"x18" sheet pan)
500 gr (3.5 cups) all-purpose unbleached flour
9 gr (1 Tablespoon) instant dry yeast (if using active dry yeast, dissolve it first and rehydrate it in water, and allow more time to rise)
150 gr (3/4 cup) sugar
200 gr butter, soften
Pinch of salt (1/8 teaspoon)
2 eggs + 1 egg for egg wash
120 gr milk (1/2 cup)
100 gr butter, soften
250gr (1 1/4 cups) sugar
70 gr (1/2 cup) cacao powder
50 gr (1/4 cup ) sugar
60 gr (1/4 cup ) water
In the mixer bowl mix milk and yeast. Add the flour, sugar, egg, and salt. Mix at low speed for 3 mins.
Add the soft butter chunks, and continue to mix for 7 min at medium-low speed, until a smooth and sticky dough forms. To scrap the dough from the side of the bowl, add a tablespoon more flour at a time, beating very well in between additions, until it comes together and you can release the dough from the hook attachment.
Stretch the dough to form a ball, dust it with just a bit of flour, and place it back in the bowl. Cover with a clean towel or loosely with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise for 30-45 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a very thin rectangle, about 12″x16″. Spread an even layer of 1/4 of the softened butter, then sprinkle 1/4 of the sugar all over the dough, and finish by dusting 1/4 of the cacao powder, covering the entire dough. It is important to follow these steps closely as the dry cacao powder will hold the filling in its place during baking.
Roll the dough starting from the end closest to you. Remove the rolled log to a baking pan (greased or parchment-lined) seam side down. Repeat with the other 3 pieces of dough, placing the cylinders on the pan about 2" apart.
Cover the pan loosely with a plastic sheet or a clean towel, and let it rise at room temperature for about half an hour (it shouldn't double in size - it will rise more during baking). Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the egg wash by whisking the egg with 1 Tablespoon of water, then gently brush the cakes' top and sides.
Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (check after about 15 mins, then rotate the pans and bake for extra 15-20 mins ).
While the babkas are being baked, prepare the glaze by combining the water and the sugar in a small saucepan, bring it to a boil, then simmer untill reduced to a thick syrup.
Remove the pan from the oven and brush the glaze or drizzle on top. Cool completely, then separate the babkas, slice, and serve.
Store any leftover cakes in a ziplock bag and freeze.