Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Tradition of Easter Bread

The beginning of the babka-making session
My grandparents always made babka just before Easter. Their tiny kitchen was covered in flour, but the result was a sweet loaf of raisin-filled bread that made the best breakfast toast, ever. Today, I wish I had their magic homemade bread, as my own breadmaking skills fall a tad bit short. Someday, I hope to make babka as yummy as theirs was, but in the meantime I will just practice the breadmaking craft year after year and keep this tradition alive.

My family is not the only family with an Easter making tradition. Italian families often create Easter crown bread, which has a whole egg braided into the top. Greek families make a similar bread with a red-dyed egg. Another pre-Easter, Lenten favorite bread is the sweet hot cross bun... but I'll reserve a whole post on that treat on Friday.

Easter crown bread with the pretty dyed egg, an Italian traditon

At Easter, the association with making a special bread is that brea is, essentially, the staff of life. Bread is really eaten in honor of Jesus -- bread needs to rise, as did Jesus did on Easter. And let's not forget that eating bread crosses all cultures and classes. Over the centuries, most families, however poor, could afford to honor the Savior with a specially made bread during this spring holiday session.

Most cultures did their Easter bread baking during Holy Week, so it can be blessed at the church on Holy Saturday. Today, many bakeries have taken over the chore of Easter bread baking since families are busy and many mothers work.

Babka dough in pans, waiting to rise for the second time before baking

This week, my plan is to fit in a babka-making session. I can't leave that task to the bakery, since it could never be the same. It has to be homemade, just like my grandparents' tradition. Coincidentally, the bread is named for the Polish word for grandmother, and every time I think of it, I think of my own grandmother, whom I miss dearly, and I hope her memory lives on in this bread (and my stories and memories) for my own children. Maybe someday they will make babka for their own children.

Stopper Family Babka

2 sticks margarine
8 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup warm water
4 eggs
4 packages dry yeast
1 tb. salt
2 tbs. orange juice
1 tb. vanilla extract
white or dark raisins

In a sauce pan, heat margarine, sugar, salt and milk. Set aside to cool.
Beat eggs and add orange juice.
Dissolve yeast in warm water and add to flour when lukewarm. Add egg and orange juice and milk mixture to flour. Mix together to form dough.
Knead dough until it does not stick to fingers. Use a little flour on board if necessary.
Put dough in glass bowls to rise.
After dough rises once, punch down and put in greased and floured bread pans. Let rise again.
Bake at 325 to 350 degrees, depending on oven, for 35 to 45 minutes.

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