Make it Naked

Lemon-Blueberry Babka

Before I got married I had a ten-letter last name that ended in “ski.” With the name came room for horrible pick up lines like, “Great name. Is that French?” And, of course, way too many Polack jokes. I’ll spare you. But I am proud to be Polish, because the Poles know how to eat. Our family, much like Martha Stewart’s family (just a side note), celebrates our Polish heritage mainly through food. This, of course, means pierogies, kielbasa, sauerkraut and…babka. Fresh, warm, citrusy babka. Babka is a yeast cake normally made with citrus zest and sweetened with dried fruit. My sister and I have baked our grandmother’s babka recipe together since we were kids. I’ll zest while she mixes. It’s always a family affair. Last week Grandma had a birthday, and while I knew my sister was going to visit, I didn’t know she was making all the other grandkids look bad until I heard that she was bringing Grandma a homemade babka. In our family, babkas are usually only baked around the holidays, so a birthday-babka traveling across state lines is something special. I called Grandma to wish her a happy birthday and you better believe the first question she asked, “Kris, you make babka don’t you?” “Yes Grandma. ALL the time.” She totally called me out and once I hung up I actually thought about it. I, meaning just me, had never made a babka. Did I just lie to my Grandma? It has always been me and my sister. I couldn’t lie to Grandma. I had a new challenge – make a babka entirely on my own.

I took Grandma’s recipe and changed it up a bit. Grandma’s calls for raisins and maraschino cherries. I know you don’t mess with Grandma’s recipes, but I figured since I was already out for granddaughter of the year I might as well go out big. I replaced the raisins with dried blueberries and left out the cherries. I added more lemon zest, and the result was nothing less than spectacular. I had intentions of mailing Grandma the cake, but I ate it all. I’ve been home sick for the past few days, and it seems babka is the only thing that sounded remotely appetizing in addition to my diet of chicken broth and water crackers. I needed sustenance, don’t judge me. I recommend you make this…very soon. It’s best served warm with a glass of milk. The cake is airy and moist with tart lemon and sweet blueberry flavors speckled throughout. I know I changed a family classic, but I think this might put me back in the running for granddaughter of the year, if only I can summon the willpower to actually save a slice for Grandma.

Lemon-Blueberry Babka Ingredients: 2 pkgs active dry yeast 1/4 cup warm water 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1 tsp salt 2/3 cup (10⅔ tablespoons) butter 1 cup whole milk (scalded) 4 cups all purpose flour 4

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egg yolks zest of 2 large lemons zest of 1 small orange 1/2 cup sliced almonds 1 cup dried blueberries Directions:

  1. Dissolve both yeast packages in the 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand five minutes.
  2. Place sugar, salt, and butter in bowl of electric mixer.
  3. Heat the milk in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Look for small bubbles around the edges, but do not boil. When the bubbles form, pour scalded milk over sugar mixture. Stir until sugar and salt are dissolved and butter is melted. Let cool until luke warm.
  4. Add half the flour and the all the yeast and mix well.
  5. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Add remaining flour and the citrus zest, beat well.
  7. Stir in almonds and blueberries.
  8. Butter a ten inch bundt pan (see note below). Pour dough into the pan (should fill it about halfway).
  9. Let rise until dough reaches the top of the pan (about 4 hours). It may not reach all the way to the top. Although, mine almost did this time (see center picture directly above).
  10. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes. Check at 30 minutes. If the top is browning heavily then cover with tinfoil for the last 10 minutes. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Turn out on a rack to cool.


  1. I actually made two babkas. One with meyer lemons and one with regular lemons. I liked the flavor of the regular lemons better so I went with that, but feel free to get creative with your citrus fruits. Especially since they’re in season.
  2. Pay attention to your bakeware and cooking times. I cooked one in a heavier bundt pan and one in a lighter tube pan. I should have known to take the heavier pan out sooner, but I cooked them both for 40 minutes resulting in one extremely dry crumbly babka. Not good.
  3. You now have 4 lonely egg whites. I see a frittata in your future.
  4. This cake is best the day it’s baked but wrapped tightly will keep up to four days. You’ll be able to tell when it’s stale – the texture totally changes. Once it starts to dry out, you can make it last a few more days by putting slices in a toaster and then spreading with butter or jam.
  5. If you don’t have a bundt pan you can use a tube pan or separate the dough into two 8½x4½ loaf pans. Just be sure to check the cake for browning – you don’t want an overdone babka. That will not win you any awards.

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Posted on January 28, 2011

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