I’ve previously written about bagels and Toronto blueberry buns so I had to mention the babka. Part bread, part cake, and totally delicious: babka is among the most iconic Jewish sweets and a common fixture at the dessert table of religious celebrations.
For millions of people, the Jewish babka was introduced into the American consciousness by Jerry Seinfeld. In his 1994 episode “The Dinner Party”, Jerry and Elaine are invited to a dinner party and plan to a chocolate babka on the way there. While they are waiting to be served, another couple buys the last one. They pair eventually spot another babka with cinnamon, calling it the “lesser babka”.
The name babka evolved from Baba, which means Grandma in several Eastern European languages, including Yiddish. Babka is a diminutive of baba, meaning “little grandma”.
Culinary historians credit Polish cooks with its creation and in the late 19th century a wave of emigrants from that and other central European countries brought babka with them to North America, where it became a staple ware in Jewish bakeries. There is some dispute over the origin and some credit Czech Jews while others say it came from Germany. In its most traditional form, babka is made by twisting a yeast-based dough swathed in different fillings around itself into a tortuous loaf that is baked at medium heat for around an hour. The top of the babka may be dusted with streusel or seeds and warm syrup sometimes serves as a final garnish.
It was in North America where chocolate was added to the traditional babka. Now you can find babkas with not just chocolate (and cinnamon) but also sweet cheese, Nutella, poppyseeds or raisins.