What you can't see is almost a stick of butter
Babke, is Polish for grandmother. Which is odd because these tasty yeast cakes bear no resemblance to little old peasant women. Rather, it resembles brioche, the bread with the butter baked in and a dough so rich you cannot really make it by hand. Babka are part of the shared culinary legacy of both Jewish and Catholic communities in Eastern Europe. Among the Poles, a babka was prepared for Easter using fruit or rum. The Jewish version however leans towards chocolate. This preference is immortalized by Elaine in Seinfeld season 5 with the line “(the cinnamon babka is) a lesser babka” (this is after they see the last chocolate one get snapped up).
While all of this is terribly interesting, it does not explain why I had to ransack several Jewish and non-Jewish cookbooks to find a recipe for this dessert. One thing I can tell you is that in many cookbooks the first entry in the B’s is bacon (including the ’31 edition of the Settlement Cookbook, written mostly by Jewish housewives). After a fair bit of digging I was able to find a few recipes to work from. The one that provided the most help oddly was the new Gourmet Today published just on the eve of that fabled magazine’s demise.
Recipe after the jump
Would you care for a snack?
Remember that show, the one about nothing? Well it was very flattered in Israel by a knock-off version whose name I cannot recall and is presently eluding my web searches. In it the Kramer character goes to a new bourekas bakery in his neighborhood (it all takes place in Tel Aviv) and is shocked to discover that the baker has disrupted the unwritten rule of fillings and shapes. For instance a potato boureka is always a rectangle, a triangle is always cheese, a pizza filling is a cylinder, while spinach filled resembles a pastry knot. One can picture the physical reaction of this character as he bites into a triangle shaped boureka and discovers that it is filled with spinach!
I was equally shocked to discover this past week that there are several different doughs that can be used to make this tasty little treats since all of the Israeli versions are made with the same flaky pastry dough. Much like the knish, there are regional variants in dough and filling across the Jewish communities of the near east and south eastern Europe. From Marrakesh to Salonika these small filled pies were popular additions to party menus. The word itself comes from the Turkish word for pie.
I decided to try a traditional Turkish recipe that Claudia Roden offers and filled them with a salmon, onion and cheese filling.
Recipe after the break