Babka, traditionally known as Kranz cake, is having a major evolutionary moment. There’s lots to be said about loaves of twisted enriched dough, generously interspersed with a filling that usually involves lots of delicious chocolate.
The name of this rich, rolled yeast bread, has its roots in both the Jewish and non-Semitic Eastern European communities. Delightfully it means “little grandmother” in Ukrainian, Russian, and Yiddish and brings to mind comforting images of generations of women kneading dough at their kitchen tables.
Old fashioned babka, also known as Kranz cake, is a whole different affair to it’s modern day renaissance.
A new wave of chefs and bakers are reviving traditional recipes and creating nostalgic foods with a focus on using local ingredients that highlight beloved regional flavors.
Unlike the original heavy and drier krantz cake, many professional bakers behind babka’s growing popularity are working with yeasted dairy doughs turned with lots of butter.
Artisan Jewish bakers like Elana Pearlman, founder of Nana Mary’s Bakeshop in Austin Texas, are inspired to bring the flavors and nostalgia of these old-school Jewish American institutions up to date to match the diversity of the modern palate and seasonality of regional fresh, sustainably grown ingredients.
“National Babka day is calling out to artisan chefs and bakers across the nation to celebrate and showcase their take on this traditional soul food.” she says.
Babka is not merely a food renaissance trend. Just like pizza, it has developed into a class of food all of its own. Although it pays homage to it’s humble roots, almost, this class of food – buttery, laminated, decadent, chocolate-filled, sweet, or savoury Jewish bread – is unrecognizable from the krantz cake the older generations and grandparents grew up eating.
It’s true that some people may express nostalgia for the dry, dense babka of the past. But, as Peter Shelsky, co-owner of Shelskys of Brooklyn has put it, “Why should something stay crappy just because it’s been crappy in the past?” And, “If I want a loaf of crappy babka, I’m sure I can walk to the supermarket, or search on Amazon, and there’ll be a pre-packed loaf waiting for me.”
The type of babka available off the supermarket shelf is a poor relative of what is being offered in Jewish and artisan bakeries.
Modern day fresh baked babka brings you a taste sensation that’s a cross between the best croissant and brioche. “It’s impossible to communicate the deep, ephemeral pleasure of biting into a Nana Mary’s, wonderfully rich and deeply chocolaty pastry.” says Isabel Markowitz, a very satisfied customer.
Her sentiments are echoed by foodies and pastry lovers all over the land.
When asked why babka evokes an emotional response from people Pearlman said “Food Culture incorporates our ethnicity, cultural heritage and creates a bridge of communication with others both within our families and wider communities.”
Within Jewish culture the significance of food, and eating together, can not be understated. It is so important that the smell of cooking, especially baking, can almost be translated into the words of togetherness and love.
Sadly good quality and fresh baked babka is not accessible to all. “There are many areas of the country where it is difficult to find or unavailable” Pearlman shares. “Many bakeries are closing their doors due to lack of workers and rent increases for suitable premises. Fresh baked babka is becoming increasingly difficult to find, even in areas with a large Jewish population.”
We all know people who don’t or won’t cook, but they love to eat. An online search will return a plethora of home bake babka recipes and DIY babka kits, where you have to create the recipe from various ingredients, but it’s a messy, time consuming process that doesn’t fit into many people’s lifestyles.
“Whatever their lifestyles or location I believe everyone deserves great babka. That’s why we have launched a nationwide delivery service and subscription.” Pearlman explains.
Nana Mary’s bake shop sends out fresh baked, ready to eat babka made with local Austin ingredients. It is flash frozen to preserve freshness during delivery. Subscribers receive either a seasonal sweet or savory babka every month delivered directly to their door.
For more information about National Babka Day, and to learn more about babka subscriptions and the babka flavor of the month, visit nanamarysbakeshop.com or check them out on Instagram @nanamarysbakeshop.
Purple Pico Promotions Ltd
Purple Pico Promotions Ltd
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Disclaimer: The views, suggestions, and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Sahyadri Times journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.