Sweet Egg Bread
This is a Polish Easter specialty. It’s a beautifully soft, eggy bread similar to challah and it’s quite easy to make. Be sure to use the best quality farm-fresh eggs you can find, it’s the key ingredient. Definitely helps if you have a stand mixer, less elbow grease needed.
POLISH EGG SWEET BREAD (BABKA)
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
4 1/2 tsp yeast (or two packets)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Zest of 1 lemon
4 1/2 - 5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins or currants (optional)
In a bowl, dissolve 1 teaspoon of sugar in the warm water. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit for 10 minutes or until foamy.
In a saucepan over medium heat, place milk, sugar, butter until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted. Pour into a large mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add salt and let cool slightly. Beat in eggs, vanilla and yeast mixture. Add zest and raisins (if using). With the mixer on slow speed add 4 cups of flour. Continue to add enough flour until the dough pulls away from the sides and is no longer sticky. This can vary slightly, so add a little at a time. Knead the dough for 5 minutes on medium speed, or until the dough is satiny and smooth. Form into a smooth ball and place in a greased bowl, cover with parchment paper and a damp towel. Set aside in a warm spot for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Punch down dough and divide into 3 pieces. Shape into smooth balls (or braid). Place each into a well-buttered loaf pan, coffee can, or whatever kind of baking dish you like. Make sure each is only filled halfway. Cover again with parchment and a damp towel and allow to double in size again, approximately 1 1/4 hours.
Brush with egg wash and sprinkle sesame seeds if desired. Bake on the middle rack in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 25-40 minutes (depending on size and elevation). It should be quite golden and hollow to the sound when tapped when ready. Cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.