Gluten-Free Easter Babka and Bread Baking Woes

Subtitle: and why it’s not good to bake when you are in a rush and doing too many things at the same time.

I thought it would be nice to make a little gluten-free babka for Easter this year. Some years I make the Hot Cross Buns from Gluten-Free Baking Classics, and in others, I make the European Yeast Coffee Cake recipe from the next page of the same book. But this year, I turned all the way to the bread chapter. Babka it is. And it’s not just any babka. The recipe goes way back to when I was growing up: each year my family would receive a much-coveted Ukrainian Easter bread from the kitchen of John and Mary Fizer. The Fizers baked the dough in coffee cans because they made so many breads at the same time. But the unique shape was only part of what we looked forward to. The sweetened, egg-enriched bread came studded with rum-infused golden raisins. My family served it for breakfast and brunch over the holiday and savored each morsel.

I decided to make my babka on very a busy day- one in which I was already testing several recipes, baking for an evening speech I was giving to a celiac support group, and getting my house ready for the holiday weekend when I will be hosting my entire family for a huge extravaganza in which we celebrate all the birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays in one day because we live so far apart. At the same time, I was contemplating the fact that I needed to get out and work in my garden because spring sprang up way earlier than normal here in the northeast: my rock walls need repairing, my beds need mulching, my hosta need separating, and I need to deal elegantly and forcefully with some mutant plant that started out innocently but proceeded to take over large areas of my garden (it looks like Gill Over the Ground. I will post a picture below and beg for help identifying it). In other words, I had a lot on my mind.

 

So back to the babka. I ran out of my shiny metal 8 x 4-inch loaf pans because I was testing other bread recipes.  I ended up using my slightly darker non-stick pan (yes, I know, a big no-no in my book) and forgot to turn down the heat by 25ºF. I did make sure that I floured the pan really well to cover up the non-stick coating as much as possible. But then after the first 10 minutes of baking, I opened the oven to put some foil over the top of the bread and failed to crimp the edges well. Twenty minutes later I looked in and found the foil completely opened up on the back-side of the oven. The result was a somewhat uneven, over-browned loaf. Delicious, but not picture perfect.

 

Gluten-free Easter Babka- back side from hot spot in oven

 

Gluten-free Easter babka – front side not in hot spot and under foil

 

And while we’re on the topic of baking bread and things that can go wrong……

 

When you make bread, did you ever notice that one side of your loaf “opens up” a bit and rises more than the other? This can also happen when baking hamburger and hot dog  buns.  The side where the bread seems to “open up” and rise more is the hot spot in your oven. My hot spot is in the back, so I typically try to position the whole pan as far into that area as possible so it will rise evenly. When the foil opened up on my babka, it seemed to exacerbate the problem of my hot spot. One side of my loaf is perfect, and the other side looks, well, uneven.

 

Gluten-free Easter Babka – uneven top because foil opened up

 

Gluten-free Easter Babka – with a slightly too dark crust

 

My Gluten-free Easter Babka  is a little darker, a little lopsided, and not as pretty as normal, but it was delicious this morning, none the less. I warmed up a slice in the toaster and served it with a touch of Sarahbeth’s® Strawberry Peach Preserves. It was a perfect way to start the holiday weekend a little early.

 

BABKA (UKRAINIAN STYLE)

Allow the bread to rise slowly. Don’t put it in a place that is too warm; the ideal temperature is about 80ºF. A fast rise will contribute to an unstable bread that is likely to fall. The xanthan gum needs time to “set” in gluten-free breads. Also, try not to let the bread rise above the pan before you bake it, because this will contribute to instability.

Makes one 1 lb. loaf.

3/4 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon rum
2 large eggs and 2 egg yolks (room temperature is best)
2 cups Bread Flour Mix
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 packet (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast granules (not quick-rise)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (or dairy substitute)
2/3 cup milk, heated to 110°F* (or dairy substitute)

 

  1. Lightly grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and dust with rice flour.
  2. Mix raisins and rum in a small bowl and set aside. Put eggs and egg yolks in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients in large bowl of electric mixer. Quickly add eggs, egg yolks, warm milk, and butter to the bowl; mix until just blended. Scrape bowl and beaters, and then beat at high speed for 3 minutes. Add raisin and rum mixture and mix well. Spoon dough into prepared pan; cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place for about 50-80 minutes (until dough is about 1 inch from below top of pan).
  4. Place rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 400ºF while bread is rising (do not use a convection oven because it will brown the bread too quickly).
  5. Bake bread for about 10 minutes; remove from oven, cover bread with aluminum foil, return to oven, and bake another 40-45 minutes. Bread should have a heavy but hollow sound when tapped on the sides and bottom. Your instant-read thermometer should register about 205ºF. Remove bread from oven and turn onto a rack to cool. Wrap bread well in plastic wrap and then foil. Store in refrigerator for up to three days or freezer for up to three weeks.

 

Cook’s Note: Dry ingredients can be mixed ahead and stored in plastic containers for future use. Do not add yeast until just ready to bake babka.

* Find my Bread Flour Mix in the Guide to Flour Mix section of this blog.

 

OK plant lovers- what is this beautiful plant that is taking over my flower beds?

Can you tell me the name of this plant? Is it Gill over the Ground?

 

 

23 Responses to Gluten-Free Easter Babka and Bread Baking Woes

  1. Claire Pullman says:

    Looks like a primula to me – there are many and they spread readily.
    I really enjoy your website and cookbooks.
    Claire

    • Annalise says:

      ah!! I will look that up. Much thanks!
      Best,
      Annalise

      • Cathy Hollister says:

        It looks like hardy geranium.

        • Annalise says:

          hi!
          You know, my first inclination was that it is a perennial. But I just started looking through my gardening books (under perennials) and you are correct – it does look a little bit like one of the geraniums listed under perennials. I didn’t realize geraniums could be both. Now I will have look into this more. Thank you!!!
          very best,
          Annalise

          • Cathleen Hollister says:

            The annual is a pelargonium what we know as a “geranium”. The one pictured above is a true geranium also known as cranesbill. It will spread in your garden but is controllable, so if you don’t want it in an area pull it out. I love it because it can handle both sun and partial shade and blooms nicely.
            Also this bread looks great. I am looking forward to making it when I have some time.

          • Annalise says:

            hi!
            Now I am in debate about it with my son Bradford (sous chef boy in this blog) because he is the one who confidently told me it was Gill Over the Ground. We are going to battle it out by finding proof on the internet. You have provided us with good input to argue over!

            And I hope you enjoy the bread when you have the chance to make it.
            very best,
            Annalise

  2. Denise says:

    This bread looks amazing…

    You indicate not to add the yeast ‘until just ready to bake babka.’ At what point in the recipe is the yeast added? In with the eggs/milk/butter?
    Thanks,
    Denise

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      In Step 3 it says to add all dry ingredients (which would include the yeast). The “Cooks Note” at the bottom is if you want to mix up the bread flour mix and the other dry ingredients ahead of time (kind of like making your own babka bread mix), but then actually make the bread at a later in date. In which case, you would not add the yeast to the the dry ingredients until you are really going to make the bread — and you would add it in Step 3.

      Hope this helps!
      very best,
      Annalise

  3. Tracy Mills says:

    Hi Analise,
    Thanks for your blog! Your book (the GF good health cookbook) is really really informative and the recipes tasty. Thanks for blogging! I’ll be reading.
    Best regards,
    Tracy

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      Thank you! The Gluten-free Good Health Cookbook has a lot of delicious recipes. I made several this weekend.
      And I hope you enjoy this new blog.
      very best,
      Annalise

  4. Helen says:

    Hi Annalise. My name is Helen I have daughter who is Gluten free. I want to make for her Ukraine Babka that is our favor for ages but than I found your recipe and it is very nice bread that you make. I just have one question you said on the recipe 2 cups Bread Flour Mix A* what name of this flour is regular whit or gluten free flour. Can you please let me know. I wand to make this Wednesday for Ukraine Easter this Sunday. Thank you
    Helen

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      It is made with gluten-free flour, although the original recipe was made with wheat.
      I give more details about the Bread Flour Mix A in the Guide to Flour Mix section of this blog. (http://mygluten-freetable.com/guide-to-flour-mix/).

      Bread Flour Mix
      Millet flour – 2 cups
      Sorghum flour – 1 cup
      Corn starch – 1 cup
      Potato starch (not potato flour) – 1 cup
      Tapioca starch (als0 called tapioca flour) – 1 cup
      Total = 6 cups

      You can’t buy this flour mix in the store and so you would have to mix it up yourself.
      Hope this helps!
      very best,
      Annalise

  5. Cathleen Hollister says:

    Made this last night and the family loved it. I did have the problem of a too brown crust, but will try a lower temp next time. My oven is a little hot. I used half millet half brown rice flour in my mix since it is what I had on hand. I really great loaf (texture, taste and rise). Also I looked up Gill over the Ground and the plant above does look like it.

    • Annalise says:

      Hi!
      So glad the bread came out (except for the too brown crust- but I had that problem, too). And yes, sous chef boy isn’t budging on his Gill Over the Ground designation. Some of the pictures I saw of it looked very different than mine, but many were similar. That is why I wasn’t sure.

      Hope you keep trying recipes and baking!
      very best,
      Annalise

  6. Carolyn says:

    I am so glad I found your blog! After making my Ukrainian Easter babka recipe for my family I thought I’d try making a GF version for myself. As I mixed by GF flour and wet mix together it suddenly dawned on me that I needed some kind of gum to give the dough the elasticity gluten would have provided. It actually tried to rise but I ended up cutting it into biscuits… not really any good either. My husband joked that he could take the biscuits to his Ukrainian hockey
    league team and use them as Ukrainian hockey pucks. LOL!

    With three days to Easter I’m going to give it another try with your recipe! One question, I want to bake it in cans the traditional way, any reason why you used a loaf pan instead?

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      That is an excellent question– and I’ve been wondering about it for years but was too chicken to try! The Fizers always made them in coffee cans and that is how I made them when I used wheat flour. But when I converted the recipe, I tested it in a loaf pan so I could make sure it was well calibrated. I was also concerned about getting a good rise in the coffee can. Then, the recipe turned out so well, I decided I liked it the way it was. Moreover, because I was developing the recipe for a cookbook, I also had to think about who would eventually make it: I knew that more people had loaf pans than coffee cans and I didn’t want people to have to go out and buy coffee in a can if they’d been getting it in a bag.

      If you only have one shot at baking for Easter, I’d go with the loaf pan because it is a sure thing. Then, make it again when things aren’t so busy, and try it in the can.
      Would love to hear back it you try it!

      Happy Easter!
      very best,
      Annalise

  7. Melissa says:

    Hello,
    I am wondering if you can make this Babka bread without the eggs and corn starch and what I would replace it with? On another note: I am in search of a bread I can make that is gluten, dairy, egg, soy and corn free? Do you know of anything?
    Thanks
    Melissa

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      Well, it would be counter intuitive to try to make a babka without eggs since it essentially a rich egg bread, akin to Challah and brioche. But I have a good suggestion for you! I do have many artisan type breads that don’t have dairy, eggs, gluten, soy and can be made corn free easily. Try my rustic flat bread here on this blog and my sesame oatmeal rolls on my website and substitute more potato starch and tapioca starch in equal amounts for the corn starch. In my book, Gluten-Free Baking Classics, I also have several other artisan breads like these. You can take the bread dough for the artisan breads and bake them in a loaf pan to make more of a sandwich style loaf if you want.

      Please let me know if you have more questions. I’m here to help and will try to get right back to you.

      very best,
      annalise

  8. Pingback: Gluten-Free Walnut Sandwich Bread | My Gluten Free Table

  9. Carol says:

    I will try the Babka recipe. Part of our Polish tradition is to make Babka for Easter breakfast. Our Polish Babka is an egg bread with raisins (not soaked in rum so I’ll skip that step). Your version looks similar to Polish Babka so I’ll give it a go this year for my gluten free family members.

    • Annalise says:

      hi!
      Yes, recipes are very similar! Even though mine is based on an Ukrainian recipe, one of my friends who grew whose grandparents came from Poland said it was like her grandmothers- except her grandmother added candied fruit, raisins and lemon peel and made it in a round bundt-cake pan. I guess there a lot of delicious variations. I hope my recipe can act as a good starting point for you to be able to recreate yours in a gluten-free version!

      Let me know how it works out or if you have any questions as you get started.
      Very best regards,
      Annalise

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