Gluten-Free Easter Babka and Bread Baking Woes

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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.



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?



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37 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Easter Babka and Bread Baking Woes”

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

        1. 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,

          1. Cathleen Hollister

            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.

          2. 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,

  2. 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?

    1. 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,

  3. 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,

    1. 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,

    2. I recently came across your blog while I was looking for an Easter Sweet Bread. Saw the Babka and it looks similar to one I used to make with wheat. I saw your breakdown for the “2 cups Bread Flour Mix”…how do I substitute a few things since my son can’t tolerate:
      —tapioca starch

      I know that all of these do a variety of things but I don’t know what I can substitute to make that work. The only “starch” that works for him is potato starch. I use teff flour, almond flour, millet flour, oat flour with success if that helps. Thanks.

      1. hi Carmen,
        It won’t be easy for you to use my recipe because you can’t use three out of five of the flours in my bread flour mix- and the flour mix is most of the recipe. Even if we successfully substitute the flours, you might have to adjust the liquids. But I am always up for trying. So if it were me, my first attempt would look like this: 2 cups millet, 1 cup gf oat flour, 2 cups potato starch, 1 cups white rice flour (read about how to buy and mix and measure flours here on the blog under the flour mixes links in the navigation bar). The extra potato starch will help make up for the dryness of the oat flour. But we can’t use all potato starch or your bread with be too dense. Let’s try to replace some of the corn and tapioca starch with white rice flour. I think the white rice flour will use up a bit more moisture than the corn and tapioca, so after the first round of testing, we may have to add a bit more liquid so you will be able to get the bigger air holes you see in the picture.

        Please let me know if you give it a try and how you make out!!

        Very best,

  4. 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

    1. 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. (

      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,

  5. Cathleen Hollister

    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.

    1. 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,

  6. 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?

    1. 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,

  7. 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?

    1. 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,

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

  9. 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.

    1. 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,

  10. Hi! I’m very much enjoying your books as I head into the holiday season. I really like that you have a scientific bent to help make your readers’ results consistent!

    I realize this is a couple years after your OP on the plant taking over your garden, but thought I’d chime in just in case you hadn’t figured it out yet. It’s probably Primula kisoana, also known as hardy primrose. It’s from Japan, and often is purchased for it ability to spread. Apparently winter moisture will kill it, so that is an option if you haven’t yet eradicated it! 🙂

    Thanks again for all your books!

    1. hi!
      Wow! I finally had time to check out Primula kisoana, and it looks exactly like what took over my garden! Thank you! I had to pull it out of several beds this past spring because it was taking over completely. It ran over my ostrich ferns, my sweet woodruff, and was even trying to make the moves on my Astilbe. It is an amazing hardy plant that will stop at nothing. And even though we had one of the worst winters ever last year, it came up strong. The worst thing about it is that it is so rabid, even the deer won’t eat it!

      And I am happy to hear that you enjoying my cookbooks! My new baking cookbook will be out a little after Thanksgiving. It has a lot of of wonderful new recipes (only a small number of which have appeared on this blog). I hope you take a look at it to see it there is something you might like!

      Very best to you,

  11. I can not find where you list the flour you use in your Babka. I’m Ukrainen and my daughter is gluten free this year and wants my babka Paska. I don’t want to disappoint her.

  12. What kind of yeast did you used? I noticed you didn’t proof it just added it to the dry ingredients. I’m used to proofing it in warm water with sugar. Also do you have other recipes to use your flour mix with? I looked on this site but there isn’t much.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      I use red star Active dry yeast to develop my yeast-based recipes because it has been a consistently reliable product that produces the best rise in my baked goods (for both my field testers and for me), and it is sold in grocery stores everywhere across the country. I use Red Star Quick rise instant dry yeast for baked goods that do not need a high rise (pizza, bread sticks, and flat breads). You can use other yeast, but I recommend trying a recipe first with red star, so you can see what it’s supposed to look like. Take note: SAF instant yeast has not produced a really good rise in my bread recipes for field testers or me.

      I do not proof the yeast in many of my bread recipes because I don’t want to jump start it; I want the rise to be very slow in order to give the xanthan gum time to do it’s magic. Read my post about baking with psyllium husk powder; it provides a lot of information about how xanthan gum works .

      You are correct that there aren’t many bread recipes on this blog. I write cookbooks and most of my bread recipes are in two of my books Gluten-Free Baking Classics and Gluten-Free Baking Classic – The Heirloom Collection. But there are two more here on this site if you want to give them a try:

      And there are also several(hamburger buns, English muffins, sandwich bread, sesame oatmeal rolls) on my (very) old FoodPhilosopher website; I stopped updating it in 2011 (when I started this one). You can see them on this recipe archive page:

      Please let me know if you have any other questions!

      Very best,

      1. I’ve never made gf bread before. This will be my first. It’s rising now. I hope I did it right. It reminded me of cake batter not bread dough. Was that right? Guess I will find out when it bakes.

        1. Hi Melissa,

          So sorry I missed seeing this. For some reason it went into my span folder.

          Yes, the bread dough for many gluten-free breads looks more like cake batter, especially if they aren’t filled with cellulose and other fiber enhancers (like psyllium husk).

          Very best,

      2. This tasted wonderful. Although mine turned out burnt. So made another one baked for 30 minutes at 350 degrees turned out perfect. I do have a question. I would like to make one for a friend but he’s allergic to tapioca starch. What can I substitute?

        1. Hi Melissa,

          Happy to hear you enjoyed the babka! But sorry it burned. Perhaps it was the pan you used??

          As to your question about the switching out the tapioca- I have a general answer to this under Frequently Asked Questions about the Flour mix on this blog. But for this specific bread, if it were me, I’d go with Option 2.


          Is there a good substitute for tapioca flour?
          Option 1: replace all the tapioca flour with 1 cup arrowroot starch (which is usually more expensive). This will give you a slightly denser (and slightly wetter, depend- ing on the recipe) baked good.

          Option 2: replace 1 cup tapioca flour with 1⁄2 cup potato starch and 1⁄2 cup corn starch. This will give you a slightly denser, firmer baked good.

          Option 3: replace 1 cup tapioca flour with 1⁄3 potato starch and 2⁄3 corn; then try 2/3 potato and 1/3 corn, and see which version you prefer in terms of texture.

          Let me know if you have any other questions!

          Very best,

  13. Hi Annalise
    I’m wondering if the raisins could be left out without skewing the moisture levels of the bread making it too dry/crumbly. I’m the only one in my family that likes raisins yet my family has been missing our traditional babka that I used to make before I had to go gluten free. I’d love to surprise them with babka this year.

    1. Hi Pat,

      The babka will be completely fine without the raisins! No need to worry.

      And FYI- if you want to get a touch of the rum flavor (that you would have added to the raisins), you could add the 1 teaspoon of rum to the bread dough with the liquid (the alcohol will burn off anyway).

      I hope you and your family enjoy the babka! I’m looking forward to making mine soon!

      Very best,

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