Slow Days: Babka

People who are new to Fasting often pose the questions: “Can I really eat ‘anything I want’ on a Slow Day?” and “What should I eat on Slow Days?” To answer those questions, I have decided to add some blog posts to show some of the foods we eat on what the world calls NFDs [non-fast days] but which, in our house, we call ‘Slow Days.’ This feature will appear sporadically. 

Now for the answers. Can you really eat ANYTHING you want on a Slow Day? Not really. If you eat too many calories every Slow Day, you will not lose weight. There are many questions asked on the Fast Diet Forum which attest to that. Once in a while you can splurge, as long as it isn’t everyday. For what to eat on Slow Days, Dr. Mosley recommends a Mediterranean Diet. As for how we eat, an example follows.

View of the mills from the Lamprey River, Newmarket, New Hampshire. photo from town website.

The hand-lettered sign posted in the window of the little grocery store said: “Order your babka now for Easter.” Curious, I went in and asked, “What’s ‘babka’?” The clerk said that it was a traditional Polish yeast bread, eaten at Easter. This was in Newmarket, New Hampshire in the 1970s. At that time, Newmarket had been a mill town for more than 125 years, the main street dominated by the two huge factories built of granite blocks next to the river. The mill-workers were of French Canadian and Polish descent. Students such as I from near-by University of New Hampshire lived there due to low rents. Liking traditional foods, and thinking that this would be an interesting contribution to the breakfast table of my Pennsylvania parents, I bought one and we ate it. It turned out to be a basket-ball sized sphere of sweet yeasted dough, studded with raisins. If you Googled ‘babka’ or ordered one from Zabar’s, that is not what you would get. Everyone today thinks that Babka is streaked with nuts and sugar and chocolate. Have you seen them agonize over its preparation on the Great British Baking Show? In the King Arthur Cookbook, I found a recipe more like the one from Newmarket: straightforward, no-fuss, fruit-speckled dough. As an embellishment, it is baked in a Bundt pan — and doused in a rum syrup at the end. This is an easy preparation to make ahead. As many days as you wish before Easter, prepare the dough, put it in a well-buttered pan, and freeze the whole thing. On Easter-eve, remove the pan from the freezer, and let it thaw out overnight on the kitchen counter. You will find that next morning it has risen [very appropriate for Easter morning, yes?] and is ready to bake for a lovely breakfast.

1 large loaf2/3 batch2-Qt Bundt or tube pan, well buttered
½ c fat-free milk
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp = 1 packet dry yeast ½ c unbleached flour
5 Tbsp fat-free milk
2/3 tsp sugar 1+1/3 tsp active dry yeast
5 Tbsp unbleached flour
Warm milk and pour into a medium-size mixing bowl/ bowl of stand mixer. Stir in sugar to dissolve and add yeast. Blend in flour. Let sit 10-15 mins.
3 two-oz eggs  ½ tsp salt2 two-oz eggs  1/3 tsp saltWhisk eggs with salt in a small bowl. When yeast sponge has doubled, whisk in eggs.
4 Tbsp/ ½ stick butter
¼ c sugar
3 Tbsp/1½ oz butter 3 Tbsp sugarSoften butter and stir into batter with sugar.
¼ c mixed candied peel
¼ c currants or raisins 1 c. white whole wheat flour ¾ c unbleached flour
1/3 cup candied lemon peel + candied citron + currants**
¾ c white whole wheat flour 1/3 c unbleached flour
Combine fruit and flours and stir to coat each piece of fruit. Stir into batter.Beat with large spoon or stand mixer until dough is smooth and elastic.
**I like to use 3 different fruits, for the Trinity.Cover with a damp towel, let rise.  IF FREEZING: let rise 20 mins.  IF NOT FREEZING: let rise 60 minutes.
Scrape batter into baking pan.  IF FREEZING:wrap in plastic bag and put in freezer.  IF NOT FREEZING: let rise 30 minutes on counter OR overnight in a cool, not cold, place.
Babka is baked, glazed, and ready to serve on Easter morning.
If baking it fresh, preheat oven to 350F 15 mins before baking. Bake 35-40 mins.
If using frozen dough, put frozen pan of dough on counter at 9 pm on Easter Eve. Next morning, preheat oven to 350F 15 mins before baking. Bake 35-40 mins.
½ c sugar ¼ c water
1 Tbsp rum
½ c sugar
¼ c water 1 Tbsp rum
Optional syrup: combine in small saucepan, bring to a boil. 
When cake comes out of oven, while still in the pan, prick cake top all over with a long-tined fork or skewer. Pour syrup slowly over bread until it is all absorbed.
Turn cake from pan onto serving plate and let cool 10 minutes.

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