Babka, this braided brioche that sells like hot cakes

If you follow Instagram accounts of foodies, as these cooking enthusiasts are now called, you have surely already seen this braided brioche, most often filled with chocolate. The hashtag #babka has 267,000 hits As of this writing, certainly far behind the champions of the genre – #avocadotoast and #cinnamonrolls for example – but much more popular than #bobun. Because the era has its culinary feats and, if they are photogenic, their success is almost assured.

This is the case with babka, whose marbling and chocolate-spread branches panic the networks of the virtual world – and the appetites of the real world.

The aficionados from the American series Seinfeld had already heard about it in a scene that has become a cult of 77e episode, “The Dinner Party”, first broadcast on NBC on February 3, 1994. Invited to a dinner party, Jerry and Elaine want to offer their hosts a chocolate babka but, while they line up at a New York bakery, the last one is sold under their noses. To their dismay, they have to fall back on a cinnamon variety, “An inferior babka” according to Elaine.

Ancestor of the baba

But why such a mess around a simple pastry? Perhaps because this delicacy is as pretty as it is good, evokes the pure French baking tradition of brioche but also has a little taste from elsewhere, a name that sounds good, a pretty braiding and variations as you wish ( with cinnamon, no offense Seinfeld, but also with pistachio, halva, coconut …).

“Its success is obviously due to its aesthetics, but it goes hand in hand with the craze for Levantine cuisine, as well as the revival of bakery driven by a generation which brings up to date the practices of yesteryear, manual labor, untreated flour, sourdough… Because making a good babka takes time! “, says Sarah Crosetti, author of Babkas and other delicious brioches (Marabout, 2020).

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Originally from Eastern Europe, this leavened dough owes its name to the term “grandmother” in Polish. It would even have inspired King Stanislas, a Slav exiled in Lorraine in the 18th century.e century, who had the idea to wet it with Hungarian wine to make it the ancestor of the unmistakable rum baba. The older versions mentioned in old cookbooks don’t look like the ones popularized on social media.

“I found traces of it in a collection of recipes published in Vilnius [en Lituanie] in 1896. At the time, the brioche was baked in a cake mold. With the waves of migration of the Second World War, she arrives in New York in the Ashkenazi bakeries of the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, the Bronx. Then in the 1950s, she landed in Israel under the name of krantz before returning to Europe today ”, traces Annick Prime-Margules, vice-president of the Maison de la culture yiddish in Paris.

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