I always thought of this as a Hungarian Kosher specialty cake, until I found a recipe for it in a non-kosher cookbook. It then dawned on me, that Babka is one of those universally approved delicacies.
Whenever someone in our family needed a hug, or one-on-one time with Bubby Rubin, the first thing that was served was a slice of delicious Babka, with a cup of milk or coffee. One of her grandchildren told us a story that brought this memory back to life. The young boy was at Cheder and was complaining that he wasn’t well. As his mother was away he was staying with Bubby, so she went to school, and drove him across town to her house… amazingly the young chap was now miraculously better. Bubby, being who she was, realised that the child needed some love and attention, so she sat him down in the garden with her nice china and served him some babka and milk. When she passed he told us this story at the shiva and I realised that these were the things we would now miss.
This is a recipe that I never had in my arsenal of recipes. My mother would just send me the Babka in bulk to be frozen, and that was that. It was always replenished so I never needed the recipe.
To me a Babka is all about Purim, I remember a table heaving with kokosh cake, babka and lots of wine and whiskey bottles. It would all start immediately after tu beshvat. The famous list would be written. My childhood was very much one of giving – as an askan and Rov my father knew many people. My Mother, the Rebbetzin, always made sure that everyone felt they were special, hence the list.
There were many neighbours, friends, baalai batim, workers and work-mates, then all the teachers and Rebbes. By the time this list was done it was 2 pages long. My mother would now proceed to stage 2, the buying of said ingredients. This too was a big job. She would get the order delivered and my brother and I would help to put everything away.
The all-important part would happen when we were in school. The smell that greeted us when we came home was one that, just writing about, still makes my mouth water. As a family we now knew that Purim was really on the way.
It is interesting to note, that after we left America my parents changed the way they gave mishloach monos. They said that they could not understand how they once gave so many when the mitzvah states two.
I too never gave mishloach monos in the same way, but the taste of her babkas was something that was a soothing part of my life.
The Purims of my childhood can never be replicated. Our house became the one that everyone wanted to come to, the music and happiness and yes even some high-spirited people coming in and out of our house was so uplifting. There would be torah thoughts shared and lots of laughter. I have always, even today so many years later, missed this part of my youth.
Yet I didn’t have this Babka recipe. After our first issue was distributed last month, I received many phone calls, but one particular phone call meant so much more to me than the caller realised.
Mrs Varley, my mother’s long- time customer, was saying how she loved the Bubby’s Kitchen article. We spoke a bit more and she said she had 2 of my late mother’s recipes that she always used – Gefilta Fish and Babka. I could not believe that my mother had given her these recipes, Mrs Varley, even had the original ones written in my mother’s hand.
Yes it had faded, and she had rewritten it. But I can only say that I shed a few tears.
The best thing is that I made the Babka, and it tasted just like Bubby’s.
The secret to a good Babka is finding the right tray. My mother used to use a round one with a hole in middle.
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