Walnut Crown Cake

Babka

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    12

    servings

Appears in

One afternoon at Prague’s Cafe Slavia, over a glass of the infamously narcotic turquoise-green absinthe, the manager shared the recipe for this simple coffee cake, a perfect example of how Czech recipes have evolved over the years. Babka has roots in the cooking of Russia and Poland and, along with some ugly architecture, is one of the few remnants of the Russian years in Prague. While old recipes for babka certainly used butter, this one uses vegetable oil, a reminder of the Communist era, when butter was looked down on as a capitalist extravagance. It doesn’t suffer from the substitution, and the cake is moist and filled with chunks of nuts and raisins.

Ingredients

Cake

  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • cups sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • cup milk
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup raisins

Rum Glaze

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons golden rum, or more if needed
  • 1 tablespoon water, or more if needed

Method

  1. To make the cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350°F. Using a cylinder-shaped pastry brush, butter the inside of a 10-inch Gugelhupf mold or fluted cake pan. Coat with flour and tap out the excess.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Beat the egg yolks, sugar, oil, vanilla, and lemon zest in a medium bowl with a handheld electric mixer on high speed until well combined. Beat in half of the milk, then half of the flour; repeat with the remaining milk and flour.
  3. In a medium bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites just until they form stiff peaks. Stir about one fourth of the whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites.
  4. Combine the walnuts and raisins. Spread about one third of the batter in the pan. Sprinkle with half of the walnut mixture, leaving about ½ inch of batter visible around the edges of the pan (if the walnuts and raisins touch the edge of the pan, they could burn during baking). Cover with half of the remaining batter, then sprinkle with the remaining walnut mixture. Spread with the remaining batter.
  5. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn out onto the rack and cool completely.
  6. To make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar, rum, and water until it is the consistency of heavy cream, adding more water if needed. Place the cake on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Slowly pour the glaze over the cake to coat it completely, using a metal spatula to help spread and coax the glaze. Let stand until the glaze sets.

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