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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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baba a sweetened bread or cake made from rich dough, baked in tall, cylindrical moulds. The shape is Slavic in origin, and of great antiquity. The 12th-century Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus describes a Baltic pagan harvest-festival bread as a ‘cake, prepared with mead, round in form and standing nearly as high as a person’. The word means ‘old woman’ or ‘grandmother’ and refers to the vertical form, an anthropomorphic usage similar to the derivation of pretzel from bracelli, because the twist of dough resembles folded arms. Conversely, the cylindrical shape also recalls ancient Slavic phallic idols. Imperial Russian copper baba moulds as high as 40 cm (16") are recorded, and it was evident that a true cylinder was the ideal shape, for the dough was not allowed to rise over the top of the mould. In the less well-endowed 20th century, empty cans are often dragooned into service as moulds, and the dough may balloon over the top.