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What Is the History of Babka Bread?

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Babka bread may have originated with Eastern European Jews, or it may be a distant relative of Italian pannetone. The exact origins of babka bread are unknown.

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Babka bread may have originated in Poland or Ukraine. One theory poses that it used to be part of an ancient fertility ritual as part of the matriarchal system. This type of rolled, filled bread is especially popular in Russia, Belarus, the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine. The name "babka" is related to "babcia," the Slavic word for grandmother. One theory is that the traditional Polish pan used for baking babka resembles the pleats on an old woman's skirt. Another theory about the name is that grandmothers were the primary bakers of the dish.

Another theory claims that babka actually originated in Italy, where it's seen as a "Russified" version of Italian pannetone bread. Possibly Queen Bona Sforza brought the tradition with her to Poland in the 16th century. The idea that babka originated in Italy is supported by the inclusion of chocolate in some versions. Jewish people became chocolatiers in Italy, and they brought the tradition with them when they fled the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century.

Babka was once much larger than the current version. In the early 19th century, Polish bakers began using egg challah dough to make a dessert spread with jam, cinnamon or raisins, which formed the basis of the modern babka bread.

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