Bábovka is often found on the tables in the Czech Republic and it is part of the Czech pastry tradition since the 17th century. The most common version is the one that looks like a marbled cake. Babiččina bábovka (grandma’s babovka) has a composition similar to that of Italian panettone, Alsatian kouglof or French baba au rhum.
Bábovka usually consists of a layer of vanilla cake and a layer of chocolate cake. Bábovka is then baked in a special mold, made of copper or earthenware, with a bell-shaped and a middle hole. When it is taken out of the oven, a little icing sugar is usually sprinkled on top of the cake. Some even add whole almonds to decorate.
Bábovka is most often prepared a sweet dough, but depending on the region of Central Europe, it can take the form of a leavened dough, with raisins soaked in rum or kirsch, and almonds. There is also a savory version, with bacon and walnuts. For a long time, this Czech specialty has been a celebration cake, prepared for many occasions such as Christmas, weddings, births or village festivals.
The bábovka, Princess of Central Europe
In the Czech Republic, bábovka is an easy to make and airy cake that can be enjoyed at any time accompanied by tea or coffee. Across central Europe, it takes various names. In Alsace, it is kougelhopf, with its original Alsatian name, or kouglof, kougelhof, kugelhof, kugelopf, kugelhopf, kugelhopf or kouglouf (in the Haut-Rhin). It is called Kugelhupf or Gugelhupf in Germany. Fùrmekùiche in French Lorraine, has been registered in the French pastry tradition since the 17th century. It is also found in Austria, Slovenia, the Upper Rhine and southern Germany. A more recent version of this cake can now be found in the United States under the name bundt cake. The mold is a bit wider but it is reminiscent of the traditional kouglof mold.
A pastry whose origin goes back to Bethlehem
Several legends revolve around the origin of this cake. One of them claims that bábovka originated in Bethlehem and was designed to pay homage to the Magi. On leaving the manger, one of the three wise men would have forgotten his hat. It was a turban set with gold threads and almond-shaped diamonds. A pastry chef from Strasbourg would have brought back this turban when he returned from the crusades and would have used the headgear as a cake mold. However, he originally made a brioche dough with raisins and not the marbled cake that is now popular in the Czech Republic. The kouglof was born. Etymologically, kouglof means turban in Alsatian. The almonds that decorate it are a nod to the ornaments that decorated the Magi’s turban.
The bábovka, mother of baba au rhum (rum baba)
It is said that the bábovka is the mother of the famous rum baba. The king of Poland, Stanislas Leczynski (1677-1766), father-in-law of Louis XV, had transferred his court to Lunéville in Lorraine. He thought the traditional kouglof was a bit too dry for him. His pastry chef took the initiative to soak the cake in a syrup of sugar flavored with rum. That was an excellent idea! The rum baba was born. A century later, Stoher made rum baba his signature pastry in his shop at the Palais Royal.
What about the famous bábovka mold (or kougelhopf mold)?
The bábovka mold can be made of copper, but it is usually terracotta (earthenware). Its specific shape makes it possible to ensure a uniform diffusion of heat in the middle of the dough and obtain even cooking.
In Alsace, even if the traditional bell is the most common, there are a few variants. For example, people us a star for Christmas, a fish for Easter or a heart for Valentine’s Day. The bábovka molds, equipped with hooks, are often used to decorate kitchens and homes. Originally, they were hooked by the housewives in the kitchen to show a certain ease and the gastronomic quality of the house. The commentary of the Unterlinden Museum states that “copper molds, or their glazed terracotta versions, could also be offered as a wedding gift, at which time they were regarded as lucky charms for birth to come.”
Some tips from an accomplished pastry chef
The unmolding of the bábovka can be a delicate task. The first bábovka I made broke as I tried to unmold it. You can imagine the tears in my eyes, as I desperately looked at half of my smashed cake, hanging from the bottom of the mold. Since then, I found the greatest technique. As the cake is out of the oven, it must first be allowed to cool for one hour on a cooling rack. Then, place a plate above the mold, and turn the cake upside down quickly. Then let gravity operate for 45 minutes. Obviously, the times may vary depending on the mold and baking conditions. Magically, the cake will unmold perfectly. All you have to do is decorate it now.
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in Czech cuisine, Kristyna Montano. You can find Kristyna on her food blog CzechCookbook.com.
Bábovka is a delicious traditional Czech cake that usually consists of a layer of vanilla cake and a layer of chocolate cake.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 5 eggs
- 1-¼ cup caster sugar
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 5 tablespoons milk , warm
- 5 tablespoons water , warm
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (100% cocoa)
- 2 tablespoons icing sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter (to grease the mold)
- Separate the eggs.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Whisk the yolks and sugar at high speed until the mixture whitens and becomes firm.
- At low speed, gradually add the oil, water, then milk.
- Mix the flour and baking powder.
- Beat the egg whites, at high speed for 5 minutes and at medium speed for another 5 minutes, until firm.
- Using a spatula, delicately fold the egg whites into the batter without breaking them, as well as the vanilla extract.
- Grease a kougelhof mold with the butter. Pour in half of the batter.
- Gently mix the cocoa powder with half of the remaining batter, and pour it into the mold, above the first layer. It is important not to mix the two layers.
- Bake for 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes, poke the cake with a wooden skewer or a toothpick. It should come out clean. If not, continue baking for a few more minutes if necessary.
- As soon as it comes out of the oven, sprinkle the bábovka with icing sugar.