My Polish grandmother made this traditional bread throughout the year. We lived directly across an alley from her house, so Grandma was always bringing over freshly baked goodies. Chalka was one of our very favorites. It’s fabulous warm out of the oven or toasted for breakfast with lots of butter.
Somehow, I grew up taking much of the food we ate for granted. Polish food, like sauerkraut and kielbasa, we knew were ethnic foods, but this raisin bread I didn’t realize was part of a traditional Polish Christmas Eve or Wigilia, I stumbled onto a great website Polish Christmas Eve Supper Recipes – Wigilia As I read through the recipes, several we ate throughout the year. My grandmother and dad would go mushroom hunting near our home – dry them, and save them for soup or added to sauerkraut. I remember having uszka (“little ear” dumplings) just once, when my grandma’s sister came to the United States from Poland for a year. We ate very well. I remember how excited my father was, because the two sisters, his mother and aunt, were busy in the kitchen making many of the foods he remembered from his childhood. My dad also loved chalka. He would ask me to make it for him, when he and my mother would come to visit. And he asked me sometimes to use dried fruit rather than raisins, like the kind of candied fruit used in fruit cake.
Anyway, this December, my daughter will give birth to her third child – he’s due the day after Christmas. The only thing my daughter has consistently asked for is Grandma’s Raisin Bread. I made lots of it when the kids were younger, but not in a while. I decided I’d better practice, before I leave for Indiana, so neither one of us is disappointed. If I don’t make a recipe for a while, sometimes I forget the subtleties. Practicing helps to bring it all back.
There are a few extra steps compared to making regular yeast loaves, but so much worth it.
Let’s make some:
First, in a small sauce pan, boil a cup or two of water. Pour 1 3/4 – 2 cups of golden raisins into the sauce pan to help plump up the raisins. About 5-10 minutes. Drain the raisins in a small strainer. On a sheet tray lined with paper towels, sprinkle the raisins. Take another paper towel, and make sure the raisins are nice and dry. The raisins need to be dry when you begin to knead them into the dough.
Next, scald 1 cup of milk in a small saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat, and add 1 stick of butter. Let the butter melt, and the mixture cool until lukewarm.
Cooking Tip: Proof your yeast. I cannot tell you how many yeast recipes I’ve ruined, because I did not proof my yeast before mixing it in with the flour. It’s probably a quirk of mine. If you have good luck using rapid rise yeast or adding dry yeast to your dry ingredients, by all means, have at it. I just have rotten luck.
So, take 1/4 cup of warm water, add one teaspoon of sugar, add 1 Tablespoon of yeast. Stir together, and when it has doubled or tripled in volume, you’re good to go.
In the bowl of your mixer, add the lukewarm milk and butter, and the yeast mixture to the bowl. Add 2 cups of flour. Mix everything together with a wooden spoon. You’re making a sponge, so cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and put in a warm spot to begin to rise – 15-20 minutes.
I usually put mine in the oven with the light on.
While the sponge is rising, separate 3 eggs – save the whites for another use, like an omelette or an angel food cake. In a small bowl, add the eggs yolks and one whole egg. Add one cup of sugar, and one teaspoon salt. Beat the eggs, sugar and salt until the mixture is thick and thoroughly combined. Add 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and mix to combine.
The sponge will be ready when it has risen slightly, and there are bubbles across the top. Using a wooden spoon, add the egg mixture, and one cup of flour. Now you can put the bowl on the mixer. Using the dough hook, add the rest of the flour. Add 1/2 cup of flour at a time to equal 2 cups total of additional flour. That means you will have 5 cups of flour in all. At this point, the dough may have formed into a ball or just may be sticking a bit to the bottom of the bowl. If it’s a little sticky, that’s OK.
Place the dough on a floured surface, and begin to knead in more flour, at little at a time, until the dough becomes smooth.
Roll out the dough. Sprinkle the raisins on top. Fold the dough over the top in thirds, and begin to knead the dough until all the raisins are thoroughly incorporated. Place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Set in a warm place until the dough has doubled in bulk.
Once the dough is nicely risen, remove it from the bowl to a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough in half, put one half aside. Divide the dough into three equally portioned strands. OK, one of my strands is a little lacking . . .
Now, braid the strands together to make an attractive braid. Put the braid into a well greased loaf pan, mine is 9″x 5″. Repeat with the other half of dough. Cover with a kitchen towel. Put in a warm place to rise.
When the braid has risen to the top of the loaf pan, preheat the oven to 300°F. (If you let your dough rise in the oven, be sure to remove the loaves before heating up the oven.) Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the crusts are nice and brown.
Remove to a cooling rack. Let sit for 10 minutes, and remove the raisin bread from the loaf pans. The slices are awesome slathered with butter, served with a cup of coffee. Or toasted with eggs and bacon for a perfect breakfast. Not exactly like Grandma’s, but then who bakes better than their grandmothers?
Good Luck! Happy Baking!!
- ½ cup of butter (one stick), room temperature
- 1 cup milk, scalded
- 1 Tablespoon active, dry yeast, reconstituted in ¼ cup warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 egg yolks + 1 whole egg, lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1½ - 2 cups golden raisins, plumped in boiling water, drained, and dried on paper towels
- 5½ cups all-purpose flour
- Put raisins in a small bowl. Cover with boiling water. Let the raisins plump - 10-15 minutes. Pour raisins into a strainer, and them sprinkle over a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, scald 1 cup of milk. Remove from the heat. Add the butter in pieces to melt quickly. Add 1 cup of sugar and stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool.
- In the bowl of your mixer, stir together 2 cups flour, the milk mixture, and the reconstituted yeast mixture. Stir together to make a sponge. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 15-20 minutes.
- Add the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly.
- Add vanilla. Mix thoroughly.
- Add 1 cup of flour, and mix.
- Using your mixer's dough hook at slow speed, add the remaining flour ½ cup at a time. Watch the dough to make sure you don't add too much flour. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky. Knead for an additional 6-8 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Allow to rise until doubled - 1½ - 2 hours.
- Once the dough has doubled, remove to a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle. Sprinkle the raisins on top, and fold into thirds. Begin to knead the dough, until the raisins are evenly disbursed.
- Cut the dough in half, and each half into thirds. Roll into equal-sized ropes, and braid the loaf. Repeat with the second half.
- Place the braids into well greased loaf pans - mine were 9"x5". Cover the loaves with a kitchen towel, and allow to rise, until the dough comes to the top of the pans - 1-1½ hours
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top and sides are nicely browned. Remove to cooling racks. After 10 minutes, remove the loaves from the pans, and allow to cool to room temperature.