Babka Ziemniaczana: Polish Potato Babka with Bacon

Babka Ziemiaczana z Boczkiem

Babka Ziemniaczana (pron.: ‘bab-KAH zyem-nyachanah’) is a grated potato dish, popular not only in Poland, but also in the cuisines of our eastern neighbours.

In this recipe, earthy spuds mingle with lightly golden onions and smoky bacon in an oven-baked casserole. Eggs bind the ingredients together, while a spice blend known as Pieprz Ziołowy (Polish for: ‘Herbal Pepper’) lends its herby, spicy aroma.

Served with a generous dollop of sour cream, or a dash of mushroom sauce, Babka Ziemniaczana makes a delicious side or main dish.

For the full list of ingredients & detailed instructions, please see the recipe card at the end of this post. But before you scroll, there’s important stuff to know below.

From my research so far, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact roots of Potato Babka. Perhaps the inspiration came from the Pea Babka, an old-Polish classic of the 17th century (source 1). Other sources suggest influences from Belarusian and/or Jewish cuisines (Картофельная Бабка and Kartoffelkugel respectively).

Today, Babka Ziemniaczana is considered a signature dish of Podlachia and the region of Suwałki. But other regions also have their own versions of this delicacy, namely Kurpian Rejbak, Silesian Kartoflak, Kocievian Szandar and many more.

Do you need any special ingredients or equipment to make this Babka Ziemniaczana?

No. Most of the ingredients for this recipe should be easily available in any major supermarket.

Potatoes: Make sure to select a starchy variety:

  • In Poland, that would be type “C” (Bryza, Gracja, Ibis, Tajfun, Gustaw)
  • In the US, go for Russet, Idaho or Yukon Gold
  • UK suggestions are: Estima, King Edward, Maris Piper, Desiree

The only troublesome ingredient would be a Polish spice blend called ‘Herbal Pepper’ (in Polish: ‘Pieprz Ziołowy’). In essence, it’s a mix of white mustard seeds, ground coriander, marjoram, spicy paprika powder, ground caraway, garlic powder and fenugreek.

If you don’t have a Polish deli close by, try replacing ‘Pieprz Ziołowy’ with spices that are already in your pantry (from those I listed above; for instance, dried marjoram will work well). You could also try making this spice blend at home, I’ll post a recipe soon.

Equipment-wise, some key tools you’ll need are:

  • Box grater, or a food processor with a grating disc
  • Large bowl, for combining ingredients together
  • Frying pan/skillet
  • Sharp knife
  • Cake tin: I use a long loaf pan (approx. 12 x 4.5’’, 30 x 12 cm), but you can use a square pan (approx. 8 x 8’’, 19 x 19 cm) or a round pan (8-9’’, 22 cm in diameter). For a ‘wow’ effect, go for a bundt cake tin, big enough to hold 2 quarts (approx. 2 litres)

What should you serve with Potato Babka?

This babka is traditionally served in two ways:

  • As the main dish:
    – with a generous dollop of fresh sour cream and sprinkled with chopped dill, parsley or chives
    – with mushroom sauce on the side; most popularly made with wild mushrooms, chanterelles or common button mushrooms.
  • As a side dish, accompanying a meat dish and greens. I find that it pairs especially well with stews of various kinds. In this scenario, it’s best to skip the bacon in the recipe, otherwise, the whole meal can be too heavy.

Potato Babka can be served hot or cold. For additional crispiness, toast individual slices (both sides) on a frying pan, lightly greased with a touch of butter.

Beverage-wise, the most common pairing suggestion that you’ll find in restaurant menus is a shot of Polish vodka. In the Podlasie region, Babka Ziemniaczana is traditionally served with a glass of cold milk.

Can you make this Babka Ziemniaczana another way?

Yes, you can:

  • Replace bacon with fatback, pork collar or smoked kiełbasa (for example: wiejska, śląska or zwyczajna)
  • Add 3.5 oz (100 g) of cooked barley, millet or buckwheat to the potato mass. This will make your Babka lighter and fluffier.
  • Instead of grating onions, chop them finely instead and fry them with bacon. That way, the texture more varied.
  • Grate half of the potatoes using fine holes, and the other half – using larger holes of the grater. Again – this will create a more interesting, varied texture.
  • Make this Babka meat-free by replacing bacon with fried onions and/or mushrooms; or skip the meat completely. For a fish version, some recipes suggest adding finely chopped herring.
  • Use a different type of baking tin. Most commonly, a simple loaf tin is used, but any other shape is fine. To make your Babka a real showstopper, use a bundt cake tin – it will look wonderful on the dinner table.

What diets is this Potato Babka suitable for?

This recipe is suitable for a traditional diet. 

To make it gluten-free, use a gluten-free flour – corn or potato starch works well here. For a vegetarian version, replace the bacon with golden-fried chopped onions or mushrooms; or skip it completely.

How long can you keep this Babka ziemniaczana in the fridge?

Once served, don’t keep it out on the table for more than 3-4 hours. 

To refrigerate any leftovers, make sure Babka has cooled completely. To prevent it from drying out, move the leftovers into a container with a lid. Alternatively, you can just wrap them in cling film. Refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Can I freeze Potato Babka?

Yes, you can, but the results can be a little bit of a hit and miss. 

If you decide to give it a go, it’s best to wrap each slice individually (in cling film) before freezing. Make sure to label everything with a description and a date. Aim to consume within 3 months.

How do I reheat this Babka Ziemniaczana?

From chilled: Portion your babka into slices. Set a frying pan on a medium-low heat, and melt a knob of butter. Toast Babka slices on both sides, until they turn lightly brown. Enjoy immediately.

From frozen: Retrieve babka slices from the freezer, let them thaw. Then proceed as per the instructions above.

Babka Ziemniaczana - Polish Potato Babka with Bacon, served with cream
Babka Ziemniaczana - Polish Potato Babka with Bacon, served with cream

Babka Ziemiaczana: Polish Potato Babka with Bacon

Yield: 10-12
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 10 oz (280-300 g) smoked slab bacon, fatback or pork collar; can be replaced with smoked kiełbasa (e.g. wiejska, śląska or zwyczajna)
  • 4 pounds (1.5-1.8 kg) potatoes; starchy variety, weighed before peeling
  • 2 medium onions (8.5 oz, 240 g), white or yellow
  • 2 eggs
  • 3-4 tablespoons all-purpose flour; can be replaced with another type of flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tablespoons herbal pepper (‘pieprz ziołowy’); see notes
  • butter, for greasing the baking tin

Instructions

  1. Place the slab of bacon into the freezer, allowing it to firm up a bit. That way, it will be easier to slice. Don’t keep it there for longer than 15-20 minutes (we don’t want it to freeze). 
  2. Wash the potatoes and peel them. Peel the onions as well.
  3. Using a box grater, grate potatoes and onions, using the smallest holes of the grater. You could use a food processor with a grating disk, but anecdotally, that affects the flavour in a negative way (I’m yet to compare both methods empirically; right now, I use the food processor and I cannot complain). 
  4. If you have selected a starchy variety of potatoes, there shouldn’t be too much excess liquid in them. In any case, it’s worth moving grated potatoes and onions onto a fine-mesh sieve, and over a bowl. That way, we’ll get rid of the excess liquids. Alternatively, you can squeeze it out “by hand” - that's how I do it.
  5. Pick up a razor-sharp knife. Retrieve the slab bacon from the freezer and dice it into cubes (roughly sized at 0.2-0.3’’; 5-7 mm per side).
  6. Place a frying pan/skillet on the stove, throw the bacon in. Fry on low to medium heat until lightly golden, but still soft. If you over-fry them, it will be difficult to slice your Babka later on. There’s no need for additional oil for frying, the bacon will release plenty of its own fat anyway. 
  7. In a large bowl, combine grated potatoes, onions, fried bacon (adding also any bacon fat that has rendered), eggs, flour and seasoning. Combine everything together with a spatula.
  8. Preheat the oven to 360°F (180°C) with fan-assist, or 390°F (200°C) without. Grease the baking tin with butter, sprinkle gently with flour or breadcrumbs, and fill it with the potato mass.
  9. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, on a lower shelf of the oven. 20 minutes before the end, cover the Babka with aluminium foil and reduce the heat to 300°F (150°C).
  10. Take the Babka out of the oven and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Next, flip it upside down and gently release it from the baking tin. 
  11. You may notice that your Babka is still a bit soft inside - that’s okay, it will firm up as it cools down.
  12. Slice your Babka now and serve it while still warm, or wait for it to cool completely and serve cold. For more serving suggestions, please refer back to the main post.
  13. For a crispier result, toast each slice (both sides) on the frying pan greased with butter. It is also a great way to reheat any leftovers.

Notes

This recipe is adapted from a wonderful Polish cookbook called “Ziemniak” (“Potato”) by Joanna Jakubiuk. Published by Edipresse Polska in 2018, ISBN: 978-83-8117-747-4

I’ve adjusted the original method ever-so-slightly for accessibility and added a few of my own pointers, in order to address any issues that I’ve stumbled upon when testing this recipe.

Herbal pepper (in Polish: Pieprz Ziołowy) is a Polish spice mix, used for various dishes, salads and for kiełbasa-making. Essentially, it’s a blend of white mustard seeds, ground coriander, marjoram, spicy paprika powder, ground caraway, garlic powder and fenugreek. 

If you can’t find it where you live, just replace it with a mix of whatever you have in your pantry (from the list above). 

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 185Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 61mgSodium: 648mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 10g

Sources:

  1. “Kanon Kuchni Polskiej” (“the Canon of Polish Cuisine”), published by the National Institute of Rural Culture and Heritage. Digital version (in Polish) available here.
Kasia Kronenberger

Kasia Kronenberger changes the (often unfavourable) perceptions of Polish food through digital storytelling. She creates purpose-led, bite-sized videos, exploring her cultural identity through food. As a self-taught home cook, Kasia enjoys trying out recipes from old Polish cookbooks. She’s keen of all things smoked or fermented.


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Polish name:
Pronunciation:
Cuisine: Polish
Region / Subregion: all-Polish, Podlachia & Suwałki region
Other traditional or regional names: Baba Kartoflana, Kartoflak, Bugaj, Pyrczok, Rejbak, Parepac, Kajzer, Kugiel, Kugel, Bulbunek, Żebroczka, Kućmok, Tarciuch, Szandar, Blaszak
Also known as (including misspellings): Polish Potato Casserole, Polish Potato Pie, Potato Loaf