Babka! | March 28, 2016

Babka, what a funny word.  According to the inter-webs, it means “little grandmother“.  I am pretty sure the direct translation is ridiculously delicious! Babka has been around along time and originated in Eastern Europe.  I have always associated it with Jewish culture, thank you Seinfeld, but whomever wants to take credit for its modern form go ahead – I love you all.

 

I was in NYC last week working with Tovolo’s Public Relations firm and had an afternoon to walk around the city and explore my favorite haunts.  It might be cliche nowadays but Dean & Deluca on Prince Street was always a sanctuary for me.  The way the food was displayed put all “grocery stores” to shame.  The artful simplicity of the store layout was inspiring. The produce somehow looked more appetizing and flawless than all other produce.  The quality of the meats and cheeses, not to mention the selection, was what everyone else aspired to and going into Dean & Deluca was always a spiritual experience for me.

Truth be told, it does not have the same effect on me it used to but I still need to go every time I am in New York.  The Babka however brought me back to how I think of Dean & Deluca – stunning.  I was struck by the beautiful layers of their chocolate babka.  Not being a lover of the combination of bread and chocolate, I had never tried it.  The layers however were calling my name. The slices they had stacked in little clear containers were too beautiful to walk by. The golden color of the brioche-like dough, the layers and layers of swirled dark chocolate that looked just a little grainy in texture, but also deep and earthy.  I was sold.  I took a slice back to my hotel room but for whatever reason didn’t eat it right away.  The next morning I was headed back to Seattle and almost threw the little box away thinking that I didn’t really want to take it with me and it probably wouldn’t be as good day two. Luckily for me, I have a hard time wasting food and packed it away in my backpack and headed to LaGuardia.

Long story shortened.  I had started watching the movie on the plane home, tired after a few long days hoofing it around Manhattan, settling into a 6 hour flight, and then I remembered the little box tucked into my backpack underneath the seat in front of me.  I got it out, pinched a little piece off, and proceeded to scarf the whole thing into my mouth.  Holy Cow!  The dough was soft and sweet with notes of butter and eggs and the chocolate layers were just as I had hoped – deep, earthy, with just a hint of cinnamon.  The chocolate instead of being sweet had this cocoa finish to it that kept it more in the breakfast or snack family and not totally in the dessert world.  It was perfection. I am sure everyone sitting around me hated me: I feel totally comfortable with that.

I decided that I would try my hand at making my own Babka and what better time than Easter brunch.  Of course, smittenkitchen.com had a recipe all queued up and ready to go.  It really is no different than making cinnamon rolls just with a little twist.  (You will see later that was a clever play on words. 🙂 )

My advice: start the day before.  The dough really needs to be refrigerated overnight. Then you roll it out, add the filling, and it needs a second rise for about 75-90 minutes.  The dough comes together easily and like most sweeter doughs it is pretty forgiving but give yourself time.  The recipe makes two loafs. I made mine round and in two 8″ cake pans because I didn’t read through the whole recipe – which one should ALWAYS DO!  So, when it came time to prepare the pans I had one loaf pan that was in my freezer filled with ice cream and one was MIA.  The round baked up perfectly and I thought it looked beautiful so substitution sometimes work as just as well.  Serve it warm, as all the layers of soft dough and warm chocolate make the world a quieter and more peaceful place.  Enjoy!

BABKA!

YIELDS 2 Loaves  |  PREP TIME 20  |  COOK TIME 60  |  PRINT PDF

INGREDIENTS

Dough

4 1/4 cups (530 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
Grated zest of half an orange (our preference)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup water (cold is fine) and up to 1 to 2 tablespoons extra, if needed
3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter (150 grams or 5.3 ounces) at room temperature
Sunflower or other neutral oil, for greasing

Filling

4 1/2 ounces (130 grams) dark chocolate (or approximately 3/4 cup chocolate chips)
1/2 cup (120 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine
Scant 1/2 cup (50 grams) powdered sugar
1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Syrup

1/3 cup water
6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar

DIRECTIONS

Make the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook until it comes together; this may take a couple minutes. It’s okay if it’s on the dry side, but if it doesn’t come together at all, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a spoonful at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times. I usually found that after 10 minutes, the dough began to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, you can add 1 tablespoon extra flour to help this along.
Coat a large bowl with oil (or scrape the dough out onto a counter and oil this one) and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Leave in fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight.

Make filling: Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; mixture should form a spreadable paste. Add cinnamon, if desired. [If you’re wondering what happened to the pecans and granulated sugar, see my third note below.]

Assemble loaves: Coat two 9-by-4-inch (2 1/4 or 1kg) loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper. Take half of dough from fridge (leave the other half chilled). Roll out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.
Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log. I found that transferring the log to a lightly floured baking tray in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes made it much, much easier to cut cleanly in half. Repeat with second dough.
Trim last 1/2-inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lenghtwise and lay them next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan. In one batch, mine was long enough to “S” inside the pan and I nested the trimmed ends of the log in the openings. Even if you don’t (and choose to bake them separately in a little pan, as I did in other batches), the dough will fill in any gaps by the time it’s done rising and baking, so don’t worry.
Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1 1/2 hours at room temperature. Repeat process with second loaf.

Bake and finish cakes: Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes, but there’s no harm in checking for doneness at 25 minutes. A skewer inserted into an underbaked babka will feel stretchy/rubbery inside and may come back with dough on it. When fully baked, you’ll feel almost no resistance. If you babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil.
While babkas are baking, make syrup: Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush the syrup all over each. It will seem like too much, but will taste just right — glossy and moist. Let cool about halfway in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating (an adorable suggestion from Ottolenghi — don’t worry, we know you’re going to eat it warm).