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Monday, May 30, 2011

Smitten: Chocolate Babka!

At eight bucks a pound, you know you’re into serious excess when a recipe calls for two and a quarter pounds of Belgian chocolate.
But what-the-hell?  I’m here to shamelessly seduce you with the best, most sinfully rich recipe I can find for Chocolate Babka --
Guaranteed to send you careening into chocoholic ecstasy, either that or a hyperglycemic coma. 
GEEZ!  I’ve already given you the best ever chocolate pound cake I know, and it’s just sitting out there in cyberspace, barely touched.  I should repost it, because it’s really that good.  Who cares about calories, carbs, cholesterol or gluten? Try just a bite is all) Okay anyway.
Though not an avid baker (I’m more of a happy cook), I’ve blogged yummy apricotty penna cotta (no baking involved in that one), some serious citron mandelbrot/biscotti (nice photos)  and a credible batch of Russian tea biscuits, winning one of the last-ever Kitchen Challenges (and yes, I’m still smarting over the demise of the weekly Salon Kitchen Challenge on Open Salon, (whose idea was that??)  but hey, all good things must come to an end, as they say, but who says?)  
Back in the kitchen today, (you don’t know how lucky you are, boys,)  humming an old Beatles song, back in the U.S.S.R...I’ve pulled out all the stops on Babka, and old Russian recipe my grandmother never made.
Babka.  The word is both Polish and Russian (and Yiddish)  for old grandmother.
Now when we speak of Babka - the bread -  (origin Polish, Belarusian, Lithunian, Russian, take your pick) we mean an Eastern European delicacy, made of a buttery yeast dough swirled with cinnamon, chocolate, nuts and jam, rum and raisins, or cheese, depending or your childhood memories or your experience in New York-style Jewish bakeries.  
Babka.  If it’s a funny word with a familiar ring to you, perhaps you recall it from The Dinner Party episode on the Seinfeld show where Jerry and Elaine go on a quest for the chocolate, only to find the cinnamon:
JERRY: That’s the last Babka. They got the last Babka.
ELAINE: I know. They’re going in first with the last Babka.
JERRY: That was our Babka.
ELAINE: You can’t beat a Babka
JERRY: We should have had that Babka.
ELAINE: They're going to be heroes.
JERRY: What are we going to do now. If we can't get the Babka the whole thing's useless.
My recipe (brimming with chocolate and cinnamon) happens to be in the oven at this moment with a wondrous baking aroma wafting through every room of the house, and then some -- out the window to share with the neighbors. 

Mouth watering?  Good.   Who in the neighborhood bakes like this any more? Especially on a hot day (trying to be summer finally) 
I’ll get to the recipe in a moment.  


But some time ago, I stumbled upon chocolate babka on a glorious food blog called Smitten Kitchen.  Smitten? You bet.  Check it out to see why Smitten Kitchen lives on BlogHer, winner of scads of internet sitings and awards, including most recently Best Cooking Blog in Saveur’s 2011 Best Food Blogs Awards, 5/17/11  Smitten is right up there with The Pioneer Woman, the Oprah of the blogosphere.  (We all want to be pioneers, masters of our domain, writing/cooking/raising our own chickens - do we not?)  And speaking of Oprah, did I mention that I saw her on the street two weeks ago?  There she was, just walking down the street, singing do-wah, diddy diddy dum diddy do, and she looked good, she looked fine.   She looked up, with her hair flowing and her gold cape blowing in the wind, right there downtown in the Windy City and she smiled back at me, with that knowing celebrity face-to-face recognition, as if to say without words--yeh, you’re right, it’s me, all right, diddy, diddy dum diddy do!  
Ahh, but I digress. (Taking my time.) Consider yourself warned: this is going to be a long-winded, rambling recipe, filled with detours, and fleeting thoughts and lots and lots of chocolate.  . . Callebaut chocolate for good measure.Two pounds.  So make yourself another pot of coffee. . . 
Thinking back to babka in Cleveland where I grew up, the stuff never had a name.  It was simply coffee cake, or the cinnamon/chocolate bread, purchased at the Jewish bakery around the corner as often as were the coconut bars, the  “Black and Whites"  and my Dad’s favorite, Lady Locks.  Babka from the bakery is definitely the route to go; there you have some economy of scale.  For instance, you can walk out of Zabar’s in New York with a 22-oz “Homestyle Babka for  $10.98.  Here in Detroit you can get an absolutely scrumptious chocolate frosted Bapka hot out of the oven at Star Bakery for around 8 dollars.    
Baking babpka from scratchis is not only pricey, it’s a bit daunting, especially with all those ingredients.  But here goes . . .according to the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, 
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED FOR THREE LOAVES: 
For dough
1 1/2 cups warm milk  (110°F)
2 packages active dry yeast 
3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar  (very sweet, I would use less next time)
2 whole large eggs, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus more for bowl and loaf pans
For chocolate filling
2 1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped* 
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon heavy cream

For egg wash:
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
For streusel topping
Makes 3 3/4 cups.
1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature



HERE’S WHAT YOU DO
Make dough:
1. Combine warm milk,  yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
2. In a bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, and egg yolks. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.
3. Using the paddle attachment on an electric mixer fitted, combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 sticks butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.
4. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, cover, and set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Make filling:
5. Combine chocolate, 1 cup of sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter (or a food processor) add softened 1 1/2 sticks butter until well combined. .
Make streusel topping: 
7. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.
Assemble
8. Generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon cream; punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Keep 2 pieces covered with plastic wrap while working with the remaining piece. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.
9. Brush edges with reserved egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining 2 pieces of dough and remaining filling.
10. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Crumble 1/3 of streusel topping over each loaf. Loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.


11. Bake loaves, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 55 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until babkas are deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes more. 



A "few" notes about this recipe
  • Callebaut chocolate, in case you’re wondering, can be found in bulk at Whole Foods, at $7.99 pound. I found two pounds to be way crazy too much for the recipe.  I cut the quantity to a little over a pound, and  still had about a third left over. 
  • When baking with yeast, check the dates on the package.  Don’t break the cardinal rule (as I did) and use an older product. My dough did not rise as I would have liked. . .I will also confess that I used some buttermilk in my recipe, which could have also laden the dough with too much fat to rise properly. (We all understand that condition.)  
  • In making the various loaves, I experimented and actually got a little better with each babka assembly. The recipe worked for me in a loaf pan, as well as in a ring baked in a pie pan, and free form on a cookie sheet.  
  • Loaves can be assembled and put in the freezer for baking later. I baked all three, assuming they would serve just as well, especially  when sliced and toasted.
  • Looking for a recipe with more manageable proportions, I checked my bookshelves and found Joan Nathan’s Bubby Irma’s Babka  in "The Foods of Israel" (published by Knopf)  as follows.   Looks to be a keeper.  
  • 1 envelope or 1 scant tablespoon dry yeast 
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • ¾ cup plus 1 teaspoon  sugar
  • 4½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or pareve margarine, melted
  • 4 large eggs,, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla  
  • ½ cup milk or water
  • ½ cup sour or pareve tofu  sour cream
  • ¾ cup raisins 
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¾ cup apricot or raspberry jam  
Had enough?  Whew!  Me too! Happy baking.  And thanks for stopping by. 

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