Sunday, December 28, 2008

Babka Recipe

As always, we ate very well over the holidays. On Christmas Eve, we had a fantastic turkey dinner...with baked potatoes, this amazing Cranberry Sauce Extraordinaire, very yummy stuffing (also from AllRecipes.com, but I can't remember the name of it), and a wonderful apple pie from the Simply Classic cookbook (which is my one of sister and mom's favorite cookbooks, and I've finally ordered a secondhand copy for myself).

On Christmas Day, we had broccoli frittata, maple turkey sausage from Trader Joe's, oranges, stilton cheese, lox, and babka. "Seinfeld" lovers will remember the episode in which Jerry and Elaine go into a bakery to purchase a chocolate babka, but forgot to take a number...and meanwhile, other dinner party guests purchase the last-remaining chocolate babka first. Here is a brief clip, in case you've forgotten:


And without further ado, here is the wonderful recipe for babka from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe (a wonderful breakfast cookbook)--I found it much easier to make the second time around:


Babka Dough

Yield: Dough for 1 large babka (I doubled the recipe), serving 16
Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus about 1 hour to rise

1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup wrist-temperature water
1 1/4 teaspoons yeast (half a package)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
About 2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Nonstick spray

1. Place the water in a medium to large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast, and let it stand for about 5 minutes.

2. Whisk the sugar, salt, yogurt, egg, and melted butter into the yeast mixture.

3. Add 2 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, beating after the first addition with a large whisk, and after the second with a wooden spoon. Add approximately 1/3 cup more flour, mixing it in with your hands. As the dough comes together, you might need to add tiny amounts of additional flour--or nonstick spray--to both your hand and the dough to prevent sticking (keep the flour to a minimum so the dough can remain soft).

4. Knead the dough, still in the bowl, until all the flour is incorporated. You should end up with a soft, smooth, slightly sticky dough.

5. Clean out and dry the bowl (or use a second clean, dry bowl) and coat the inside surface with nonstick spray. Place the dough in the bowl, and spray the top surface with more nonstick spray. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel, and put it in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk.
Punch down the dough, and proceed with filling and finishing. (I left it out overnight to rise.) You can also refrigerate or freeze the dough at this point, if you don't intend to fill and finish it right away. (Wrap it in a sealed plastic bag.)

Fillings

1. Chocolate Babka Filling

3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
5 Tbsp sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp butter, softened or melted, for spreading on the dough
(Optional additions: 1 tsp. cinnamon, up to 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, up to 1/2 cup minced or ground nuts, 1 Tbsp grated orange zest, or up to 1/2 cup minced dried fruit)

1. Combine the cocoa and sugar into a small bowl.

2. Form the babka dough into a rectangle, as directed under "How to Assemble and Bake a Babka." Spread the softened or melted butter over the dough, leaving a half-inch border all around the edges. Sprinkle the cocoa mixture over the butter. (If you have extra, save it for the top.) Scatter the chocolate chips and any optional additions over the cocoa.

3. Roll up the dough and finish the babka as directed. Sprinkle any leftover cocoa mixture over the top before baking.

2. Frangipane Babka Filling

1 cup whole almonds (I used 1/2 cup almond meal from Trader Joe's)
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt (scant)
1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup dried sour cherries (optional)

1. Place the almonds, flour, white sugar, and salt in a food processor, and process until powdery. (I just combined everything in a bowl since I was using almond meal.) Transfer to a bowl.

2. Add the remaining ingredients, and mix until thoroughly combined.

3. Use as the filling for a babka.

3. Poppy Seed Babka Filling

3/4 cup cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp grated orange zest or lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg, beaten

1. Place the cream cheese in a small to medium bowl, and add the poppy seeds, sugar, salt, flour, and zest. Mash with a fork until well combined.

2. Add the vanilla and egg, and mix thoroughly. Let the filling stand at room temperature for about an hour (for the flavors to meld).

3. Use as the filling for a babka.

How to Assemble and Bake a Babka

1. Lightly spray a baking tray and a clean work surface with nonstick spray and set the tray aside. Lightly spray your fist with nonstick spray as well, and punch down the risen dough. Transfer it to the prepared work surface and let the dough rest for about 5 minutes.

2. Without handling or kneading, gently stretch the rested dough into a rectangle approximately 10 by 16 inches. If it's too sticky to handle, add a little nonstick spray to your hands or a very light sprinkling of flour to the dough.

3. Spread or sprinkle your chosen filling liberally over the rectangle, leaving a half-inch border of dough all around the edges. Slowly roll up the dough on the long side, gently pulling and stretching the dough over the filling. Pinch the seam tightly closed.

4. Carefully transfer the filled "log" to the prepared baking tray, seam side down. (Curve the babka, if necessary, to make it fit.) Leave it in a warm place for about 1 hour. It will rise only slightly. During this time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

5. Bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the babka is lightly browned on the edges and feels hollow when gently squeezed or thumped. (For a lovely golden crust, you can brush the top with beaten egg 15 minutes into the baking.)

6. Remove the tray from the oven, and transfer the babka to a rack to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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