I’m outta here for close to a week. I’m blowing this cyber popsicle stand and heading to the South Florida coast for several days of fishing and gratuitous fried shrimp consumption. I’ll bring you back some shells!
Category Archives: Pastry
Imagine a mouthful buttery, fluffy brioche. Its cottony texture is interspersed with a creamy-decadent bittersweet chocolate swirl. Notes of cinnamon fly high overhead while bits of crunchy baked streusel dot the terrain. That’s what a big bite of chocolate babka tastes like, friends. I can’t sell it any harder than that.
There’s word on the street that babka takes a lot of time and effort to make. Which isn’t true. You can have the whole thing done in about four hours and have a cooled loaf waiting for you by tea time. Trust me, this isn’t hard. Start by assembling your ingredients. Next, grease a standard 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan and place a piece of parchment in it like so. Grease a little more.
Begin by combining the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle.
While that’s stirring on low, combine the wet ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk them together.
Combine the two.
Stir them together on low until everything is moistened. Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and sticky.
Add the butter and knead another 3-5 minutes until it’s all incorporated. You may need to scrape the bowl once along the way.
Turn the dough out into a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until it’s about doubled in bulk.
Sorta like this.
Remove it to a floured board and apply the pin.
Roll in one direction…
…then the other.
Stretch the corners by hand to make a square shape if need be. That’s absolutely in the rule book. You want your sheet about twice the length of your pan, 16 inches or so, though you can always stretch your roll later so don’t sweat it too much.
Now paint egg wash around down side edges and far edge.
Apply a dusting of cocoa powder.
And sprinkle sugar over it.
Apply your chopped chocolate. This is six ounces of bittersweet chocolate chips chopped in the food processor for 30 seconds or so. Hey, it’s what I had.
Now sprinkle on a little cinnamon.
Begin the roll with the side closest to you.
Gently roll it up with two open hands, your fingers outstretched.
As you get to the end you’ll want to again tug out those corners.
Pinch the ends shut so no filing leaks out.
Twist the roll a couple of times on one end, then the other (in opposite directions). This will help with the swirling action.
Now then. Fold the roll in half…
…and give it two twists.
Place the roll into the prepared pan, paint it with egg wash and let it proof for the same amount of time it took to rise. Probably around an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and set up a rack in the lower third of the oven.
After the proof time is up paint the roll again with egg wash and sprinkle it all over with streusel.
Bake it for 25 minutes or so, then rotate the pan. Bake another 10 minutes and check the browning. If it’s getting very dark, apply some loose foil. You want to be sure the sides brown as well as the top. When it’s about to here, take it out and cool it on a rack for about ten minutes.
At that point gently de-pan it by pulling up on the parchment. Let it cool at least an hour before slicing. Several hours or overnight is better, but who can wait for something like this?
In my ideal world my layers would be more defined. Next time I may cut the proofing time a bit, which will probably help with that.
But I’m not complaining, friends. You really need to try this.
Reader Barbara points out that there is no salt post in my ingredients section and asks that I include one. I am vey happy to do that, though I’ll warn you it’ll be short. Why? Because I never use anything other than plain ol’ iodized table salt in my baking. There’s good reason for that: because all baking recipes call for standard table salt or its very near equivalent. Commercial table salts are virtually identical the world over. Those table salts, sea salts (both coarse and fine) and pickling salt all deliver the same amount of salinity by volume. All can be used interchangeably.
Kosher salt (which you see on the upper right) cannot be used interchangeably by volume, and that’s because because the crystal size is so much bigger. Those big crystals don’t settle as closely together in the measuring spoon, which means there are more and larger gaps between crystals, and so less salt flavor per, oh let’s say…teaspoon. To deliver the same amount of salinity that’s contained in a teaspoon of table salt you need 1 1/4 teaspoons of kosher salt. I should insert here that all salts are equivalent by weight.
The only time I’ll ever use a large crystal salt is as a garnish…maybe on top of caramel or some ganache or something like that. A flake salt like kosher salt is good for that. Even better is a big granular salt like fleur de sel, pictured at the bottom there. The big crystals are fun because they deliver random, uneven bursts of salt flavor and are fun to crunch in your teeth. As for whether these sorts of gourmet salts really deliver different flavors, that’s all balderdash in my opinion. But buy what you like — just don’t try to exchange it spoonful-for-spoonful for table salt in a cake recipe.
For more on salt go here.
That’s an excellent question, reader Margaret, for in fact there are several kinda of babkas out there. I’m making the Jewish version which originated in Eastern Europe and is almost certainly a relative of potica, another rolled bread baked in a loaf. There are at least two other varieties, however. One is a bundt-style version that’s more like a brioche cake, sometimes made with raisins and occasionally iced. Those babkas often look like this, and it’s said that the name “babka” — which literally means “grandmother” in Polish — is actually a reference to a grandmother’s skirts. That’s the story at anyway.
Another type of babka is made in the Ukraine at Easter time (clearly a Christian thing). It’s an elaborate bread typically decorated with floral patterns, some of them very lovely indeed. That might be fun to try to make sometime, but for now I’m sticking with the babka I know, and in Chicago it’s sweet and full of chocolate. Or cinnamon. I won’t turn down either one.
I was just getting down to posting when the call came in from school that little 7-year-old Joan Pastry had broken her finger by slamming it in a door. So…off to the emergency room. Fortunately there was no break, more like a crack. A splint and some aspirin and she’s mostly back to normal. More tomorrow when the Quick Response Team won’t be needed. At least far as I know.
Most babka recipes, I’ve noticed, are not only complicated they make enough for 2-4 loaves. This one, thanks to he addition if instant yeast, is quite simple. It makes a single loaf but can be scaled up to your heart’s content (remember, baking recipes — especially yeast-based recipes — can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, quintupled, whatever) with no ill effects).
For the Dough
9.5 ounces (1 3/4 cups) bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1/2 cup) whole milk
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle, combine all the dry ingredients and stir on low speed to combine. Meanwhile combine the wet ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk them together. With the machine running on low, pour the wet ingredients into the dry. When everything is moistened switch to the dough hook and turn the machine up to medium. Knead until a dough comes together, then add the butter and continue kneading until it’s incorporated and the dough is smooth and sticky, about 5 minutes. Remove the dough to a lightly greased bowl and allow it to rise for 1-2 hours until it has about doubled in size.
For the Filling
1 egg, beaten thoroughly in a small bowl
about 1 ounce (1/3 cup) cocoa powder
about 2.5 ounces (1/3 cup) sugar
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
For the Topping
1/2 recipe streusel (Variation 2, scroll all the way down!)
Shaping and Baking
When the dough has doubled in size, roll it out into a square, about 1/8 inch in thickness. Paint egg wash on three of the edges. Sift on the cocoa powder and sprinkle sugar over all of it save for a roughly 1-inch strip along the egg-painted sides. Sprinkle the chocolate over then dust the whole thing lightly with cinnamon.
Roll the dough sheet up starting from the edge that has no egg wash. Give it a half dozen twists, then fold the roll in half. Give it two or three twists and lay it gently into a well-greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan. Paint it with egg wash and let it rise in a warm place until the dough comes up to the lip of the loaf pan, about another hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Paint it once again with egg wash and sprinkle it all over with streusel. Bake about an hour until it’s nut brown and springs back when tapped. remove the pan from the oven, loosen it all around and allow it to cool for an hour before unmolding it and cooling it the rest of the way.
John Travolta called Idina Menzel “Adele Dazeem” by accident at the Oscars and unintentionally created an internet sensation. Today you can “Travoltify” your name in seconds. Head over for a laugh this morning. Tell’em Jake Palmzer sent you.
They may call it Mardi Gras down in The Big Easy, but back home in Chicago it’s Pączki (POH-nch-kee) Day. It’s the day that Chicagoans of every ethnic background dive head-first into a dozen box of, you guessed it, pączki, the Polish version of jelly doughnuts. Chicago has more Poles than any other city in the world, (including all the cities in Poland, with the sole exception of Warsaw). So it’s hardly surprising that pączki are everywhere the day before Lent. And being that it’s Chicago, they’re an easy sell.
The traditional filling for pączki is something I’ve actually never tasted: a type of jam made out of rose buds. But, seeing as how the rose bud is a poor complement to a big mug of beer, we don’t go in for that sort of thing much anymore. These days it’s mostly custard, lemon filling or strawberry jam. Prunes, sometimes, but only if you head to one of the really old-school spots on the Sout-west side.
What’s the big deal with doughnuts and Fat Tuesday you say? The point, like a lot of pre-Lent Catholic pig-outs, has to do with using up all the expensive and/or indulgent foods in the house prior to the 40-plus-day fasting period. In this case that means jam, sugar and fat, most of which would have been rather hard to come by in the old country in the not-too-distant past. So…scarf’em while you got’em folks! We’ve got more than six weeks to go before we get to the chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps.
Reader Rikki writes:
I know this probably isn’t your area, but I’m trying to season a cast iron pan. The pan maker says I should use low heat to season it, but just about every other seasoning article I’ve seen on the web says very high heat is the thing. Can you tell me: what’s the difference and which method should I use?
Rikki, just because I’m a baking blogger doesn’t mean I can’t flap my fingers for a while on this general cooking subject. It’s pretty interesting stuff! As you surely know by now from your readings, seasoning is the process by which porous die-cast metal pans are transformed into smooth, virtually non-stick cooking implements. In the old days people didn’t think much about seasoning since it just happened over time with use. Today home cooks take a more clinical attitude toward seasoning. As you mentioned, pan manufacturers usually provide instructions on how to season a new pan. The typical procedure calls for a fat of some kind (usually solid) to be applied to the pan in a thin layer, then the pan is baked in a low (300 degree) oven for about an hour. Done correctly, the process yields a slick surface which, if the pan isn’t scrubbed out with soap, works very nicely.
But how exactly does seasoning work? It all has to do with the breakdown of fat molecules. Some of you may recall from previous posts on fats that fat molecules are “E”-shaped: three long fatty acid molecules attached to a “backbone” of glycerol. Heat them though, and they begin to break into pieces. The individual fatty acids come loose from the backbone, at which point they’re free to bond with whatever type of molecule catches their fancy. If they happen to be near iron, they’ll bond to that, with their polar end down and their “fatty” end up. The end result for the pan is that all the tiny pores in the metal get plugged up and the surface becomes slick.
Many cast iron aficionados kick the whole seasoning procedure up a proverbial notch by employing a liquid fat (oil) and high heat. This method not only breaks the fatty acids off their glycerol backbones, it breaks the fatty acids themselves into pieces — pieces which, in the presence of metal and oxygen, rearrange themselves into chains known as polymers. These polymers inter-weave with one another to create an incredibly hard and dense plastic-like film. If you’ve ever spent hours trying scour blackened drips of burnt fat off the exterior of a sauté pan, you’re familiar with the stuff. You find it on the outside of pans and on cooktop surfaces because that’s where the big heat is.
To create a polymer film on the inside of a pan you need oil (because less saturated fats make harder polymers) and an oven temperature of 500 degrees or more. It’s a stinky, smoky process and one that in my opinion isn’t strictly necessary. To my mind the best way to season a cast iron pan is to employ the low-heat method, then use it as often as you can being mindful of soap at cleaning time. But that’s just me. For more on high-heat seasoning, see this very interesting post here.
Reader Elizabeth asks a critical question: why is there no chocolate babka recipe on the site as of yet? I have no answer. Which means I’d better get going. Recipe up soon!