In my condo I had pretty basic equipment. When I first moved in my budget for appliances was .. well it was low. I bought the cheapest fridge and stove that I could find, and I waited a couple of years before buying a washer and dryer. Even though it was inexpensive, my stove always got the job done. Bread, cakes, roasts; you name it, it was tasty. My only regret was that it wasn’t self cleaning. I didn’t realize how horrible cleaning an oven is until I had to get in there and do it.
Now that I’m back at my parent’s house I have a brand new stove. It’s a lot fancier than what I’m used to. A friend of mine told me that some baked goods don’t work in gas stoves. He didn’t know what wouldn’t work, and I’m not sure I believe it, but I was curious. I decided I’d need to start baking a variety of things to see.
I originally planned a cherry clafoutis, but then I saw this recipe for Vanilla Cherry Bread Pudding. My mind immediately went back to the chocolate babka I made this easter. The first one imploded due to the weight of the chocolate. It failed as a loaf, but it tasted great so I had cut it into chunks and freeze for a bread pudding. Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding became my first baking experiment in my new oven.
I made a couple of changes to the recipe, the biggest being that I used chocolate babka instead of plain brioche. I also used Amaretto instead of port in the cherry compote. I left out the maple anise ice cream and simply used vanilla ice cream. The results were really, really good. Chocolate and cherry is one of my favourite flavour combinations. The only thing I’d change would be to add more cherry.
I know that most of you don’t have a chocolate babka sitting in the freezer waiting to become bread pudding, so I recommend using brioche and 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate chopped.
Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding
- 45 sweet cherries, pitted
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup Amaretto
- 1 chocolate babka or 1 loaf brioche and 8 oz bittersweet chocolate
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 large egg yolks
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Make the cherry compote: In a saucepan bring the Amaretto and sugar to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cherries and continue to simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the cherries have softened and the liquid has thickened. Pour into a heat proof jar, then place the jar in an ice bath to cool the compote. Set aside.
- Make the bread pudding. In a large saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla to a simmer. While the milk is heating, whisk eggs, 2/3 cup sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Once the milk is simmering, pour a small amount into the egg mixture while whisking. Then pour the rest of the milk, whisking constantly.
- Grease a 6 by inch baking dish with the butter. Place half of the babka pieces in the baking dish, cover with half the cherry compote, then the remaining babka. Pour the egg/milk over the bread. Let the milk soak for 5 minutes then bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Serve with vanilla ice cream topped with the remaining cherry compote.
This year Easter is going to be at my place. Normally we would have it at my parents, but their oven broke and won’t be repaired in time. Most of the prep is still being done by my parents. Right now they are marinating a huge leg of lamb that will be roasted here tomorrow. My mom is also taking care of the pierogi, and the stuffed vine leaves (we have a multicultural Easter, part Polish, part Egyptian). All of the baking was done here yesterday. My mom came over around 10 and we baked all day.
The first thing we made were the Babkas. Babkas are a traditional Eastern and Central European yeasted sweet bread that are served for Easter. The traditional version is flavoured with dried fruit. That’s what my mom always makes. This year, I wanted to try something a little less traditional, chocolate babka.
My mom wasn’t super enthusiastic at first, but then I reminded her of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine tries to buy a chocolate babka. Everyone loves chocolate babka! That helped convince her. Once we decided to veer from the traditional, my mom suggested a third option, poppy seed babka.
So we made all three.
We made one batch of dough and divided it into three, using a different filling for each. In the traditional version, we used raisins and dried apricots soaked in rum. For the poppy seed version we used a store bought poppy seed paste that also had raisins and candied orange peel. The chocolate version was originally based on Smitten Kitchens technique. Unfortunately, the dough we used could not hold up to the weight of the chocolate and sort of .. imploded. So this morning I made another chocolate babka. This time I used Smitten Kitchens dough recipe and just added chunks of chocolate. Her babka dough is very similar to a brioche recipe. Although it tasted very good, I found my moms recipe much easier to work with. My moms also has a much lighter texture. I can understand now why her chocolate babka didn’t implode, the dough is much stronger.
This basic dough can be used with any filling or flavourings. It makes enough for three loaves.
Basic Babka Dough
- 5 tsps dry active yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 4 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 8 cups all purpose flour, divided
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cups milk, warm
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 2 tsps vanilla
- 2 tbsp dark rum
- zest of one orange
- Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and set aside for the yeast to dissolve. Note, make sure the water is below 105 degrees F, otherwise it might kill the yeast.
- While the yeast is dissolving, whisk the eggs slightly.
- Put 6 cups of flour and the salt in the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl if kneading by hand). Create a well, and pour in the eggs, yeast, warm milk, melted butter, vanilla, and rum. Add the orange zest. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined, then place in the mixer with the dough hook attached and knead. Slowly add the remaining two cups of flour. Knead for 10 minutes. If kneading by hand, this will take about 30 minutes.
- If using dried fruit or chocolate chunks, add them to the mixer at this point and knead until combined.
- Divide dough into three and place in separate greased bowls. Cover with plastic wrap let rise for an hour until doubled in bulk (or overnight in the fridge).
- Punch down the dough. If using a filling like the poppy seed paste or a chocolate spread, roll the dough out into a rectangle, spread the filling over the dough, then roll the dough tightly like a jelly roll.
- Place dough in a loaf pan, baking sheet or bundt pan. Cover, and let rise for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Bake the babka for 15-20 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 and bake for another 15 to 20. Note, if using a loaf pan it may take a few extra minutes. When done, the bread will sound hollow if tapped.