Easter Babka Three Ways

Happy Easter!

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
  1. 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.
  2. While the yeast is dissolving, whisk the eggs slightly.
  3. 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.
  4. If using dried fruit or chocolate chunks, add them to the mixer at this point and knead until combined.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. Place dough in a loaf pan, baking sheet or bundt pan. Cover, and let rise for 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350.
  9. 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.
Enjoy!

Merry Christmas! Have Some Stollen

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Happy Holidays!

Christmas morning in my parents house is the same every year. We wake up, head to the living, open presents, then have breakfast. What we eat for breakfast is a tradition too. There’s a selection of Polish sausages, ham and other cold cuts, pate, rye bread and Babka. The meal isn’t fancy, but it says Christmas to me.

This year, since the Daring Bakers challenged us to make Stollen, we replaced the babka with it. Stollen is a traditional German Christmas bread, made with dried fruit. Penny added a twist to the challenge by asking us to make it in the shape of a wreath.

I actually made the recipe 3 times. The first time was a test run; I halved the recipe and baked it in a loaf pan. Unfortunately I took the bread out of the oven too soon, so the middle was not cooked through. The ends tasted wonderful though.

The second time I made it for an office brunch. Once again I used half the recipe, and I replaced the dried fruits with chocolate chunks, cinnamon chips, and cranberries. I shaped it like the Premiere Moisson Chocolate Cranberry Christmas bread, several balls of dough placed in a round pan. It was beautiful, and my coworkers seemed to love it. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures.

On Christmas Eve I baked it for the third time. Part of the joy of Christmas morning is slathering butter on a slice of babka, so I decided to split the recipe in half, part of it became a wreath and the rest was baked in a bundt pan so that we could cut off nice slices. I used the chocolate cranberry mix for the wreath, and the traditional dried fruits for the bundt.

Both turned out great. I’m glad I took the time to do the test runs, they gave me a chance to figure out how the dough rises and bakes. The recipe calls for an overnight rise in the fridge, however I also tried just letting it rise in a warm draft free space for two hours. Both ways worked well, and the taste was identical. Thanks for a great challenge, Penny!

Stollen

(makes two loaves)

  • ¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
  • 2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup (240 ml) milk
  • 10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
  • 5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first – then sift- plus extra for dusting)
  • ½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
  • 3 cups dried fruits that have been soaked in rum or orange juice (I used cranberries, apricots and blueberries) OR 1 cup cinnamon chips, 1 cup chocolate chips, 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries.
  1. Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium – low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.
  3. Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.
  4. In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.
  5. Then stir in (or mix on low-speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the dried fruit and knead for 8 minutes (6 if using an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook). If using the chocolate cranberry filling, start kneading with just the chocolate and cinnamon chips, then add the cranberries towards the end being very careful so that the dough doesn’t turn pink.
  7. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm dry place for two hours, or in the fridge overnight.
  8. Punch the dough down and form into your desired shape. Let rise for 1 hour.
  9. Preheat the oven to 350. The time to bake the dough will depend on the shape chosen. Using half the dough, the wreath took 35 minutes in my oven, and the bundt took 50 minutes.

Enjoy!

Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

I’ve been trying to cut back on sugar lately (it’s not working but I’m trying). My weakness is baked goods; a biscotti with my latte; a muffin for breakfast; a gigantic piece of mocha ice cream pie drizzled with caramel after drinks…

So I spent some time thinking about what could satisfy my cravings but still keep my blood sugar steady. At first I thought it was hopeless, but then it hit me; scones! I love scones, their slightly crumbly yet somehow buttery texture goes perfectly with a nice cup of tea. The fresh blueberry in these add some moisture.

Blueberry Buttermilk Scones

Yields 12 scones.

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 egg
  1. Whisk together flours, baking powder, salt and sugar.
  2. Add butter. Using your finger tips or a pastry cutter, cut butter into flour mixture until it has a crumbly texture.
  3. Add buttermilk and stir with a fork until the dough just comes together.
  4. Mix in blueberries gently.
  5. Using your hands, make a large ball with the dough, then roll it out until it’s about an inch thick.
  6. Using a round cookie cutter that has been floured, cut the dough into rounds and place on a baking sheet.
  7. Whisk the egg yolk and brush on scones.
  8. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 for 12 to 15 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Happy Birthday Julia

August 15th was Julia Child’s birthday. Many of us grew up watching her shows, moved by her enthusiasm for food  and the joy teaching people to cook brought her. The Way To Cook is my mothers go to cookbook even now, over 20 years after it was published.  We watched her cooking on her own in Dinner at Julia’s, we saw her marvel at dishes created by others in Cooking with Master Chefs, and we saw her tease and joke with Jacques Pepin in Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (Jacques is another go to at my parents house).

In honour of her birthday I made a recipe from Baking with Julia ; the tart that made Julia cry. The recipe is actually a Nancy Silverton recipe, and you can watch them make it here. The tart really is wonderful, I can understand how a bite of it could bring tears of joy to Julia’s eyes.

Brioche Custard Tart

  • 1/3 of dough from Golden Brioche
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 nectarines, sliced
  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 or 6 basil leaves
  1. After chilling the brioche dough overnight, roll it out to fit in a pie plate, with about an inch of dough overhanging. Fold the overhang into the pie shell to create an edge.  Let rise uncovered for 1 hour.
  2. While the dough is rising, whisk the cream and egg yolks together.
  3. Once the dough has risen, dimple the bottom of the dough (don’t create holes, just dents) and pour the cream mixture in.
  4. Sprinkle the cream with sugar.
  5. Preheat the oven to 300, then bake the tart for 30 to 40 minutes until brioche is cooked and custard has set.
  6. Let cool completely.
  7. While the tart is cooling bring the wine to a boil. Add the sugar and basil leaves. Add the fruit and simmer for a few minutes, just until the fruit is slightly softened. Strain fruit.
  8. Place fruit on tart.

Bon appétit!

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Golden Brioche

What did I do this weekend? Not much. Watched some TV, napped a little. I would have read something, but I am currently out of books (anyone have any recommendations?) Oh, and I made bread. Brioche, actually. This was my second attempt at making brioche. The first attempt almost lead me to tears of frustration, but Janice’s recent bread success inspired me to try again.

I am so glad I did. This time I used Bon Appétit’s Golden Brioche recipe. I was careful to follow each step exactly as written. I was strangely fascinated watching the butter incorporate into the dough, and at one point could even smell the butter as the mixer worked its magic. Once all the mixing and kneading was done, I waited impatiently for the dough to rise. Then I had the satisfaction of punching it down so it could rise all over. This was followed by the tough part: chilling overnight.

Sunday morning I woke up separated the dough into three equal parts. One part became a loaf, another buns, and the third will get a post all its own soon. I was hoping the loaf would rise a little more, but I am very pleased with the result. It’s wonderful with a little cream cheese and raspberry jam.

Bon Appétit’s instructions are very thorough, so rather than rewriting the recipe in my own words and missing some important step, I’ll just direct you to their recipe. I will say that the rolls were done in about 15 minutes, as the recipe only provides baking times for the loaves.

Enjoy!

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